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Midnight. Nearly home from Mexico on the last leg to Asheville, presided over by an older flight attendant whose Southern accent is thicker than mine. Out our window, we see the lights of little towns sprinkled across the dark mountains. We begin our descent when the flight attendant starts into the usual spiel, hoping you enjoyed the flight with Delta, etc. She goes off script. "For those who celebrate Easter, I hope you have a blessed holiday." Was she going to preach? "No doubt for some of you it has been a hard year, " she says. "We never know what the people around us are going through." I sense passengers come to attention. "Who knows? Maybe a smile from you might make all the difference in someone’s day." We land with a jolt, taxi up to the gate. As the cabin lights come on, Connie and I look at each other. "Have you ever heard anything like that?" I ask. "It was beautiful, " Connie says. ("Easter Morning" by Caspar David Friedrich 1828-1835).

I talk to myself. A lot. I don’t know if it has to do with being a writer and spending a lot of time alone or a function of getting older, although I’ve talked to myself for as long as I can remember. Yesterday on my walk, I became aware I was talking to myself when I looked up and saw a guy sitting on his porch, cutting his eyes toward me. I knew what he was thinking, "Is he schizophrenic, maybe a little dangerous or just some old fella losing it?" So I called to him and waved, maybe a little too enthusiastically. He hesitantly waved back. Ah well, I have to say that me and myself have some pretty great conversations and on occasion crack each other up. (Unearthly photo by Ruth taken from her apartment balcony in Salt Lake the other day.)

I passed by a big section of houseless woods when I chanced upon this fellow. He paused long enough for me to pull out my phone. Then he vanished. It’s so interesting how the smallest things can raise your spirits. The whole rest of the morning I felt like I’d been granted a wish I hadn’t known I’d made.

As an introvert, I’m always impressed by people who talk a lot. How do they do it? How do they think of all they have to say? Or is it thought as much as action? They open their mouths and out come words that somehow coalesce into sentences. I appreciate the cover that talkers provide. Not expecting anything more than a few agreeable nods, they’re happy to talk a blue streak, freeing us introverts to zone out. However, there is a small subset of talkers who somehow manage to pay attention, to actually listen. They’re the tricky ones. They’re the ones you have to look out for. (“Conversation” by Berthe Morisot, 1891)

I’m not sure I ever wholly believed it was real. It had always felt more of a mythological place. When we first arrived it was cloaked in morning fog, making it appear mystical and transcendent, giving the whole place a hushed reverence. As the fog slowly lifted, the ethereal beauty of the place emerged. It was for me a highlight of our trip, and one of the most moving places I’ve ever been.

Ruth was taking a long weekend from au pairing in Italy and decided to visit Paris. She sent me pictures from Shakespeare and Company, maybe the most famous bookstore in the world. The store supported many great writers including James Baldwin, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, Samuel Becket and Anais Nin and was the first to publish Joyce’s Ulysses. The quote above the door, a paraphrase from the Bible, was hand-printed by store owner, George Whitman who died in 2011 at the age of 98. Whitman openly welcomed visitors and by his own estimate lodged some 40,000 people. I’ve never had the chance to visit but from afar it seems the embodiment of what so many of us hold dear. (Photo by Ruth Hays)

On my walk, I found a chestnut. I rolled it around in my hand and put it in my pocket. Then I realized spiny chestnut burrs were all around me. I was standing under a chestnut tree. When I was a boy, my friend John Norris’ family had a chestnut tree in their backyard. In the summer you could smell it blocks away. In the fall, burrs covered the ground. John showed me how to open the prickly burrs between my shoes, peeling them apart, revealing three or four shiny brown nuts. So this day on my walk when I found myself under a chestnut tree, I opened several burrs. And like any self-respecting boy, crammed as many chestnuts into my pockets as they would hold and carried them home, feeling rich.

On a walk up a muddy road on a chilly November day, we pass a worn moss-covered sign nailed to an old pine that reads “… RIVATE … OAD”, reminding me of “TRESSPASSERS WILL… ”. At the top of the hill, we enter a cloud. It’s like walking around inside a dream. A single bare-limbed tree appears before us then dissolves into the mist. Our footsteps on the gravel, our voices, and even our breathing sounds muffled, once removed, but as we walk on, the distinction between where we are and who we are gives way to the line of woods gathering on the far side of the pasture, welcoming us home.

I was sitting at the dining room table, reading student stories and Connie was in the kitchen. The front door swings open and two middle-aged women, purses on their arms, charge into the house. Connie stops them in the foyer. “Can I help you?” she asks. “We’re here for the estate sale, ” one of them says. “There’s no sale here, ” Connie says. “Well, where is it?” the other woman demands. “I believe it’s at the apartments down the street, ” Connie says. “No, the sign said this address, ” the first woman says. “Well, it’s not here, ” I say from the dining room. Still, they stand in the foyer, craning their necks, trying to see into our living room, like they don’t trust us, like maybe we’re conducting a covert estate sale. (Painting “Yard Sale” by Mattie Lou O’Kelley)

Beyond the gates of our hotel, a cacophony of horns, Gershwin’s “American in Paris” or “American in New Delhi.” India is the world’s most populous country, New Delhi the world’s second-most populous city. We stand at the curb before a torrent of traffic. Motor rickshaws swarm us, little three-wheel cabs, their drivers asking where we’re going. Motorcycles carrying two or three passengers, drive behind us on the sidewalk. Lorries top-heavy with impossibly outsized loads squeeze through gaps half their size. Dogs trot business-like along the curb, and a cow stands placidly in the median. How on earth did it get out there? And through it all, the honking. Not furious laying on the horn but more little beep, beep, beeps. Not angry as much as alerting other drivers to one’s presence. I’m here, I’m passing you, I’m pulling around you. I don’t remember drivers looking angry or shouting. Instead their expressions were attentive, which is what one has to be to drive in the world’s most populous country, where marked lanes, traffic lights and signage are treated not so much as rules but as suggestions, and loose ones at that.