September has ushered in the rains I remember from my childhood. Oregon rains, gray, misty, and occasionally torrential have cluttered our days with a dreary sameness. The deer still cavort in the slope of grass leading to the lake whether sun is bathing their backs in warmth or rain cleansing their fur. But rain, like a wraith cluttering Scrooge’s Christmas, stirs up a need for hot chocolate.
I was one of the kids who walked to school. Harding Grade School was only three blocks of sidewalk cracks. Western View Junior High was a length of asphalt with a small hump of concrete barrier to separate the pedestrians from the oncoming cars. 35th street was a busy road and I, one tenth of a mile short for a bus ride, got to hike it most days. Pre-backpack days, we carried our books. Juggling books and umbrella was never my strong suit. By the time I stamped my wet shoes in the front hall, my arms were weak with fatigue.
The one bus ride I had was memorable. It was October 12th, the day of the Columbus Day storm that brought hurricane force winds to Oregon. The school wouldn’t let us walk home, so I hopped on the bus. It dropped me off on the corner of Harrison and 35th street, then sped on eager to reach safety. I wiped the rain from my eyes, hunched over, and struggled to cross the street against the wind. Half-way across I felt my legs lift and nearly fell onto the road. By the time the opposite street corner was achieved, I had to grab onto a spindly tree in the neighbor’s yard and haul myself along the walk, one tree at a time to my front door.
Corvallis High was also one tenth of a mile too short to gain public transportation so I hoofed it. Usually with a friend in tow the journey was palatable, even at 7:30 in the morning because we talked. About everything. Politics, poetry, the latest history assignment. You name it we had an opinion. We didn’t talk much about boys. Neither of us dated, and the opposite sex wasn’t that attractive to us. Movies, though, were always interesting and since we both liked to sing and were part of the school choir, we’d croon Broadway show tunes from My Fair Lady to Camelot. Kathy sang alto, I soprano and we’d harmonize as we trod the hard sidewalks toward school.
Then there was college. I was a townie. A kid who went to university while remaining at home. We were not a wealthy family and with two of us at Oregon State it meant we both worked and lived with our parents. It was a blessing. My family met and quizzed my soon to be husband, studied him up close for weeks after we met and gave us the thumbs up. Then, Rod went off to medical school and after we wed, I transferred to Portland State to finish my last two years. And, you guessed it, my groom would drop me off on the sidewalks in front of the school and I’d walk. Taking the bus to my jobs, taking the bus home became a cherished ride. I didn’t have to walk further than a bus stop. I did still carry an umbrella, for it was Oregon and in Oregon it rains nine plus months out of the year.
Rambling is still my forte, although dirt roads and small trails are more my style today. Closer to the earth I can smell the hint of fall coming as blackberries give off their heady perfume. When butterflies dance along the Doug Fir shrouded road, I pause to watch, letting time tick by without a schedule of classes or 3,000 word a day demand. Usually it is a pleasurable hike, with fawns gamboling along the neighbor’s cedars, but today I’m ensconced in a tidy cabin, rain coming down in buckets and a cup of tea at hand. I’ll use the exercise mat, I promise myself, but I long to stretch my legs on the curvy dirt road with its canopy of green tree branches.
Castello di Sovicille
Red-gold tentacles of an autumn moon
Spill across uneven cobblestones
Halo he warrior statue in the piazza
Reach through shutters
A peaceful Madonna and child
Poised above a rose carved bed.
The twelfth century castle
Breathes the night air
Whispering a lullaby.
While traveling I do not grab a camera or a sketch book, I find a pen and distill an experience with words. Years ago, Rod and I joined a food and wine tour of Tuscany with dear friends. We stayed on a marvelous ancient abode, restored over the centuries to fit with the times. We had indoor plumbing, lights, and an ambiance slathered with garlic.
We came in autumn, when Tuscany shimmered golden and cedar trees perfumed the air. Rod nibbled on grapes since wine and spirits are not his forte. I sipped an occasional glass of Chianti. We both enjoyed the food. A handful of us wandered to Florence. A familiar setting. Returning from working in Kenya we had walked the piazzas with my father. Dad had been stationed in Firenze during WWII. Before shrapnel was imbedded in his head. He showed us the Uffisi museum, and where a poem had been born and scribed on a scrap of paper.
Years later, hand in hand, Rod and I wandered the public gardens. In a small shop, I found a wooden carved chicken for my nativity scene. Memories of our children licking gelato and my father’s laughter warmed us on a blustery October day. A day later, memories brought tears.
We were at a winery and friends told the vintner that my father had served in that part of Italy during the war. The man rushed to my side and kissed my cheeks. He held my hands and told of the hardship for the Italian people during the German occupation and when the Americans arrived, the GI’s fed the children from their rations and spread the joy of Hershey bars throughout the countryside. A boy of twelve when his father was conscripted, the vintner went to work at the winery sweeping floors. His family needed to eat. Smiling through tears, he cried his gratitude.
In the middle of chaos of war, our soldiers left a gift of love in his heart. What is it I leave behind as a memory infused with love?
A ranger in Kentucky said that Copperheads attack flames before they retreat from a forest fire. It is a clear picture of the danger we’re in when we believe we can overcome the assault of the enemy of our souls without a plan. And that plan is not our own.
‘Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of His power. Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.’
Remember the scene with Indiana Jones when he jumps into a plane to escape and finds a snake on his seat? “Snakes, I hate snakes.” Indiana Jones isn’t the only one who is repelled by the reptiles. My first encounter with the invertebrates dates to sixth grade. In order to pass science class, you had to touch a garter snake. The teacher grabbed my hand and forced the snake into it. Problem was, I’d heard my uncle’s stories about rattlers biting his cows when they lowered their heads to eat. The consequences? Blotted bovines.
Avoiding rattlers is dead easy. Don’t go where they habitat. However, I was a western girl, my grandparents had farms and we camped in the Oregon woods. Walking quietly in a pristine forest is not wise if your desire is to keep clear of snakes. And look before you lower your bum onto a log, turn over a rock, or peek into a cavern.
My anathema to snakes grew exponentially while living in Thailand. Posted on the wall at our military base were the poisonous snakes in the area. Photos accompanied what I dubbed, ‘The Dead not Alive,’ poster. I clutched our baby and memorized the appearance of Green Tree Vipers, Cobras, and assorted water snakes.
I only encountered two of the local types in my eight months living at Pattaya Beach. A Green Tree Viper shot out of a tree above my head and landed three feet away from my bare legs. Somehow, with baby in arms I levitated onto a cement porch and pounded on the door of a neighbor. Luck, you say? I would offer another explanation. The hand of God lifted us. I was never a standing broad jump type of girl.
Then there was the cobra. I had released my three students from school and we met at the pool with four other kids and one other mom for a swim. Our toddler was floating nearby in her arm rings when I spotted a cobra slither into the water. “Deadly, very deadly,” to borrow a quote from Raiders of the Lost Ark. I yelled at Nora, the other mom who was between the snake and the children. After getting two kids out, I pulled myself onto the cement walk. The snake aimed our direction from the deep end. She snagged the children paddling around and began to throw them to me. Those who could, scrambled out of the water. As the last child vacated the pool, I checked the foliage for the cobra’s mate.
To be attacked when you think you’re safe is unnerving. However, it is what we see in spiritual warfare. When you think you are prepared, safe, on guard, the enemy sneaks behind the lines and destroys. Ephesians 6 is clear about how to be armed for the inevitable encounter. It is not by our might, power or preparation but by God’s word and power that we are protected. To put on shin guards protects a small portion of the body. It is the whole armor of God that we need.