Author

They say find joy in the small things, and for the thirty springs I’ve been walking or jogging my same route through the neighborhood, I’ve looked forward to passing this house with its bank full of blooming phlox spilling over the wall.

I was walking down Sunset Mountain when a car slowed beside me. The driver leaned out his window and said a bear was up ahead. “It’s probably fine,” he said. I came upon a yard where a big bear stood in deep shade. I wouldn’t have noticed him without the warning. My instinct was to take a picture but the bear was watching me, so I walked on. A little ways on I felt someone else watching me and looked up into the steady gaze of this little old fellow.

This week we said good-bye to a dear, loyal friend which fed our family for 30 years, having grilled, fried, simmered, boiled, baked and roasted some 40,000 meals, and boiled water for some 100,000 cups of tea. The paint worn to the point we had to guess the settings, the eyes scorched from decades of flame, the oven handle dented and duct-taped and the oven a crusted black hole from which delicious dishes still somehow emerged. The electric clock and timer in the center of the panel went dark a good ten years ago. The eyes became increasingly finicky, refusing to whoosh into flame for anyone except family. "It knows I’m not a Hays!" cried Ruth’s husband Ryan in frustration one day when an eye stubbornly refused to light. Good-bye beautiful old stove, the nourishing heart of our family for so many years.

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.