On the Water

gorgeous Sound

We get to the beach early, landing a parking spot right next to the kayak launch spot. Molly hauls our boats to the shore and I ferry the life jackets, paddles and water bottles. Within 20 minutes of leaving our house we are floating on the Long Island Sound.

As we push into the heaving tide my mind-muddle of to-do tasks is left on shore. At high tide our usual spits of land and sandbars that inspire lazy paddling, were nowhere to be found so we head to a more distant island with an inviting empty beach. This stretch can feel like Grand Central Station at rush hour on a sunny weekend day but in the morning, there are only a few oyster boats probably out before the sun. We have a few hours before motorboats with loaded beer coolers begin tearing through the water and we savor the quiet, only the lapping waves and sea-bird shrieks.

me on grassy island

Terns and gulls swoop across the sky. The rhythm of paddling returns even after a year. Pushing through the water feels good. Molly is usually ahead of me because she’s younger and stronger but also because I periodically pause to just float, my plastic boat bobbing, the morning sun warming my bare legs and arms. When I open them again, Molly is near the island. I straighten up and paddle hard to catch up with her.

Me and my gal

We pull onto the sandy beach. This island is city owned – it’s possible to camp here and the thought of sleeping on this patch of wild in the water has appeal – an easy getaway with only nature’s luxuries. For now we are happy to unpack the fruit and coffee we carried with us. We sit on our towel and marvel at the beauty until we are discovered by horseflies. To escape their nasty bites, we strip to our bathing suits and make our first plunge of the season. I am not much of a swimmer, but there is something about that deep breath and dunking into the muffled, other-world of underwater that shifts my brain immediately into vacation mode. My summer baptism.

 

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Temporarily Out of Stock

I sell books. Selling houses, cars, clothing, even towels would earn me more money than books, but that stuff doesn’t stir my soul. Being a salesperson doesn’t come naturally to me but my love of reading allows me to convince myself it’s a good cause. Of course it helps that I sell mostly to teachers who have the mission of teaching kids to read. I know so many remarkable ones determined to mobilize the power of books to open minds and hearts. I’m lucky to tag along on their great work.

The perks of being a bookseller include a great discount and free advanced readers copies, ARCS – a sneak peek at soon to be published books. I’m just finishing The Buddha on Death Row: How One Man Found Light in the Darkest Place by David Sheff (also author of one of the finest books on addiction, Beautiful Boy). Sheff’s newest title is a blend of social justice and Buddhism – a good read in my quest to live life from a place of peace and love rather than fury. Jarvis Masters has managed to do this through meditation and Buddhism, while living on death row in San Quentin. For 30 years and still today, this Black man has been denied a fair hearing and remains on death row for a crime he did not commit. Yes, more fuel to take to the streets.

book stack

I look to books to help me be a better person, to explain the world. And it makes my heart sing to report that I am not alone: last week, bookstores across the country sold out of  books on racism. Take a look at the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list transformed into a veritable what-to-read to know How to Be an Antiracist – my next read. What are you reading?

**In support of #BlackoutBestsellerList and #blackpublishingpower, we are encouraged to purchase two books by Black writers between June 14 – June 20. (Happy to recommend titles!)**

 

 

 

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A Sadly Prescient Post from November 2016: Caution – Danger Ahead

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I am re-posting something I wrote and posted in November 2016. Four years later and the predictable tyranny, chaos and destructive forces are now in full gear. Did you vote for this?

I support peaceful protest and support my Black brothers and sisters with love. You lead the way – I am listening and I will stand with you. As a veteran of a war fueled and led by bandits who benefit by fanning the flames of division with nationalistic lies, racism, militias armed with assault weapons is familiar territory. We are in a very dangerous place. Pay attention — it is happening here. Where do you stand?

*************************************************************************************

This is an excerpt I’d edited from my memoir The Things We Cannot Change:

From my window, rooftops are visible against a ribbon of the almost-green trees muting the incessant drone of the highway. Everything appears serene and lovely this early spring morning but I cannot help and wonder what goes on inside these houses. What hatred, prejudice, violence might simmer under those roofs? Could this community in Connecticut combust? Might neighbors turn on each other in violence? Of course not – that seems impossible. We are sure we are different. That is not who we are. Yet I have seen what darkness can reside in homes with roofs just like ours and know such horrors are possible anywhere.

***

My apartment sat on the main road of this tiny predominantly Croat town in Bosnia. I heard everything. Nights, I hid under a ridiculous number of blankets for warmth and to try and drown out the drunken shouting and yelling of local soldiers in the street. The next day at work, I knew I’d be reading UN military reports of Moslem families being bullied from their homes, men taken away in the night. It could not just be me listening but doing nothing about the evil soundtrack of those sleepless hours? What about my neighbors? Under the veil of darkness, families were forced from homes they’d lived in for generations. The Croats were ‘ethnically cleansing’ the town of Moslems – right on the UN’s doorstep.

Man’s inhumanity to man being played out so close around me, overwhelms what should be memories of my excitement of new love. Instead, an icy fear and anger clutched at my throat and tightened with every night.

Years later, I remain haunted by that Bosnian-Croat town – the dark secrets and nights of violence spilling into daylight.

destroyed-village

This chapter selection is from my time there when Central Bosnian villages were being ‘cleaned’ out. During the day, from the safety of the UN armored car, what from a distance looked sweet bucolic cottages, up close became surreal scenes of horror. Windows smashed – ruffled curtains flapping like surrender flags flown too late. Some houses burned. Doors left open – chickens wandering the yard, a dead dog. No human in sight. Eerie. The village had clearly just recently been ransacked – the people fled, taken prisoner, killed? Any of those was possible — all of it happened. We sped on to our meeting.

kids-in-sarajevo

The beauty of the places I lived and visited in Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Slovenia during my four years there is unforgettable. But the hatred between those cousins wore my soul out. In 1996, I was ready to come home and glad to settle in the diverse, welcoming community I now love and call my own. While racism and prejudice has always existed in the United States, in my experience, it was rare to encounter it as shameless. There was at least a sense of being wrong and certainly some modicum of legal protection against hate crimes, discrimination. That’s what I thought in 1996 as I packed my bags to move back to create a life with my new family in my home country.

I’ve gotten a glimpse of what can happen when government leaders and their propaganda machines fan the flame of fear and hatred. I’ve seen what happens when citizens feel free – even encouraged – to harass (and worse) their neighbors with impunity. It’s more terrible than you can imagine. Let’s not go there.

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Silver Lining: ZOOM Yoga with Robert

I love being at home, especially now as Spring explodes with flowers and my little patch turns into paradise. Pre-pandemic, I rarely wanted to venture out into the world beyond my little house and yard.  I was happy to clock every hour of the weekend at home. When the weather was cold and miserable, I was inside by the wood stove, sometimes climbing back into to bed after a quick dog walk. Days like we’ve been having, I’m outside for hours, pruning hedges, pulling weeds and sitting on the front porch reading the newspaper while the birds sing and the squirrels tear through the trees torturing Rufus. I am very lucky: while the reason is bleak, it remains a pleasure for me to spend every day and hour at home.

But there is one weekend outing I made religiously pre-Covid that I have missed. Every Saturday, earlier than I left for work most mornings, I was out the door to go to the gym. Yes, the gym. I’ve had a membership for at least 10 years. For a few of those years, the neighborhood gals would inspire me (meaning pick me up in their cars) to join them for a weight and a even a few zumba classes. (you don’t want to see me dance — sadly, I suffer from serious white girl-disease) Sometimes I forced myself to get my heart beating by huffing and puffing on the elliptical. Ten minutes was about all I could ever muster and that ten minutes felt like eternity. The only reason I kept my gym membership and got up and out at 6:30 on a Saturday morning was for Robert’s yoga class.

I’d wager Robert’s following is larger than any other yoga class at the gym although not everyone loves him. It’s not unusual for a new person to pack up their mat and leave the class early because they wonder what the hell this guy is up to. And Robert jokes about it. Light’s are dimmed and like most classes, each session begins with a few minutes of meditation. But he doesn’t play any woo-woo music and his non-stop talking veers from the profound to the irreverent — weighing more on the side of irreverent and to me, he is laugh out loud funny. No sun salutations for us — we may spend 3/4 of the class sitting on our mats twisting and leaning and stretching only inches at a time – and always, he’s talking.

By listening to him, I have learned to listen to myself. And the next day, I’m pleasantly sore and grateful.Robert’s quirky, warm and wise guy reminders motivate me. Since going to his classes, if I feel a pain anywhere in my body, I almost always know how to figure out what is causing and how to fix it. These days, sitting for long hours in front of my tiny work laptop, it’s not hard to know why my shoulders are tense or my hips tight. And I know what to do about it. I credit Robert for teaching me this.

But here’s the thing – a silver lining to the current state of things: Robert is teaching on ZOOM twice a week. So now, I enjoy his class in my own cozy room with the sound of birds wafting through the open window rather than the clank of weight machines outside the freezing cold room at the gym where we met for a mere 40 minute class. Robert’s classes are over an hour – that flies. And YOU can join too – no matter where you are in the world! There’s a class on Tuesday at 12:30 PM or Saturday at 11:45 AM Eastern Standard Time. This will be the best $15 you’ll spend in a week — you should try it – no matter how creaky and stiff and challenged you might feel. All the better – as Robert says – use it or lose it! Even if you have never done yoga. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll send you the info. It would be fun to see you there!

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A Pandemic Inspired Rant

Rufus Rakes

What will the world look like when we come out at the other end of this? For me these days are mostly an exercise in being present to the moment, made easier in a sweet house, with beloved daughter, plenty of food and still – a job. But the freaky specter just beyond both our physical and metaphorical doorstep creeps up on me in the evenings in that familiar chest-tightening way that fear and anxiety has.

At the end of the day when I watch the news, read Twitter, look at Facebook — my cozy bubble bursts, fury erupts and my heart breaks at the pain and injustice in the world. What does the future hold for any of us — especially living on the wrong side of the financial brink?

I am privileged and feel currently graced in my life — but living close to the bone is not unfamiliar to me. With no partner to share expenses, no trust fund family, no bulky bank account to see me through my old age, like most people, I must continue to work until…? That’s fine except it would be nice if I could imagine an end in sight that didn’t include destitution.

I’m exaggerating. For a start, I’m good at living on little and in fact delight in finding clothes at thrift shops and furniture at flea markets. I mow my own lawn, clip my own hedge, refer to Youtube tutorials to make repairs around the house. I heat the house with my wood stove, hang my laundry and have no dishwasher. Yes, I’m a veritable pioneer woman. None of this feels like I am denying myself – I prefer to live simply and I have more than so many.

But I also believe there IS enough to go around so we can all have a better life and we should not accept the stark inequities that exist. One solution resisted by the powers that be who will fight to (our) death against it — is that richer people of course should pay more taxes. And the obscenely rich (who really needs to be a billionaire?) who pay none, need to pay them instead of posing as heros or our benefactors, sprinkling a fraction of their wealth on pet projects or the latest emergency, while we gratefully send thanks for the money largely earned off the backs of others or just because money begets money.

Other countries take care of the health and good education of their people as a matter of course. I’ve lived in a few of them, enjoyed their health care, healthy and fresh food choices on every corner, cleaner more efficient public transportation. While working with UNICEF in Croatia during the war, I once visited a school that had been damaged by a mortar. I was given a tour of the classroom – the sky visible through the hole in the ceiling. But the thing that struck me beyond the damage was what a beautiful, well equipped and updated school this was in a not-wealthy village. The destruction of the class was sad and it was awful to imagine if students had been there at the time (they were not) but I couldn’t help thinking what a more beautiful school this was compared to let’s say, the South Bronx not far from where I grew up. I think of that cheerful room with colorful desks and plenty of books and equipment (back in the early 90s) now when I visit some classes in schools in urban Connecticut. I am a witness that the quality of life in countries not as ‘rich’ as ours is often better. The gap between rich and poor here is shameful and has only been getting worse.

I want to believe that this pandemic is shifting us into a new understanding and reality where we really are in this all together. I don’t think, nor do I want to, go back to ‘normal’. For one, I haven’t felt ‘normal’ in almost 4 years. I’ve been on a low, angry simmer. The need for change has been amplified to a deafening decibel with this dreadful disease. Can you hear it?

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Combatting Worry-Creep

After a gift of gorgeous Spring days, Saturday morning and the weekend promises to be a little gloomy with only a dim haze of light where yesterday sparkled. I still mark weekends because I still have a job. Yes, our bookstores in the tristate area are closed but because I work primarily with educators and companies, I’m still in operation – my days safely at home on computer and phone doing business and sharing pep talks. Sometimes I am hit by worry-creep. I catch myself not breathing, my chest tightens until I remember things I am grateful for. Like for now I’m employed.

During my years of life in perpetual crisis-mode, I learned that focusing on gratitude calmed me. My heart goes out to all who are currently living with their own addiction or addict. Liquor stores in Connecticut remain open – considered essential and us social drinkers get to laugh appreciatively because who doesn’t need cocktail hour now? But there’s no such chuckle from someone who is seriously hooked. Recalling the recklessness I witnessed from my late partners, I am grateful not to be contending with an active addict in my life now. Strength and love to you if you are.

Back to things that calm the heart…

Having Molly here with me definitely tops the list. She was so ready to step away from her mom and out of this state where she’s spent her life. If her plan to land a job in NYC by February had worked out, well – it wouldn’t have been great right now. So yes, she’s not employed yet but she’s safe and healthy. We make each other laugh and bonus: she’s an amazing cook. Even if she were 6 and I was homeschooling her, corralling her away from friends and having to explain our current insanity – she would be my first delight and inspiration. But I won’t lie: I’m SO grateful to be living with this incredible adult version instead.

We love our home – although neither of us would win awards for best housekeeper and almost everything is shabby but not chic – we delight in this space. I look forward to getting my hands in the dirt, meanwhile adoring the cheery daffodils in our yard. We are lucky to have this home that I’ve managed to hang onto through all these years. The mortgage is almost down to what it originally was 24 years ago when I first bought it. – yes the bank will probably always own it. But thanks to refinancing (I have a great guy for this if you need one!) and my steady employment with blessed Barnes & Noble, we’ve weathered tough years in-place. We hope to continue to do that. I am very grateful to be quarantined in this sweet home – with a porch.

The list can go on. I’m sure you’ve got one too. Keep it handy. Of course I get anxious about this terrible illness disrupting our current grace-filled lives. I dread the thought of either of us, any loved one, any of you — losing our precious breath. But then — I breathe because I CAN — so deeply, filling my healthy lungs, expanding them as far as they will go and it feels positively joyful. I do this at night as I look at the stars – inhaling the cold night air while Rufus wanders the patchy lawn. I do it when I wake – stretching into the morning and gratefully taking a very deep, delicious breath.

How are you doing?

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Forcing Spring and Myself

Peach blossoms

I hibernate. From reassuring texts and emails exchanged with friends who are also in a kind of dormancy, I know that it’s not just me and the groundhogs lying low. We are all tired and inclined to burrow deep into our own nests as dark closes in too early these winter months. I certainly am. At the end of the day or on a weekend, after a full work week, I want to light my wood stove, pull the curtains closed, crawl beneath the blankets with a book or the remote and talk to no one.

It doesn’t help that I have a job requiring I be outgoing, seek out strangers to try and convince them to buy lots of books. I like my company, love what I sell, am interested in other people and am socially adept – but like many book people, it’s not my natural inclination. As an introvert in an extrovert job, I definitely crave solitude after beating the bushes.

But it’s a fine line. Sometimes I feel like I have gone too far down the alone rabbit hole. Especially during winter, I tend to hide out in my own world, almost forgetting the pleasure of connection. It’s easier to stay in. But statistics show and I believe, that we humans need each other to thrive. I don’t mean through social networks – I want contact — to laugh, feel the comfort of a hug, hear a story, share a drink, a meal.

I’m so grateful to the many dear ones who make social overtures to me and accept mine. We take care of each other that way. Getting out with others can be more of an issue for us single people – particularly when you were once part of a couple. Venturing out requires more energy, motivation and confidence when you’re alone, particularly at first. It’s a skill worth honing because… well, you know. I certainly wish the men I once believed I’d be spending my life with were still here with me. I miss that. (To say ‘men’ rather than ‘man’ sounds weird – but there are two loved ghosts in my life.) Still, I enjoy my own company and have become quite content in my solitude. But the danger is how much easier it is to burrow down deeper, venturing out less. And I believe that for my health and well being, I need to resist the inclination to retreat. Do you know what I mean?

As always, I find my best life cues in nature. Last week I pruned my peach and pear trees, putting a few branches in water. And blossoms are already emerging — a reminder to the reclusive me, of the beauty that may come from forcing things along.

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Over the Years of Writing it Down

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Almost sunset so only a few more hours before kissing goodbye to December and another decade. I’m determined, by the skin of my teeth and a few hours, to maintain my record of not yet missing a month of posting at least something here.

I would have written more but for: computer problems, lack of discipline, lack of inspiration, laziness, existential questions about ‘what’s the point?’. You know – the usual. But I pay to maintain this blog – domain name, anti-hack security – enough that I don’t want to waste the $200 plus I just spent for another 2 year whirl around the dance floor. It’s a bit like taking a class so I feel compelled to periodically write.

The other day I ran into another blogger who lives locally and we discussed inactivity on our respective blogs. We agreed that we do enjoy it – the cyber community and the process of writing. Like right this very second — I feel good! The activity of ‘writing’ is mostly pleasurable for me and at the least, compelling. In parting, she and I committed to stepping it up and writing. (I can’t remember the timeline – but here I am, Susan – I look forward to yours!)

Recently I was speaking with my beloved sister. We speak often about everything and anything. She’s a great listener and asks thoughtful questions that land like stones in my often dull lake-mind, leaving ripples of insight long after we’ve hung up. Both of us have boxes of journals – the only place one might read what I’m sure is her stunning writing. Like I said, we talk about everything – including our inevitable demise. I asked her the other day what should be done with her journals when her number is up? Burn them – she said, somewhat to my disappointment. Too bad. I bet she’s got some great books in there.

It’s been a long time since I regularly kept a journal. Sometimes I might write down a dream but that’s about it. Sometimes I’ll randomly look at one. Here, I’ll do it now… (I walked to a shelf and randomly selected) a journal from 2001. Again, I randomly flipped open to something written while Neil and I were on an AA/Al-Anon recovery retreat for couples somewhere up the coast run by an inspiring priest – Father Mike C. (Oh, we did try hard for so many years!) What seems uncanny is how much the pages relate to my current ramble. From all the journals and all the pages I could have opened to, here’s where I landed:

“Julia Cameron, author of The Artists’ Way” was at the store the other day – and although I didn’t find her earth-shattering, her message is definitely a good one. And some simple exercises like writing 3 pages every morning and making an “artist’s date” with one’s self…. I have moved so far away from doing my work instead, chasing Neil and his addiction. And this was a choice. And one I no longer choose. It is that simple. I need to be on my own road now – back to finding that peace and joy and discovery I feel when I create. This is my prayer.”

Thank you Julia Cameron –  I guess you are ‘earth-shattering’ enough in the end! I confess to never really reading her – but I will now and get to those 3 pages. Here’s to closing out this decade and entering a new one with love and indeed, a prayer for a road of peace, joy and discovery for us all. Happy New Year! xxx

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Ruminations on Autumn Clean-up (or not) and Time

I share my little plot with 8 trees large enough that I hope none fall on my house. They make a lot of leaves. If the spirit moves me I will rake them into mounds alongside the hedge or into my raised garden bed where they do their beautiful business of rotting.

My neighbors across the street have no trees and I wonder if they hate me when the wind blows in their direction? We are friends so I doubt it – but I’m sure they feel a tad exasperated by the mess my arbor-love makes on their tree-less property. And I wonder a little if their intention is to torture me every Saturday when the landscaper comes with a blower to blow mostly my tree’s leaves off their perfect lawn. There are not many sounds I hate more than the sound of a gas blower as it goes on and on and on.

My gardening… philosophy? technique? I search for the word that best describes my intentional laissez-faire attitude around autumn clean-up. I believe and there is much proof, that left to itself, nature takes better care of itself than when we meddle. The decomposed leaves enrich my property so it doesn’t make sense to stuff them into bags to be picked up by the noisy trucks emitting additional carbon gases into our atmosphere while they do it.

There is some clean-up I eventually get around to. I twist the thorny vines and weeds into cans to be picked up by those same trucks or smash them into the back of my car to drive them to the brush dump myself. Every year invasive weeds like Japanese knotweed and bittersweet win the battle in at least one corner of my yard. Every spring I have high hopes that this will be the year I’ll keep said corner clear of growth. But as we move into summer and the heat and bugs amp up, I give up, conceding until autumn when I can more easily pull and snip at the recently frost-killed invasive plants.

I think about time and how it makes some things easier. Of course body aches and wrinkles alert me to the challenges time can bring = aging. But mostly I see time as my ally. With time (and effort) things that once were entrenched in my actual and metaphorical ‘patch’ become easier to deal with. A few short months ago, I was daunted by an overwhelming green mass full of thorns and worse — ticks. After a few frosty nights, the thicket shrank to skeletal twists I could tackle.

In the garden on an unseasonably warm day, I brace myself with bent knees, heels dug into the earth, inhaling a deep breath of mint (my advice: grow only in pots!) while yanking on a resistant tangle, I think of old resentments, anger, grief – pulling harder, feeling the strain into my legs until with a snap, release down to my core, my soul. Looking closely at the branches of the fruit trees saved now from being swallowed up by this wild growth, I see the teeniest, tightest little buds. Hope.

 

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New to the Neighborhood

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Dawn and dusk have drawn closer and shorter days means that on the 5 days a week I work, there’s less light for long walks with dear Rufus. Morning outings are always short – just quick forays down the block with just enough time to sniff around and lift a leg a few times before heading back inside so I can get ready for work. When there’s enough daylight left on my return home, I like to take him either to the dog park where he trips over his own little legs running so hard and fast, or for a 2 mile jaunt I call the river walk. Either way, it’s a welcome outing for both of us. And even more fun when Molly joins us, her and I gabbing as we trade off on holding the leash of our tugging pooch. (we are lax on training)

The dawn walks are just me and Rufus. And lately: a fox. The first morning I saw him from a distance – a creature sitting in the middle of the road. I didn’t have my glasses on and couldn’t quite make out what it was but certainly it was bigger than one of our known-residents – neither rabbit nor groundhog. It sat very still with it’s back to us, smack in the middle of the street. I squinted to try and make out – was it a dog weirdly sitting there so still? Then it stood up and leapt into the woods. hmmm.

A few mornings later, we met fox face-to-face. It wasn’t frightened and in fact, stepped towards us even as I stamped the ground and cried ‘scat!’. It seemed more curious than threatening but it’s bigger than Rufus, who didn’t make a peep. I scooped up our wee dog and dashed back home. Fox did not follow. At first I wasn’t sure if it was fox or coyote – but it’s tail is very bushy and body slender. A beautiful creature! But I was shaken, imagining it attacking our beloved little dog.

Rufus and I have encountered fox 3 more times, sometimes days in a row. Fox is fearless, stepping towards us – never aggressively – perhaps wondering about Rufus’s fox-like ears. Maybe this youngish-kit thinks he’s a cousin. He probably wants to sniff him to find out – or to see if he wants to eat him for breakfast. I called animal control to ask their advice, whether I should be alarmed. They said it might be a young cub, alone and indeed curious – although fox will eat a cat so if our dog is that size (yes, he’s smaller) then I should carry a stick and make sure Rufus had had his rabies shot – just in case. I’ve taken to carrying an umbrella or rake during the low-light hours. I’m sure the neighbors think I’m nuts.

Interestingly, Molly has yet to encounter fox and teased me that I was imagining it but now is spooked about taking him out when it’s dark. My sister suggested the fox is my spirit animal and in fact, these encounters have begun to feel a little magical. I went down the internet search foxhole of what fox encounters might mean – and of course choose the positive interpretations — especially seizing on the Japanese symbolism of longevity and protection from evil. Just please, dear fox, do not eat Rufus.

PS: My neighbor shared this great photo of said fox.

A beauty, no?

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