I suppose giving birth to anything leaves one feeling a bit discombobulated in what might seem a strange, new land. That is me. Now. In the land of Pinterest. Pin me?
Washington was finally blanketed with a thick coating of wet snow today, locking in a snow day for all. My day started innocently enough (after coffee) making fried eggs, but soon “snowballed,” shall we say, into something much more bountiful. Upon replacing the egg carton into the refrigerator, I decided to have a look in the veggie drawer. Out I pulled an eggplant, half an onion, a green bell pepper and its red cousin, a few celery hearts, marjoram and parsley. Into a hot, oiled pot the chopped vegetables went with a handful of halved piccoline olives, lots of sliced garlic, a good sprinkling of salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. A drained can of tomatoes (hand crushed), and some chicken stock were added next and a then a good stir. I let this yummy mixture simmer for a couple of hours into my version of snow day ratatouille. I will be serving this glorious concoction over soft, warm polenta.
Feeling inspired, I decided to next make some pizza dough. After a good rise, I took a portion of the finished dough and rolled it out thinly. I spread the rolled dough with spicy honey mustard and topped with the crisped and browned half smokes I had slowly frying away in my cast iron pan. The dough was rolled around the sausage, brushed with egg, and sprinkled with sesame seeds before being placed into a hot oven. The most delicious pigs in a blanket I have ever had!
Next came my all time favorite cornmeal/panko crusted chicken cutlets and then some chicken jerky for Henry. Both chicken options were happy to be placed back in the fridge for later use.
Not wanting to leave out dessert, I conducted a quick poll — meringues or brownies. The future was clear. Brownies it would be. They cool now on the counter — three big squares of warm brownie missing.
When I have a little spare time, I like to write children’s stories. I also love pandas. If you have a little spare time, you might enjoy the trip. Below is Journey Home, written by me.
Chomping down on her morning snack, Mei Mei tipped backwards like an upturned potato bug. She rocked and rolled in her normal state of bliss. Not a care in the world she had. Not a thought out of place. Her mind was like thick, sweet maple syrup. On this particular morning, Mei Mei found her snack in the grotto at the bottom of the hill. Now, this was a good thing on this gray day. Rain had been falling all throughout the night and the ground was wet and fat drops of rain still fell from the gray sky. It was good luck that Mei Mei was able to find a dry treat, and it was a good thing she was able to enjoy it in a cool, dry place. Her lucky grotto.
Mei Mei was 4 years old and was born on her hillside. She remembers running up and rolling down the hill. She remembers playing in cold, slippery snow. Mei Mei lived in a world shared with Boo. Boo was 2 years old and came to live with Mei Mei when he was very, very small. Mei Mei and Boo lived side by side, day after day in what some may consider idyllic conditions. Optimum conditions.
Later in the morning, after a long post-snack nap in the lucky grotto, Mei Mei found the stamina to saunter back up the wet hill. The fat drops had stopped falling from the gray sky. There at the top of the wet hill, in front of the entrance to the evening cave, she found a fresh pile of bamboo. Mei Mei loved bamboo. It was her favorite food to eat. She ate piles and piles of it every day. Green leaves fanning out in all directions off of sturdy stalks of green and yellow stripes, all piled up in tidy bundles. This particular pile of bamboo was a lucky find because Mei Mei had gotten a bit hungry. Although she had become hungry, she never entertained for one moment the thought that she may not get fed. This was not something Mei Mei had to worry about in her world. All of Mei Mei’s needs were fulfilled — she wanted for nothing. Wake, eat, climb, sleep, wake, eat, climb, sleep. Everyday. Day after day after day. Mei Mei was never hungry for long.
Mei Mei had many trees on her hill on which she could climb each morning. On one, she always found the perfect branch for her nap. Although sometimes, Mei Mei found herself all the way up on her perfect branch but could not recall the climb. She knew exactly how to use each branch like rungs on a ladder. Mei Mei was never worried about not finding a branch, falling, or not being able to get back down from her tree. She had climbed each tree on the hill so many times before.
Finishing up her tidy pile of bamboo, Mei Mei spotted Boo halfway down the wet hill, hanging from a low branch by just his front paws, swinging raucously back and forth. Boo was still so small, his hind legs did not yet reach the ground from the low branch. Mei Mei watched in utter amazement as Boo flung himself off of the low branch down onto the soft ground, which was cushioned with dry, fragrant pine needles. Boo rolled backwards while cupping his front paws over his still small face. Boo was not sure which way he would roll, so covering his face made the adventure a little more interesting.
Once Boo’s small, fuzzy, rolled up body came to a halt, he stretched out on his fur-padded back as long as he could and let out a giggle that was so infectious, Mei Mei found herself throwing her head back in laughter. Mei Mei called for Boo to join her inside the evening cave for a game of tag. Mei Mei and Boo did this every afternoon. Well, actually, sometimes they played roll the red ball, and other times they played hide and go seek. But on this particular afternoon they would play tag. This was mostly because Mei Mei did not see a red ball, and they played hide and go seek the day before. Afternoon playtime was about the only decision Mei Mei ever made. She never really thought too much about it, though.
After playtime, polishing off another pile of bamboo, and another nap in the evening cave, Mei Mei woke, as she did every evening, to darkness. The darkness in the evening cave was the only darkness Mei Mei had ever experienced. Mei Mei’s darkness was black. Thick black, like the black at the bottom of a pond. There were no stars in Mei Mei’s dark. Mei Mei had never seen a star, or the brightly glowing moon. In the evening cave, when Mei Mei woke each night from her nap, she found the exit to the cave blocked. Sealed, with no way for her to get out to her hill, her trees, her grotto at the bottom of the hill, or a napping branch. Mei Mei did not worry because she knew that as the sun rose each morning, the sealed evening cave would once again offer these things to her along with the fresh air and scent of her safe, predictable world. She did not worry or wonder much about it.
Although Mei Mei woke each night to the sealed exit without concern, Boo encountered a different feeling. Boo did not like the blackness of the evening cave. Boo yearned to smell the freshly fallen pine needles and other interesting scents the soft breezes would bring to his heart-shaped nose. When Boo woke each night, he would find that Mei Mei had already moved into the deeper part of the evening cave where she always slept. There in the deep part of the evening cave was a hammock that Mei Mei was lucky to find before Boo was even born. Mei Mei loved sleeping on her evening hammock during the darkness. As Mei Mei snored away through the dark night on her lucky hammock, Boo searched for the light.
There were sounds in the dark night that kept Boo awake. Other animals — animals that Boo had never met. But Boo could hear them. Boo and Mei Mei had never met other animals. Except for the birds. The birds flew in and out of their world, sometimes conversing with Boo and Mei Mei, and sometimes only chattering amongst themselves. Each day seemed different for the birds. The birds never showed up like the morning snacks did or how the piles of bamboo appeared each day. Boo enjoyed observing the birds. The birds were unpredictable. Boo wished to be more like the unscheduled birds.
During one dark night, lying awake listening to the night sounds, Boo wandered to the cave’s exit. As was the case each night before, Boo found himself unable to get out. The cave wall had closed. Boo lied down in front of the closed cave wall and noticed small openings where the fresh outdoor air was flowing in. The lovely smells and tickles from the streaming air were so comforting. Boo stuck his twitching nose up to the small openings and took in a big sniff. Oh, how Boo loved the outdoor smells. While lying on his back, smelling the outdoor smells, Boo noticed the light. A tiny light up in the dark night sky. Outside of the evening cave. Boo’s heart raced and warmed and he fell into his sweetest dreams.
As the sun rose, Boo and Mei Mei awoke from their indoor slumber and started their day. This day was no different from any other day. At least at the beginning. The cave wall had opened up as it always did, and fresh morning air filled the evening cave. Familiar smells and far-away animal sounds were an invitation for Boo and Mei Mei to join the outdoors. Piles of fresh bamboo met the bears as they exited the evening cave. Snacks of frozen fruit and sweet potato were not so cleverly hidden down on what was the now the dry hill. And tall trees were waiting to cradle the bears during their morning nap. All was well. But, Boo was bored. Boo was curious. Boo was not content to wake up another day to a life of no challenge. Boo knew his life could be more than just showing up at the right place at the right time.
Later that afternoon, Boo did not come down from his napping branch. Mei Mei called for him from the top of the hill but Boo would not budge. She paced to the right and paced to the left but the small panda paid no notice. Fresh red apples magically rolled out and away from the evening cave entrance as if they too were mysteriously calling for Boo to come inside. Boo resisted the sweet temptations and stayed on his napping branch. Hours passed and Boo noticed Mei Mei finally disappear into the evening cave as the cave wall shut behind her. Panic engulfed Boo as he watched the cave swallow up its own entrance. Boo was alone outside for the first time. Darkness was slowly blanketing the only world Boo knew. He was simultaneously frightened and exhilarated. To Boo’s surprise, the darkness outside of the cave was different form the darkness inside the evening cave. In fact, the darkness outside the cave wasn’t dark at all. There before his black ringed eyes was a spectacle he had never seen. The sky was filled with glittering pin lights, some of which seemed to be vibrating. And most beautiful was a giant, glowing orb — the same shape as his red ball — suspended in space, electrifying the landscape with a beautiful luminous glow. Then, Boo noticed a magical sight — small flying creatures saddled with tiny green glow lights surrounding the base of his napping tree. The tiny flying creatures enticed Boo to climb down from his branch and join in on the night’s festivities.
Boo’s new flying friends spoke in whispered, buzzy tones of an outside world — a world totally unfamiliar to Boo and Mei Mei. A world where the landscape was ever-changing, unpredictable, and reliant on a partnership between all living things within it. Boo was determined to experience his life outside of the predictable, and what had become a rather boring world. Boo wanted a challenge. Boo wanted to find out what he was capable of accomplishing. Boo was tired of finding his snacks in the same places and fresh piles of bamboo by the cave entrance. There had to be other hills, with different rocks, trees and views. Maybe there were different kinds of snacks in the other world. Boo’s new flying friends promised to help him discover the unfamiliar outside world. But, that would take some planning and, that would require the help of some other friends. Friends that Boo and Mei Mei did not yet know.
As the moon rose higher into the star-studded heavens, illuminating the surrounding blackness, Boo’s new glowing friends said their farewells and promised Boo that as long as he was determined to bravely meet the outside world, the outside world would be determined to welcome him into its arms. Boo wished his friends well on their departure and watched them disappear into the night air, up and away from his convenient world. For the first time in Boo’s life, he sensed no fear in the darkness, but rather a sense of excitement for the prospect of discovering his true potential. As Boo lay underneath his favorite pine tree, looking up at the sparkling stars, he sensed an unfamiliar sound, a sense that the air above was being sliced in two. Boo felt simultaneousely scared and for the first time brave. Before Boo could fully understand what was happening, swooping down through the darkness, and landing with a graceful flap of seemingly never-ending wings, a giant eagle rested on its bright yellow talons directly before Boo. The eagle’s clear, piercing eyes pulsing with feral instinct — a feeling Boo and Mei Mei rarely experienced — fixed on the small black and white Boo crouching before it.
The eagle cocked its head to the left, then to the right, all the while never shifting its gaze away from Boo. Boo politely asked the mammoth bird if it had arrived from the outside world — the world Boo longed to experience — the world Boo knew he must meet. The giant bird raised its wings at once, stretching them above its white-feathered head, and slowly, ever so slowly, lowered them as they folded into its sturdy sides. Then, the bird spoke. The bird introduced himself to Boo. His name was Majesty. His friends called him Maji for short. Maji had been told of the bear on the hill under the pines. He had been told about the bear’s unfulfilled sense of wonder. The bird was saddened and felt the world a lonely place without the bear in it. The bird explained in hushed tones that he could take the bear to the outside world — to places the bear had never dreamed of. A world so vast, filled with creatures big and small, furry and also glowing. A world of hills so tall and steep they are called mountains, and huge families of trees called forests.
Boo longed to experience the world where the eagle lived. A world where every sunrise brought new hope and discovery. Where bears and eagles could work together to make things even better. But what would happen to Mei Mei once Boo left the hillside he shared with his constant companion? The one decision Mei Mei was able to make would no longer be possible once Boo left. Mei Mei could not play tag or hide and go seek alone. The red ball was not much fun for Mei Mei unless Boo was there rolling around with it. Boo was faced with his future and, for the first time, a real decision. As much as he loved Mei Mei, and as comfortable as the hillside had become for him, providing meals and shelter at precisely the right times, Boo knew he had to allow himself to make choices, real choices, if he wanted to live his fullest life. He would come back for Mei Mei if the outside world proved to be as fantastical as he has hoped it would be.
Maji saw in Boo’s eyes his determination and longing. Before Boo could think twice about leaving his familiar hillside, the giant bird, with its strong talons clenched around thick tufts of fur, raised its wings again but this time flapped wildly until both it and the attached bear were rising off of the soft earth below them. Up, up they flew, over the napping trees and away. Boo did not cover his eyes with his fuzzy paws on this ride. He wanted to see all that was around him. And that which he noticed overwhelmed him and excited him for his unknown future. Boo saw things he had never seen before as he hung from the clenches of Maji’s strong grip. Further and further they flew towards a giant mound of earth that stretched up to the stars — Maji’s mountain. Not just one mountain, but many strung together like a family huddled together arm in arm, covered in thick green forests filled with life. Ever-changing life.
Once a thick canopy of green surrounded the rapturous bird in all directions, as far as the bear’s eyes could see, the two began a swooping, gliding descent to what seemed a not-so-unfamiliar forest floor. The landscape looked all so new and familiar at the same time. Maji and Boo came to rest, falling gently, so gently down from the starlit sky like a winter snowflake. Once Boo had his paws on the forest floor, Maji loosened his grip and stood in front of the small bear. The bright moon lit up the forest with endless shafts of light that stretched from the ground all the way up to the sky. It was a magical sight. Maji wished Boo well and told him all he could ever want for was there before him. Boo began to contemplate Maji’s words just as the bird raised itself up and in a quick snap, was out of sight.
Boo took in a long breath, the deepest breath he had ever taken. He stood there, slightly disoriented in the herbal-scented forest, in the not quite darkness and contemplated what to do next. Boo was tired. Boo had never gone into his evening cave on that particular night and his long, and exhilarating yet terrifying journey to the fragrant mountainside had made his eyes heavy and his head giggly. Boo needed a place to sleep. A short nap before the sun rose. Would the sun rise here in this new place? Boo’s surrender to a deep slumber provided no answer.
Sun trickled down through a thick ceiling of leaves. Leaves on branches. So many branches — more than Boo had ever seen. And the smell! If green had a smell, then Boo knew that was what he was smelling. Such a beautiful concoction of aliveness, — dewy and wet, floral and musky, all at the same time. Smells from below his paws mixing with smells floating above moving in an invisible current created by this big living and breathing world. These smells awoke in Boo the sense that he was hungry. Actually, Boo was starving! Glancing around, Boo knew food could not be far away given the vast greenness all around him. Boo had never seen so much life. Giant ferns curled their long spear-like leaves at Boo’s sides providing a gentle brush as he set out on his food-finding adventure.
Boo was not accustomed to actually “finding” his food. Bamboo was where it always was — in tidy bundles at the top of the hill by the entrance to the night cave. And treats were never too far. But, here, in the vast greenness, things were somewhat unfamiliar and Boo could not find bamboo, not in tidy piles, not scattered around. Not anywhere. And he did not stumble upon any frozen treats or sweet potatoes split in half, just the way he liked them. Is that the way he liked them? Once Boo thought about it, he realized he had never seen a sweet potato that was not split open. The bright orange color of the tuber’s interior flesh was always a welcome sight on the hill. The hill was green, or rather, that’s what Boo had always thought. But now that Boo had seen, felt and smelled the vast greenness on Maji’s mountain, he thought the hill to be not so green. Perhaps this is why the bright orange made him feel happy on the hill.
Meandering through the vast greenness, past tall trees that framed small streams dotted with mossy rocks, Boo heard a rustle above his head. The bear’s small, round, black ears perked upward and slightly pivoted like tiny satellites. And again from the side. Too quick for small Boo to catch. Birds he thought. Must be birds. Boo certainly could hear them. The bird’s song here in the vast greenness was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard. A choir made up of the most perfectly-pitched voices backed up by a symphony that seemed to have an infinite number of members. It echoed and bounced around the forest like a gentle game of toss. Oh, how happy Boo felt. If he could just find something sweet to eat, things would be just about perfect. Boo rounded a bend along the tree framed stream and stopped in his tracks at a sight that was new. Before him, lying by the water’s shallow edge was a most beautiful creature. The creature did not look away from the cool, clear water he slowly and without pause, lapped up. The creature was laying on its side, head positioned between its long, thin, spotted legs. In fact, Boo noticed that the entire creature was covered in spotted fur. How soft and exotic the animal appeared to Boo.
Boo stepped forward and the beautiful spotted creature looked around to catch Boo in its gaze. The animal’s head was large with nut shaped eyes of yellow and green and small, rounded ears covered in yellow fuzz. The animal did not seem to be bothered by Boo’s curiosity. In fact, the animal seemed only tired and very thirsty. The beautiful spotted creature turned back for a few more steady gulps of water then picked its head up, rose up on its four spotted legs and turned to face Boo. The animal bowed his head slightly to the side and introduced himself . His name was Panar. He explained that he was very tired from being awake all night, looking for food. Without finding any food, Panar became very thirsty. Panar felt lucky to find water in his exhausted, thirsty state. Panar had never felt lucky before.
Panar explained that he had set out on a journey to find a friend he had never met. He was not sure where to find the friend but Panar was an excellent hunter and did not worry that he would not meet he for whom he searched.
Boo and Panar set out together that morning looking for food to share. Boo was not sure what to look for in the new and unfamiliar landscape. On and on they walked together into the thick vast greenness along a meandering, what looked to be established pathway. Boo felt his tummy rumble, and listened as his insides gurgled without the usual morning meal to fill it up. A great screech from above stopped both Boo and Panar in their tracks and prompted them both to look upwards toward the blue sky. Nothing. Nothing but the rustling of leaves and branches at the very top of the cooling canopy. The two looked in silence at each other without offering explanation for the screeching sound that seemed to be simultaneously leading and following the new friends along their journey. As they started forward once more, Boo stumbled into an object that he had never before seen. The object was so unusual, Boo was prompted to stop in his tracks and investigate further the object before him. The object was small enough for Boo to hold between his two front paws, which he discovered was possible when he rolled backwards holding the new found object close to his curious eyes. He shook it, as if a lucky snack might fall out. Nothing. The object was covered in small rough spines on the outside and topped with a crown of spikey green leaves. Boo put his heart-shaped nose up to the spikey specimen and took in a big sniff. Ahhh, how sweet it was. How could something that looked so uninviting from the outside smell so sweet? Boo looked to Panar for explanation. Panar too was not familiar with the object but was duly intoxicated by the aroma. Boo thought there must be something inside the unwelcoming exterior that resulted in the aroma both friends hoped would yield a welcome treat.
Boo sat up with the object still gripped between his black furry paws and offered the object to Panar. Panar motioned to the soft forest floor and Boo set the object down. Panar took two steps gingerly backwards and in one swift movement, Boo’s spotted companion reared its head down, lifted its back up into a rainbow-shaped arch and pounced forward bearing all of its thrust onto the mysterious find. Panar bounced back a step as Boo sat motionless, staring down at the split open object. To the surprise of both Boo and Panar, the spikey object yielded a very different interior — bright yellow, soft, oozing with sweet-smelling juice. And the smell of it! Both Boo and Panar picked up a piece of the split, juicy object and took a taste. And then another. Before the two could look over at each other, the delicious snack was gone. All of it gobbled up — slurped, and sucked of the very last drop of its golden yellow nectar. And with that, another screech and disturbance in the leaves high above their bacchanal feast. And, once again Boo nor Panar noticed anything above. But, glancing this time a bit longer toward the tops of the trees Boo noticed something that brought a smile to his little face. Boo glanced at Panar and motioned with his white fur covered snout upwards toward the source of the now familiar screeching sound. There up in the tree tops were many of the same delicious objects — nestled together, quiet, and waiting to be found.
Before the two friends could hatch a plan, Boo found himself climbing up the tall tree. Up towards the sweet bounty secured at the sky’s edge. Up, up, up. Boo climbed higher than he ever had before. And, on this unfamiliar tree, Boo found himself aware of each step he took closer and closer to his prize. Panar watched from below with astonishment as the bear reached heights Panar had never dreamed of reaching. Panar liked to climb too, but Panar climbed only to the first good napping branch he could find. Panar never thought of climbing higher. It never crossed his mind that climbing higher might yield something extraordinary. Once Boo reached the top of the tree, he batted at the nestled objects until one after another they fell to the ground with a thump, thump, thump. Some of the juicy treats split open upon hitting the forest floor. Others were intact and Panar rolled them with his strong head to rest against where the mighty trunk met the mossy ground.
Boo returned to the ground once he had freed enough treats for himself and Panar. The two enjoyed two more of the luscious snacks together beside the giant tree before agreeing that a nice morning nap was in order. After all, their bellies were full and Boo was quite tired from his long climb. The friends agreed to nap close by their juicy treasures since they would provide a lovely post-nap snack. Panar stood up, turned to his right and silently moved into soft ferns, stretched his graceful legs up to a piney smelling tree and with a burst of energy from his hind legs, leapt up to a branch draping himself along its length with perfect balance. Boo followed suit but his climb was quite a bit not-quite-the-same. Boo used all four paws as they provided long claws perfect for gripping plus a shimmy with his body to the left and to the right, and there was no leaping in Boo’s climb. Actually, there was no leaping at all for Boo. Ever. He wasn’t a leaping kind of bear. Boo climbed by Panar on his low branch already twitching from an adventurous dream. Up Boo climbed, quite high, to the perfect cradle for him and his belly full of gratefulness.
That afternoon Boo awoke from his long nap. His nap had been longer than usual on that particular day. Boo noticed he had napped deeply because of the light. The light was different from Boo’s more familiar afternoon light. The air surrounding Boo was pink and gold and it seemed to suspend the tiniest particles of life in it. And above Boo was a lavender sky filled with the sparkles Boo noticed on his hill the night before. But this time there were more. So many more. So many that Boo became overcome with the majesty of what he saw. He felt himself a tiny vibrating sparkle in a giant glittering, pulsating universe. He felt so small, and so connected all at once. He felt that if those stars could see him, they would see he was glowing too. And with that, Boo thought of Maji. Boo felt so grateful for the bird’s help. With a warm feeling in his heart, Boo began to descend. Down, down he gingerly maneuvered towards the low branch where Panar slept.
Boo’s warm heart suddenly went still when he noticed the branch on which Panar napped was no longer cloaked in golden, spotted fur. Panar was gone. Boo called for him but was answered only with sweet birdsong from all directions. The birds seemed to be talking to Boo as well as each other. As Boo hung from his two paws, hind legs dangling, he hesitated to allow himself to drop to the thickly cushioned, green forest floor below. This drop was a bit longer than his usual low branch. With a swing to the front and a swing to the back, Boo let go and landed himself on all fours. Surprising himself, he giggled, And giggled some more. He turned to glance back up into the tree looking for Panar and noticed the remaining sweet treats he and Panar stowed at the base of the giant tree. Each specimen had been split, ever so carefully so not a drop of juice could escape, but split just enough for Boo to get his chubby little paws to work. Boo thought about polishing off one more snack just as a crack from above along with an approaching whooshing sound startled Boo enough for him to cover his head with his black paws. In the same instant Maji touched his bright grips to the ground, Boo whispered out-loud Maji’s name. Boo lifted his head to witness the noble eagle staring back at him.
Boo told Maji of the friend he met and how they shared a snack. He also told Maji that Panar was gone. He’d slipped away while Boo slept, leaving the carefully cracked snacks awaiting Boo’s soon-to-be hungry belly. The eagle smiled ever so slightly, almost knowingly, and told Boo he was happy and asked the bear if he wanted for anything. Boo thought for a moment. Boo thought of the vast greenness, the bird song, the glorious mountains and starlit sky, his friend Panar, and the restful naps way, way up in tall, tall trees. Boo could not think of one thing he needed. Except for Mei Mei. Boo missed Mei Mei and wished that Mei Mei could wander in the vast greenness and find the perfect napping spot in the tallest tree, and curl herself up at night under the glorious evening sky that Boo now knew was a twinkling blanket providing comfort in the darkest of nights.
Maji furrowed his brow more deeply between his piercing yellow eyes and spoke to Boo. Maji explained that Mei Mei had met Maji many years before. Maji had met Mei Mei before Boo even arrived on the hill. Boo was astonished that Mei Mei had never spoken of the eagle before. Maji also explained that he had been back to the hill since Boo left. Maji saw that Mei Mei had continued her life in the same fashion she had lived each day before Boo left the hill. But Mei Mei missed Boo. Mei Mei realized that napping was not much fun without a friend to wake up to. Mei Mei realized that polishing off a tidy pile of bamboo wasn’t as satisfying as sharing it with a pal.
Boo promised himself that he would return to the hill, wet or dry, and bring Mei Mei to the beautiful green mountains. He asked the eagle to help him. Boo sat in utter astonishment as Maji explained that Mei Mei had known about the vast greenness and that she never wondered enough about it to want to leave her hill. And Boo. Once Boo arrived to live on Mei Mei’s hill, she couldn’t imagine leaving her Boo behind. He was so small and helpless. Boo needed Mei Mei when he was little to show him how to climb, how to roll backwards, how to strip bamboo in no time. Mei Mei had taught Boo everything.
With this news, Boo felt an empty feeling inside his tummy and this time it would not be quelled by bamboo, sweet potatoes, or any other snack. Boo was feeling sad for the first time. Sad that he had taken an opportunity for himself when Mei Mei turned it down first in order to protect and care for Boo. And sad for himself that he could not share with Mei Mei the joy of the vast greenness and all its bounty. And now Mei Mei was alone. Boo knew he had to get to her. The mighty eagle offered his help in leading Mei Mei to the vast greenness but Maji would need assistance. Mei Mei was much bigger than Boo and as strong as Maji was, he would not be able to get Mei Mei off of the ground. The journey would be much more complicated and longer than Boo’s voyage.
I have watched over Mei Mei and Boo since they came to live on the hill. My family has lived on and around the hill for many generations. I am Osred. I care very much about the bears and have always done what I can, small as I may be, to help make their lives happier. Sometimes in the darkness of the evening cave, when Mei Mei is sleeping deeply on her hammock, I scurry silently over to Boo, where he is curled up like his red ball and I sing lullabies to him. Boo never seems to know I am there, but he always calms once I start my song. As small as I am, scurrying in and out of the evening cave through the tiniest of openings, I can do big things. I have many friends, some new and some have been around for a long, long time. With my big ideas and help from my friends, anything is possible. Anything.
The bright golden sun rose, warming the ground and consuming the mist that hung over the hill. Mei Mei emerged from her evening cave poking her fuzzy head out first to sniff and take notice of what was before her on that particular day. Birds sang, a warm, gentle breeze moved through the trees, and plies of fresh bamboo awaited her. Her day started off as it always did except with a new longing for her friend that made her feel not quite so lucky. Life on the hill was not as carefree without Boo but she went ahead with her day as she always did. She gobbled up her bamboo, stretched out in the long, wild grass, climbed a tree and found just the perfect napping branch. She woke to find more bamboo by the evening cave’s entrance and she made her way inside once she had polished off the tidy bundle. The cave door magically closed behind her and darkness began to fill the air.
The quiet, typical night was interrupted, unbeknownst to Mei Mei, by only one unusual event. A gathering. A gathering at the bottom of the hill. There in the tree on the low branch by the lucky grotto, perched Maji, and surrounding him were hundreds of fireflies with wings moving so quickly, they appeared invisible. Each flying magician was suspended in mid-air, bobbing ever so slightly up and down. They all seemed to be listening intently to something. A message from Maji. But the message was so hushed, there was hardly a sound between them all. In the quiet of this clandestine meeting, a plan was being hatched. In a quick moment, the meeting was adjourned and each attendee disappeared into the darkness, out in all directions.
As darkness once again gently lowered into the golden glow of the vast greenness, Boo felt restless. Restless knowing he had to do whatever he could to reunite with Mei Mei. Boo felt reassured knowing Maji would help. Boo hoped when the bird returned next he would share a most wonderful plan. Boo wondered if the plan would include a journey for him. Would he be returning to the hill in the clutches of a mighty bird? Would he and Mei Mei then set out together in hopes of finding the way back to this new world of possibilities? Boo moved himself slowly along a pathway through the thick underbrush as he powered the future. Again. Again, a screech from above. Above and in front of Boo. Boo looked up with his heart-shaped nose pointing to the sky, deep brown eyes squinting to see the disturbance. But as before, nothing but branches and leaves. As Boo spied the treetops for any shape that looked out of place, his ears picked up a sound ahead in the distance. Intrigued, and eternally hopeful, Boo moved forward to discover its source.
Onward Boo toddled, as the air around him quieted of the daytime birdsong and shifted seamlessly into an evening orchestra of chirping crickets, hooting owls, howling fox calls and whistling tree frogs. The sound Boo set out to follow was getting closer and closer. Boo could see ahead, even in the evening air, a clearing where the last bit of light looked to be resting. Boo’s heart raced a bit as his short little legs hesitated forward to what looked to be the edge of the world. Gingerly, almost sideways, Boo approached a large, sturdy tree close the threshold. Boo climbed quickly and purposefully up the tree until he found a strong branch that would lend him a view of the landscape in front of him. The sound had also now become a muffled roar and surrounded him. Boo observed a giant precipice that arched around from left to right and led to a canyon far below from where the bear perched. The cliff’s edge was steep, barren of green, and included large rocks, tree roots, and spiney bushes. At the far right side of the precipice was the source of the sound Boo followed from the forest’s interior.
A stream, perhaps the same stream along which Boo and Panar met, fell over the edge of the arched precipice and fell down, down, down, into a cloud of wildly spraying water. Boo could just barely see the birds that flew around the water as it fell unceremoniously, almost willfully into the basin far below. Boo felt inspired by the grandness he saw. Boo was comforted by the cooperation of all the elements working in unison as they did here each night, night after night to create this spectacle. Boo knew that a new day would bring Mei Mei closer to her arrival in this world of wonder. Mei Mei belonged here in Boo’s new world. Boo backed up on his branch until his little tail rested against the mighty trunk. There Boo relaxed his head down, closed his tired eyes, smiled, and felt peaceful. A deep sleep lured Boo’s attention away from the natural pageantry and pulled him into sweet dreams.
Mei Mei was aroused early from her deep sleep on a particularly quiet day. The evening cave not quite yet full of morning air was full of a gentle breeze that brought with it the aroma of a new day. Before Mei Mei meandered to the cave’s exit to find the source of the welcome breeze, she heard chatter that was not usual. The chatter did not worry Mei Mei, but it was unusual nonetheless. Mei Mei did not think twice about how this morning would unfold. Each day began and ended the same way for Mei Mei. This is precisely why what happened next was quite a surprise for the lone bear.
Two of the busiest, most secretive visitors to the hill stood there in the cave’s exit for all to see, standing up on their hind legs. Their eyes, like Mei Mei’s eyes, were ringed in black, like two bandits, which seemed quite appropriate at the time of Mei Mei’s observation. The two sly visitors faced each other, and engaged in fast-paced chit chat that involved both of them gesticulating wildly with their little black hands that were topped with tiny black articulated fingers. Each looked to be wearing tiny black leather driving gloves. Each small creature had a fluffy tail whose fur was striped black and brown. As Mei Mei stepped towards the pointy-nosed twosome, the conversation stopped and both turned to face Mei Mei whose face must have conveyed the shock she felt upon noticing that one of the furry animals twirled a ring of keys in its left hand.
The animal whose black fingers spun the key ring in dizzying circles, caught the spinning object in its palm, bowed its chin in a quick gesture and introduced himself to Boo as Arty and motioned with his black nose to Sylvester, his fluffy companion. Mei Mei wondered why the two strangers stood before her. Had they used the keys to open the cave? Before Mei Mei could utter a word, Arty spoke in quick efficient language. He explained that he and Sylvester (Sly, for short) had been instructed by their boss to scurry into the cave at a particular time, on a particular day, and lead the big black and white bear through passages unknown to Mei Mei. Arty spoke so matter-of-factly and without much elaboration. Sly chimed in to explain that Mei Mei was to follow them out, away from the hill, the hill that Mei Mei had woken up to every day of her life.
Looking back in to the night cave, and then out over her hill, Mei Mei felt alone. Really alone for the first time since Boo disappeared. She followed behind Arty and Sly as they turned left and right then left again until they were outdoors, in the early morning air, quietly walking outside along a pathway. It was not too long before they slipped off the path into the thick curtain of trees. Mei Mei’s companions were quick. They were much smaller than Mei Mei and seemed familiar with the area, allowing them to pivot around the trees much more quickly than Mei Mei. Periodically Mei Mei’s labored gait was met with Arty’s backwards glance. Without any discussion, the two small trailblazers lead the way as if this route were a familiar one. As Mei Mei’s small satellite-like ears adjusted to the sounds around her, she became aware of the sound of water, moving water.
Arty and Sly lead Mei Mei down a small embankment to the edge of a not so wide stream. The stream was dotted with smooth stones that created swirls on the water’s surface as it moved along, determined, with purpose and without pause, due south. Arty stopped, turned to Mei Mei and revealing tiny black palms by his upturned little hands, he once again delivered his message in a very business-as-usual tone. This is where they would be saying goodbye to Mei Mei. Their job for that particular morning had come to an end. Mei Mei looked at the two creatures incredulously. What was she to do now? Mei Mei had never really had to ask herself that question. Life on the hill was unscheduled but things did seem to fall into place so nicely there. Sly, pointing his little nose to the water explained that Mei Mei was to follow the current. For how long and exactly to what point Mei Mei was to follow the water was not conveyed. But, the new friends did offer one very enticing bit of motivation: at the end of Mei Mei’s watery quest, Mei Mei would find Boo. Her eyes opened wide, and her furry brow lifted. Arty whispered, “Godspeed” as he turned to follow after Sly who had already begun to scamper away.
Mei Mei did not have much experience with water, per se. On the hill, Mei Mei always loved to sit in her black bucket of water. Cool, refreshing and splashy. There at the top of the hill, by the nighttime cave entrance, not far from where she always found her bamboo bundles, Mei Mei would often find her lucky bucket filled with fresh water — not too cold, not too warm. Not every day, but often enough that Mei Mei knew she could depend on the bucket. Mei Mei loved to relax in the trusty vessel, allowing the refreshing water to wash over her sturdy back legs and splash up onto her big belly. On this auspicious day, Mei Mei had travelled farther than her hill had ever allowed her. The liquid pathway now in front of Mei Mei inspired her to glance southward and take advantage of a much-needed bath.
Mei Mei gingerly stepped into the cool water — much cooler than her bucket water. First her front paws, then her back paws. Mei Mei then submerged her large body into the water — her back and shoulders tickled as her fur danced buoyantly below the water’s surface. Mei Mei felt the tug of the water. It nudged and prodded her, coaxing her to begin her journey. Mei Mei thought of her friend, Boo. The lure of companionship instilled enough bravery in Mei Mei to lift her paws off of the watery floor and give herself to the current. Without a rudder, oars, or any knowledge of her destination, Mei Mei flipped over onto her back and found herself floating along in the swiftly moving water, allowing it to magically navigate her around its obstacles and eddies. The power of the water that gently carried Mei Mei humbled her. She felt grateful for the water and felt for the first time a connection to something much bigger than herself and the hill she called home. Mei Mei was grateful for the help of her guides, the supportive current, and felt the sequence of events that had unfolded were part of a larger plan and not just blind luck. This was destiny.
On her back, gazing up to the sky, Mei Mei was comforted by the birds that followed her from above. The birds called and sang to each other, swooping down for a closer look at the floating bear — a sight the birds had never seen! Their presence and song relaxed Mei Mei. Mei Mei was surprised by the variation in birds that she spied as she travelled closer to her mysterious destination. There were tiny birds whose wings were beating faster than Mei Mei could see, engaged in a melodic back and forth exchange, and there were large birds with outstretched wing spans that allowed the creatures to suspend almost motionless in the sky, held up by invisible forces. The larger birds fixed their gaze upon Mei Mei, studying her rotund body as it bobbed along the briskly moving waterway.
The pink morning light gave way to mid day heat, and the cool bath carrying Mei Mei slowed to a gentler flow. The banks of the waterway rose sharply up and away from the water. The sharp embankment was framed with tall reeds — golden in color and topped with silky tassels that swayed in unison as if they had practiced this performance many times before. The reeds stood together like soldiers in a very crowded army. Mei Mei could not see far passed the army’s front line of cadets but her nose twitched from a scent that tickled the edge of her nostrils. Mei Mei’s nostrils had never twitched with such spirit. Smells on her hill were always familiar and choreographed. Mei Mei could expect each day the smells arriving on her hill at the precise times they did each day. Nothing was ever out of place. But here in the wild golden world, Mei Mei was more aware than she ever had been — her ears heard new sounds, her bright eyes saw new sights and her nose was smelling all sorts of new smells. Mei Mei flipped herself over onto her supportive belly and found that the water was quite shallow — shallow enough for Mei Mei to sit up in the liquid as she did in her black bucket.
Once again, an enticing odor floated past the edges of Mei Mei’s nostrils. It was a wild smell. It was alive and moving and it was close to the ground. The bear sat motionless to focus on the olfactory delight. And then a rustle. A shimmy from the group of golden soldiers standing guard along the waters edge revealed a large golden head and two giant eyes staring right back at Mei Mei. She could only assume the head was attached to an even more impressive body that was hidden behind the tassel topped plants. The creatures stared at each other for a few moments. The silent, peeking creature heard a screech from above, glanced skyward, and then back to Mei Mei.
The creature spoke. He declared that Mei Mei was the one for whom he had been searching. Mei Mei offered the creature her name and found herself slowing her speech as she explained that she too was on an expedition of sorts. But however strange it sounded, unlike the large cat staring back at her, Mei Mei did not know the terrain in which she searched. Everything around her was new and existed only in her dreams. Mei Mei explained she had been following the direction of two convincing guides that led her away from her hill one early morning. Arty and Sly had directed the lonesome bear to the water and told her to follow the current. As Mei Mei spoke, she became anxious knowing how uncertain she was. Mei Mei had lived, up until this day, a life that was scheduled without much surprise or room for Mei Mei to make any significant decisions. Mei Mei was relying on her own thoughts and feelings. Mei Mei was feeling wild and calm, energized and peaceful, curious and steadfast, warm and chilled. Mei Mei felt alive.
Mei Mei surprised herself in that moment with a feeling of total clarity, full of instinct, and without doubt. She spoke up and told her new acquaintance that she was on a journey. A journey to find her Boo. Mei Mei asked her new cat-like friend if he had a name. He answered, “Panar.”
Panar led Mei Mei out of the lazy water and through the thick growth along the water’s edge. Quietly Mei Mei followed Panar as he deftly moved through the plant life that Mei Mei was starting to notice as quite unusual and exotic. The small stream provided a guide to the two animals as they moved closer to a far off sound that seemed to be speaking to Mei Mei.
The current in the small stream became stronger as he edges of the waterway opened up to a larger watery path. Soon enough Mei Mei found herself guided to the edges of an enormous pool. Here, the rushing sounds Mei Mei detected along her journey came into focus. There at the far end of the pool was a curtain of water falling from a very high cliff above. The cliff was steep, barren of most things but for ancient looking trees protruding out from cracks in tortured, twisted shapes. Mei Mei turned in awe towards her feline companion only to find him not by her side, not in the water, not on the bank of the glossy pool.
Boo awoke from his deep nap to notice the disturbance above him that he had encountered in the green forest before. The leaves in the highest canopies rustled and shook. Boo’s avaian friends seemed to be in talks about something pressing, something important. Before Boo had too much time to process the ruckus, there standing below the comfy napping branch was Panar. His eyes twinkled, and his black nose twitched. His stare called to Boo as loudly as a roar might have. Boo stared back. In this wild new world, Boo learned that there were surprises. Boo learned to pay attention. Boo’s gaze was focused, unblinking, on Panar. The golden creature turned its large, powerful head in the direction of the falling water. The cat at that moment let out a sound that shook Boo on the inside. Each coarse hair on Boo stood up a little straighter. Boo looked towards his roaring friend, and across the pool below.
The stillness of the waters’ edges was suddenly interrupted by a sound that turned Mei Mei’s eyes upward. Up to the where the falling water began its fast trip down the cliff. The sound was somewhat familiar. It was a sound Mei Mei had heard before, but not here in this wild new place. Mei Mei had heard similar sounds before, as the sun disappeared on her familiar hill. But this call was a bit different, a bit more urgent. Mei Mei fixed her eyes on a shape at the top of the cliff. The shape was colored black and white. The shape was swinging from a branch. The shape fell to the ground, rolled, and sat back up. In that glorious moment, Mei Mei startled herself with a loud cry. The cry that came from deep inside Mei Mei raced forward towards the falls and bounced off of the cliff’s face in all directions, as if speaking to the entire kingdom.
Before Boo could look back to Panar, he was surrounded by sound, a desperate sound. There at the bottom of the cliff, standing by the water’s edge was his beloved Mei Mei.
Mei Mei ran, faster than she knew she could run, following the lake’s muddy edge around to the cliff face. There she looked up at Boo. Her eyes blinked in disbelief. And all at once, Mei Mei knew what she must do. She had to reach her sweet friend whom she had missed so dearly. Looking up the face of the rocks before her, she hesitated but before she thought twice, Mei Mei was climbing up the first boulder and reaching for a gnarled, knotty branch protruding from between two rocks. This climb was different for Mei Mei. This climb required her attention. She carefully placed her paws in just the right spots, adjusting her body to the left, and to the right, balancing her rotund body on the most precarious spots.
Boo stood motionless, watching, barely breathing, as Mei Mei carefully ascended the rugged cliff. Right paw and then left paw, Mei Mei planned each step, making sure not to stumble or slip, while her heart beat faster and faster powered by her love for Boo. As Mei Mei reached her right paw up from the cliff’s edge and finally onto the soft, flat terrain above, she launched herself forward with the thrust of her two powerful back legs. There, lying on her belly in the shade of a beautiful napping tree, Mei Mei smiled. Then Mei Mei cried. She cried out all of the sadness and loneliness she felt without Boo. Boo threw himself down onto the ground in front of Mei Mei and positioned his little nose before her giant pulsing muzzle. There they rested together warmed by the dappled sunlight falling on and around them. A soft, gentle breeze tickled their faces and lightly smoothed their thick fur. Their hearts were full and peace was theirs. Their hill seemed a place so far away, and yet, here, together, beneath the rustling trees, serenaded by a choir of forest friends, the bears finally knew home.
Bitter cold air has finally moved into our area after an uncharacteristically balmy December. The frigid temperature is tempered by the fact that the holiday rush is behind us. Santa has left the building. A breath of fresh air. A reason to sit and stay a while. Take stock of what is left in the cupboards and prepare something comforting and simple. Last night’s supper of sloooow roasted pork shoulder served with lettuce wraps and julienned veggies proves that so little effort can produce something so complex and delicious. My contribution to a family meal this past weekend is another example of such irony. This show stopper was one of the easiest desserts I have ever prepared in addition to being delicious: slightly overripe strawberries and pear on a bed of sweetened cream cheese all snuggled inside a crispy, sweet-glazed puff pastry. This got me thinking about possibilities. Chicken, broccolini and white cheese sauce; salmon, capers and a sour cream dill sauce… I am looking forward to thinking of new, simple ways to nourish my family and friends in 2016.
I have come to really love the Fourth of July — a holiday that does not ask much of you: enjoy the warm air, possibly with the sounds of thunder rumbling in the sky above, simple elegant food, the company of loved ones, and the incredible display of fireworks. My birthday is in July, in one day to be exact. As a child, I always associated this time of year as a lonely one, friends being away (not able to come to my birthday party), and long hot days. But now as an adult, July is such a happy time — a true celebration of summertime, and birthdays (lots of Cancerians in our family), all ushered in by the crack and explosion of fireworks. I celebrated my Fourth of July with a big chocolate cake last night — among other delicacies — before venturing out to witness July’s most exciting, explosive spectacle. Here’s to Summer!
With continued hopes of spring weather emerging, I was energized last night plating my family’s dinner. Crispy-skinned, fresh-as-can-be red snapper with a most delicious Spanish pimentón-inspired sauce. The colors were such a surprise and so vibrant. The red-flecked crispy skin melted in our mouths but not before a little crackle between our teeth. The bright orange brought us joy as we consumed our dinner mostly in silence…with a few “mmmms.”
As we East-coasters make the home stretch towards spring, I am fixated on all of the colors I have been missing since last fall — reds, oranges, pinks, blues, greens, and golds. We are almost back to a saturated world! In the meantime, last night’s beet salad was brain stimulating before even eating it! The color was amazing. Fresh roasted beets tossed with a tiny bit of my homemade creamy garlic dressing while still hot resulted in the most beautiful hot pink. Thank you, mother nature; I needed that!
Christmas draws so near and dreams of sumptuous meals, flickering candles, shiny wrapped packages bundled in gorgeous ribbon, and of the treasures we will all receive fill my mind with a welcome, slightly intoxicated eagerness. Then I read the Christmas list given to me (for the third time) by my seven year old daughter. These are the things of Christmas that fill her sweet, little mind:
clip-on earings, doctor’s kit, kids’ high heels, kids’ car, footies size medium, tiny cups and bowls, elf costume, and a Mrs. Claus costume.
Here’s to wishes coming true!
As night falls over Maryland, and a chilly rain soaks the ground, I anticipate my tropical vacation just a day away. My pasta dinner with a sauté of every last vegetable in my refrigerator is ready and awaiting my family’s arrival. We will all sit together and anticipate what the next two weeks will bring. Warm air, brightly colored flora, and the smiles of so many old friends. Overeating, reading until our eyes hurt, soaking up the sunshine, savoring every last moment of the day with my children and husband — these are the things I anticipate. Almost there.