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Tuesday
Feb202018

About a boot

Last week Tom got a hole in his boot. He also—on the same day—fried his computer beyond repair when he plugging it into the truck to charge and then started the truck. Not sure what went wrong with that one, but that is another story…

In order to get some context, I need to start back at the beginning. In late November last year, about the time the winter rains arrived on the west coast in earnest, we left Winky in a nice, dry garage and set out for a winter of couch-surfing and short-term rentals. Our first stop was Seattle—this time for business, as we had decided to take the plunge and......sell our house. If this sounds sudden, that is because it was. We had not planned on selling just yet, but our renters made us an offer, we knew we weren’t moving back, and—plans or not—it was time.  So, we have now taken one more step in this long adventure in letting go.

After Seattle, we spent several weeks visiting family for the holidays, and then embarked on a winter back in the world-of-water, otherwise known as the Samish Flats—the delta where the Samish River meets the Salish Sea, about an hour and a half north of Seattle. Honestly, after a year of perpetual sunshine, I missed the rain. I missed the low skies, the sound of water dripping from the eaves, the space for inward reflection, the infinite variety of clouds, and the amazing displays of light those clouds create.

There are lots of places west of the Cascades where I could be wet for two months, but we chose the Samish Flats specifically for its birds. Originally a flood plain, it has been diked and drained for farming, but its shorelines, rivers, bays, creeks, sloughs, canals, channels, and flooded fields still support an immense number of wintering waterfowl (mostly snow geese, swans, and masses of ducks) as well as mesmerizing flights of dunlins, blackbirds, and starlings, and a smorgesbord of eagles, hawks, falcons, harriers, shrikes, and owls.

This is a place vibrantly alive with wings and water. You might not know it if you just drove through once on a gray day, but if you stay, you can feel the constant flux from both above and below—rain, wind, tides, mist, clouds, seeping groundwater, and the constantly shifting flights of thousands of birds, calling, flocking, gleaning, fleeing in front of the eagles and peregrines and hunters—everything in circling, washing, restless motion.

All of the rain that supports this teaming ecosystem makes it attractive to have a real roof, so we stayed at a guest cottage at an organic farm for a month, and a house on Samish Island for two weeks. I was focused on writing; Tom was focused on photography—that is, when it stopped raining long enough to take the camera out.

Which all brings me back to the boot. To photograph birds Tom has to go where the water is. And honestly, there really isn’t much of anyplace where the water isn’t. The “Flat” part of Samish Flats means that if there is water one place, there is water everywhere. One night of heavy rain, and you wake up to a lake in your back yard and water over all the roads into town. In this “university of mud” (as Tom Robbins calls it) the boot is essential.

Tom’s first impulse these days when something breaks is to find a way to fix it. Since duct tape didn’t seem like an option in this case (though we did think about it) Shoe Goo was the next obvious go-to, but it didn’t seem adequate for the size and placement of the hole—right where the boot bends. So Tom did some research and someone suggested having a patch put on at a tire repair shop. Since we were in town anyway (for the computer) I decided to give this a try.

The thing about living this way for so long—it has now been a year and a half since we “left home”—is that the lines between “normal” and “weird” start to get fuzzy. So by the time I got to Discount Tire I had somehow forgotten that most people don’t bring boots here to get patched. I had gone on a trip with some girlfriends from grad school over the weekend and hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep for a few nights, and was probably more concerned about the computer—I don’t know what it was exactly, but somehow this had become just one more thing to check off my to-do list.

So I go into the store, walk up to the service desk, put this big, muddy, man-sized, muck boot up on the counter, and in the tone of voice of someone ordering a hamburger at Dick’s say, “I would like to get a patch put on this boot. How soon can you have it ready?”

The nice service man on the other side of the counter is just staring at me. So far he hasn’t said one word past, “How can I help you?” His eyes have enlarged a few sizes and his jaw muscles don’t seem to be keeping his mouth closed anymore. His face has taken on a kind of deer-in-the-headlights expression as though he wants to run but doesn’t know which way, and he just rotates his torso slowly toward his co-worker at the register next to him with this mute appeal for sanity in a world gone sideways. This probably only take a few seconds, but time, for him, has come screeching to a halt.

The other guy sees what is happening—even in the midst of cashing out the other customer—and takes it in stride. He leans over and very matter-of-factly explains why they would be happy to help me, but the patching process that they use probably won’t adhere to the material the boot is made out of. He pokes at it a few times professionally and suggests that I might try finding a neoprene patch at a dive shop. “And have you tried Shoe Goo…?” I thank him for this information, and turn to leave. This action seems to release the first service tech from his sudden and complete paralysis. “Well!” he bursts out. “Now THAT’S something you don’t see every day!!”

Back in the truck, I can’t stop laughing: both at myself for being so oblivious, and at the thought of my service guy going home that night with a story about the crazy lady who brought in a boot. I am glad to have been part of bringing some humor into the day (for all of us), and also at maybe being the bearer of a little bit of unpredictability. This is the way it all starts sometimes—something doesn’t line up with our expectations. Our worldview has to shift. A crack opens up—reluctantly perhaps, but once that crack is there who knows what else might slip in? I feel like maybe coyote was here, working through my sleepy, distracted self without me even knowing it.

And even though the boot isn’t fixed yet, THAT feels like a good day’s work.

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