Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Lillian, Alabama. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.
I wish to thank the wonderful writer and editor Mark McNease for featuring four essays from my collection “Strange Company” on his podcast. Mark has published three of my books and his support and encouragement have been invaluable. Please visit his website to read his blog posts, enjoy his podcasts, and find information on his many mystery novels.
To listen to four selections from my book “Strange Company” please follow this link to Mark’s podcast site. After a brief introduction, you will hear the beautiful voice of Nikiya Palombi as she perfectly captures the mood of the pieces. Enjoy!
News of animals, their misfortunes. Hopefully she has not seen these stories. I wouldn’t know.
Broken egg yolks. I give her the perfect yellow rounds, the slightly bigger shrimp, the cookie with more chocolate chips. I am nothing if not vigilant.
Worry about her health, especially her asthma. My anxiety will not help her breathe.
Worry about my own health. The little things. My body is my job, not hers.
Silly, daily mistakes I make. Which might, at this age, cause her concern.
My soiled childhood. This is what therapists are for, to hear the words that must be said to those will not be gutted.
Behavior I regret, the pages of our book I want to rip out. Admission is not absolution. Instead of infecting her with these images, I offer myself now, the improved version, the best I can muster. So far.
For all you nature lovers, the Kindle version of Strange Company, my collection of nature essays is on sale at Amazon. This is a light-hearted look at some of our most curious beasts, a cozy read for these cold winter months. Here is an excerpt from “Consider the Sloth.”
“The two main emotions in life are love and fear, and certainly there is ample evidence that animals feel both. I imagine that when the shadow of a raptor passes overhead, a sloth cringes in fear. What about the lesser emotions, the ones that don’t serve us—like worry? Does a sloth, with all that time he has, worry about eagles and jaguars? Or does he have more productive thoughts, which part of the tree he’ll dine on that night? Or is he, in some deep animal way, simply enjoying himself, his mind a movie screen of pleasant images: leaves, sky, dappled light. When thoughts are not needed, maybe animals are not burdened with them.
It is estimated that people have sixty thousand thoughts a day, a figure not as impressive as it sounds. These sixty thousand thoughts are the same ones we had yesterday and the same ones we’ll have tomorrow. In our day-to-day lives, we are not much good at thinking out of the box. A sloth hangs in one tree all its life and has no company other than the mate it couples with every fourteen months or so. With this scant stimulation, I wonder how many separate daily thoughts a sloth has. One hundred? Twenty? Three? I would trade my sixty thousand for a glimpse of them.”
We write to reach out, to find others who might feel the same way. This is a short piece on not having children. Many thanks to Beate Sigriddaughter for publishing this today in her fine blog for women’s voices. http://writinginawomansvoice.blogspot.com/
Some days I don’t notice the nuthatch climbing the cinnamon scales of a pine tree, or the honeybee paused on the edge of the birdbath, drinking. Some days I see only the skim of a hamburger wrapper floating in the bayou, a chain link fence studded with plastic bags, a still gray form in the middle of the road, justifying despair. I lose some days entirely, as if this world can do without me, as if the way back is not just a few feet away, where a lime green katydid the size of a staple is waiting for my astonishment.
I’m not referring to unanswered adoration. I mean the reciprocal version, where you plunge hand in hand, helplessly. Three times seems like a generous allotment for such a chance event. I am grateful.
When asked this question, most folks have a clear number in mind: If you’ve been in love, you know it. But how, precisely? The duration varies widely and the symptoms are many: Love is a creative process, made new each time. So how do we know, unmistakably, that we have fallen in love?
For many it’s a period of immunity. Bad news bounces off them and nothing provokes concern. They live in a state of blissful suspension, far above the quotidian world. For others the earth becomes surreal. Even the lowliest objects—a broken cup, a piece of newspaper caught in a fence—take on a certain beauty and rightness. Some liken the experience to a drug they can’t get enough of. The more they consume, the more they need, and time spent apart from the loved one is agony. An ache, some folks call it, a glorious and nearly unbearable ache. “You lose control,” a friend told me, “but you’re okay with it.”
Oh those hallowed hours spent gazing at one another, faces inches apart, the sheer delight in discovering a new freckle or gesture. Time, surrendering, slides out the back door. While the rest of world continues somewhere else, lovers are locked away, immersed in a slow tease of mutual discovery. They will not be available to their friends and family, and for this they must be forgiven.
Nothing this extreme can last. The lives we abandoned want us back, and invariably we are reclaimed. In the presence of our beloved, we are not quite as careful with our words or fastidious in our manners; we floss in plain view, burp without apology, and inch by inch our perfect images fade from view. At first, the signs are subtle—a withering look, an eddy of annoyance, a gust of exasperation. Finally we can’t hold out any longer—the world elbows in and hands us a load of laundry. We can’t believe it, we won’t believe it, but there it is. Honeymoon’s over.
Plenty of couples do not recover from this transition; I am interested in those who do. I want to understand, to name, the kind of love that is left.
It has work to do, this leftover love. I see it operating in the background, like virus protection on a computer. I see it forming its own bulwarks.
This is a no-nonsense kind of love. Left unattended, it nurtures itself. Roomy and forgiving, this love allows us no end of mistakes. While our backs are turned, it makes us worthy, and as many times as we need, we are reminded that it’s still there. What luck to find this love that doesn’t go away. We may miss our passionate beginnings, but we trade them for something far more fierce.