Things I’ve Missed

I love bookstores, but was too busy reading (while my husband drove through a pretty little Midwestern town on our road trip) to notice we were passing one. When he pointed it out to me, I jumped out and hustled inside, where I spent a very pleasant hour, browsing the shelves and chatting with the proprietor. I ended up buying two bags of books, as well as getting a tour of the overflow book stash in the basement!

It made me think of all the things I’ve missed. Instead of enjoying the scenery we were passing, I’d had my eyes and mind deep in the fictional world of the book on my lap. Not only was I missing the view, but also a store full of more glorious printed pages—and a very kind and friendly bookseller.

I’m not always reading, of course (often, not always). Many times when we’re driving, I see a fleeting roadside tableau. I yell at my husband, wanting to stop and appreciate it, and try to capture a picture. But till he reacts, we’re generally well beyond the point of interest. When he asks, “Do you want me to turn around?” I catch the subtext: “Surely, you don’t want me to turn around.” So the blurred image swiftly fades from my retina, and on we go.

Several years ago, we visited Arches National Park. The surreal landscape captivated us, with the dramatic size, number, and variety of its natural rock arches. By late afternoon, after much hiking and climbing, our energy was flagging. My son wanted to divert to see one more—Wall Arch, at that time the twelfth-largest arch in the park. We voted him down. “Next time,” my husband told him, over squawks of protest.

The news that night shocked us. Wall Arch had fallen down!

Although we’d known none of those imposing stone monoliths would stand forever, the suddenness and timing of this collapse felt like a divine judgment. We’d presumed a certain permanence—both in ourselves and in the landscape—where there was none.

I was just reminded of this in recent weeks by the ancient buckeye tree outside my bedroom window. Every morning, I sit in my chair, pray, and write in my journal. Every spring, for at least the past ten years, I’ve watched the cycle of the seasons. In spring, pale-green tufts of leaves emerge at each branch tip. The changes from day to day are noticeable. The leaf clusters extend; they begin to unfurl; tiny rosy-buff cones rise above them; the cones burst into bouquets of white-and-pink blossoms; the pale green leaves turn bright green as a leprechaun’s topcoat, and pop open like an unfurling parasol.

About midway through this enchanting process this year, I promised myself that next spring, I’d take a picture every morning, recording the transformation of the gnarled, winter-bare tree into a shady haven for nesting squirrels. But then, we got a windstorm.

A central limb crashed, revealing a hollow core.

Two weeks later, another major hollow limb fell. And then, a third.

Maybe there will be enough tree left next spring for me to be able to make some sort of album. Maybe not.

And so, I’ve resolved to pay more attention. At least, if I’m driving, I’ll turn the car around for a better look…maybe even get out. And if I decide not to do something today, I’ll try to do it with the recognition that life doesn’t always provide second chances.

And I’ll always take the picture. Sometimes it will be with a camera—perhaps more often, it will be with words. A photograph, though supposedly worth a thousand words, doesn’t always do justice to its subject. Words have the power to create pictures in the mind—sometimes more profound than their initial inspiration. Like the late Anne Morrow Lindbergh, I truly believe “an experience isn’t finished until it is written.”

When I’ve captured a memory in writing, I feel like a good homemaker must feel when she seals a bit of summer sunshine and fragrance into a jar of berry preserves or spicy piccalilli. There, I have it now. Some cold winter morning, when frost has breathed icy ferns over the window glass, I can open it up and it will be summer again, if only for a moment.

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