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Home Planet

Archive for January 2011

Taking in the Great Outdoors

    Usually, dawn is just touching the sky when I open my eyes. Still blinking, half-lost in a fading dream, I reach over to the table beside my bed for my glasses and my camera. I stumble across the dark room and make my way to the window or step out onto the balcony if there is one. I press the shutter.


    “Good morning,” I say to myself wherever I am.  “Good morning, world.”


    This mid-winter morning, I am far north, in the Canadian province of Alberta. Frozen, scenic, Lake Louise shines blue-white in the weak early light. My room in the historic Chateau Lake Louise looks out toward the lake and I watch as the mountains ringing the lake come into focus as a new day steals across the sky.


    These are private, personal, moments when I travel; watching the day begin and end from my window.


    This is not to say I don’t enjoy the outdoors. I do. I spend long hours exploring the landscape wherever I go. In winter at Lake Louise, the cold air bites, the wind tangles and teases. A few steps from the Chateau I am part of a wilder world. I can taste the Canadian wilderness and hear the sounds and soak in the silence of a truly wild place. I listen to the crunch of my snowshoes on the snow in the forest. I hear the distant sounds of others; the squeals and laughter of children skating, the jingle of the harnesses of horses pulling sleighs down the trail to Victoria Falls.  Outdoors, I am exhilarated, thrilling at the pull of muscles and the pounding of my heart. But there is something so satisfying about coming in from the cold. Walking into a room spiced with the fragrance of hot coffee and chocolate, laced with conversation and laughter. Hands cradling a cup, lulled by the warmth, it is a selfish pleasure to stand and look out at  where I have been.

     From the window-seat in my room, I watch birds circle the frozen lake and solitude-seekers skiing the perimeter of the lake in the morning. In the late afternoon I gaze down at families, toddlers on sleds in tow, skates laced together and tossed over a shoulder. A single-file line of children scale the high bank from the lake to the Chateau like Gold Rush hopefuls trudging up Alaska’s Chilkoot Trail.


     At night, I gaze, once more before turning out the lights, spellbound, as the stars spread across the sky over me.


    When it is time to leave, I buy a souvenir; a postcard reproduction of a 1930 Canadian Pacific Railroad poster advertising the Chateau. The grand hotel - now a Fairmont property - was built more than 100 years ago by the railroad as a way to lure travelers to the remote and singularly beautiful place. On the card, an elegant woman with bobbed hair and wearing jodhpurs, stands gazing out toward Lake Louise through one of the Cathedral windows of the Chateau. Tall, snowcapped peaks reach above it and the Victoria glacier can be seen in the distance. The view is framed perfectly by the arch of the window.

    In my imagination - oh, the occasional freedom of my imagination - the tall, slim, beautiful blond woman (my opposite in every way) is me.


    We are both captivated by a window on the world. We are captured by an unforgettable view.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Millsap audio columns on iTunes

As most of my regular readers know, my weekly Home Planet columns are recorded for Spokane Public Radio where they air each Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m.

Each audio essay is then added to the KPBX podcasts and now those podcasts are available on iTunes.

So, if you don't catch it in print or online, you can hear Home Planet on iTunes here.

Saturday, Snow and the Happy Boy.

There are times, or so it feels to me, when our lives are fed to us the way food is stuffed into a goose to make foie gras. We don’t get a break. We’re crammed with more than we can possibly handle. There isn’t time to savor a bite.


 I was thinking about that as I stood in line at the bakery on Saturday morning, waiting my turn to place an order. The day was cold and fat snowflakes fell, swirling and drifting down from the flat gray sky. Through the wide front window of the downtown patisserie, I watched a family walk down the sidewalk. Two little boys - maybe four and six-years-old, dressed for the wintry weather - walked a bit behind their parents. The littlest boy dawdled, taking his time. He wasn’t in any kind of a hurry. Every few feet his parents called back to the boys to catch up. The big brother dutifully picked up his pace and tugged at the little one to do the same. And he did. For a step or two. Then he began to slow down again.


 It was obvious the little boy wasn’t particularly interested in where the rest of the family was going in such a hurry. It didn’t matter to him at all. Besides, I suspected no one had asked him where he wanted to go, anyway. He was just along for the ride. He’d been bundled into his coat and a cap had been pulled onto his head. He’d been hustled into the car, buckled into a car seat, driven across town and then unbuckled and lifted out onto the sidewalk. And now he was being told to keep up and stay close.


Instead, he strolled happily along, face turned up to the sky, mouth wide open catching snowflakes on the tip of his tongue.


I felt the landscape of my face change as I watched him and I smiled.


After paying for my purchases, I took the box of pastries and walked out the door. By that time, the light snow was over and the family with their sky-gazing little boy was gone.


 I took my time going back to my car, even though I suspected there might be a parking ticket fluttering under the windshield wiper. Even though I had other stops to make and dinner to cook and deadlines to meet.
At that moment, I think if even one snowflake had dropped out of the sky, down to where I was walking,  I would have done just what the little boy did a few moments before. I would have opened my mouth and stuck out my tongue and let everything else simply melt away.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

The shoplifter

    The snow was gritty and gray and piled into oily berms at the edges of the grocery store parking lot. It was one of those nights between holidays, between snowfalls, when winter isn’t beautiful at all, just cold and dreary and difficult.


    I sent my youngest daughter into the store with a list and a few dollars while I waited in the car. We didn’t need much. Milk and some fruit. Bread. And I needed a few minutes to answer an email and return a call.


    I was so involved with what I was doing I was startled when she opened the door and got back into the car. Putting down my phone I put my hand on the key to start the car. But at that moment I noticed a woman and a man standing in the parking lot just outside the entrance of the store. She was carrying a plastic gallon jug of milk in one hand, the other rested on the duffle bag that was strapped across her chest. She looked - at first glance - like a mother who’d stopped by the grocery store on the way home from work. A woman like me.


    The man had one hand on her shoulder and the other against the small of her back, his fingers wrapped around the strap of the duffel bag.


    I couldn’t hear what they were saying but there was a certain theater in the language of their bodies. He stood quite close to her, his head bent down so he could speak to her, his hand tight on her bag. She looked up him - he was much taller than she was - and her eyes were open wide.


    At first, I assumed they were a couple. I was puzzled by the way he held onto her, gentle but insistent. I mentioned it to my daughter.


    “I think she took something,” she said when I commented on them. “He followed her out.”


     I realized immediately that it was true. The man who’d followed her out of the store, hurrying to catch her before she got into her car, was a store employee. Or someone from security. Looking at her again, I could see that she was in shock. She was slightly stunned by her capture.


    They turned and walked back to the entrance of the store still close, his hand still at her back, on the strap of her bag. She kept looking up at him, like a child being led by an adult. Then, just inside the store, she stopped. So did he. And, in a tiny movement, she deflated. Her shoulders drooped. She dropped her head.
Silently, I turned the key and drove away.


    All though the holiday season the woman crossed my mind at the oddest moments; when I made dinner, when I poured a glass of milk, when I stopped by the store at the end of the day.


    I don’t know her story. She could be a serial shoplifter; there was that duffle bag after all. Or, she might be someone who gave into an impulse and suffered the consequences. But it was obvious that what had started out as a whim, or a dare or perhaps the desperate act of a woman who had no money to put food on the table, failed. She was caught.


    I don’t blame the store. They can’t let people steal. And the gentleness of the man touched me. But there was something in the way the woman looked as they led her away that makes it hard to condemn her.


    I guess it was just one of those things you see. When right and wrong meet in a parking lot on a cold winter night. Just one of those things that happen every day.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

The Upside of Jet Lag

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)  

 

    The upside of jet lag, and I suppose it takes a certain kind of optimism to even search for an upside, is that you sometimes find yourself awake and alone deep in the night. Or, at least, that’s what happens to me. For days after a trip my internal clock is upended. While everyone else is tucked in and sound asleep, I am a ghost. I tiptoe through the house making tea and toast. With the muffled whine of jet engines still ringing in my ears and a stuffy head thanks to the combined coughs and colds of hundreds of passengers packed into a 10-hour flight, I wrap myself in blankets and sit on the chaise lounge by the window in my living room with wool socks on my feet and a box of tissues by my side. I am miserable.
    

    But, I have discovered, there is a gift. When you are awake - half-awake as the case may be - in the dark and quiet world, you are free to think. Wrapped in warm blankets watching the snow fall on the other side of the glass, a comforting mug of hot tea in your hands, you can plan, imagine and dream. Who cares if you have to struggle to remember dates and names? If you’re too sluggish to do more than fall back against the pillows. Under the influence of too much travel and too little sleep, one is free to play with memory and ambition like a puzzle. The pieces can be arranged in whatever way suits you best.    
    

    Back from a December trip to Germany, cruising down the Rhine River past castles and villages and light-studded Advent markets; after navigating snowstorms, airport closures, cancelled flights and last-minute schedule changes, arriving just in time for Christmas with my family, I spent the last days of the year in just that condition. Exhausted, congested, confused and restless at night and too sleepy to function well by day, I cocooned in thick blankets. I looked back over the previous months. I measured my progress against the plans I’d made. I was too tired to run from my mistakes so there, in the darkest hours of the night, I let them catch up with me. There was, as is usually the case, plenty to answer to.
    

    I looked at the year ahead. I lay there and thought about what I really want to achieve. Maybe it is my age, my place in life, but when I really considered it, I realized the list is surprisingly short. I want less now than I’ve ever wanted before. The important things still matter: good health and happiness for myself and my family, time to daydream and write, freedom to travel and explore. But I’m no longer inclined to tilt at windmills. Let them spin. I’ve learned to choose my battles.
    

    Although it didn’t feel that way at the time, those hours by the window, awake in a dark house illuminated by the moon shining down on a snowy world, were the best gift I received. I could see where I’ve been. And where I want to go. And, perhaps this is the most important thing of all, I made peace with where I am.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
       

  

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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