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Now that The Romance Diet is in the publication pipeline, I’m starting a new project. This time, I’m going to do it differently. You have been wonderful over the years, supportive of my projects and generous with your thoughts and comments. In gratitude, I’ll be posting each segment of the new project here. It’s called Picking Up Sticks. It may turn into a book. It may not, but I’m compelled to discover the next part of the story and want to share the journey with you first. As always, your comments are encouraged.

1

It rained in the mountains. Aspens bent like a woman’s back against wind’s relentless onslaught. Birds went wherever birds go when weather refuses to cooperate. A hail of pine needles buried the path. A bright red raspberry fell off a branch, lay blood red and broken in matted grass. The creek heaved and lightning flashed.

Shivering under the shelter of an immense blue spruce, I wiped the wet from my face with trembling hands. Ozone hung thick in the drizzle, a lingering reminder of what had recently passed. Oh god, the dance of low clouds and mist in the meadows, sun on briefly glimpsed peaks, the first returning dragonfly hovering helicopter-like over a stagnant bog. Primrose. Soaked denim. Lichen covered rocks.

Standing, my head brushed a low branch. It released a shower of drops. I fled through tangled brush and over logs, slipped on a mushroom, landed on my ass.

“Come on you fucker! Is that it? Is that all you’ve got?” I laughed.

The storm exhaled another blast. Thunder rumbled. Rain, heavy as pebbles, pummeled my shoulders, ran between shirt collar and neck, and made rivulets down my back. A Search and Rescue daughter should have known better, should have packed food and water, whistle and compass, matches, rain jacket, and warm wool socks. And here I was in cotton and sneakers, lacking even a hat. In the mountains, temperature drops fast.

I picked my way down the trail, slipping here and there on mud or slick rock. My balance has never been good. Grace eludes me. I wanted to be willowy, to bend not crack, but I didn’t get that. Nor did I get thick, glossy locks. I’m of common stock. “Womanly,” my husband says and most days I take it as a compliment. It’s what I have.

The trail switch-backed through dense forest. My knee throbbed from an old injury, or maybe the creep of age. Blinking water from my eyelashes, I caught glimpses between rain drops. The world blurred, a child’s watercolor in brilliant hues smeared across a granite page. I made mental notes: Mullein stalks like giants in meadow grass, the whoosh of hawk wings, the earthy smell of organic rot.

The world is too vast — horrible and beautiful and tangled. In my mind, I’m always on the outside; pushing, prodding, and dragging metaphorical fingernails along tiny cracks in search of the magic opening. I want in. I want to matter. I want to last.

Writing helps, some.

I grew up thinking art was God. Bring hurt and confusion, longing and loneliness to the Church of the Blank Page. Tithe heartache, love, wonder, and rage. Be saved.

By the time I reached the parking lot, found my car, and toweled my hair with a dirty old fleece I found on the back seat, the storm had abated. They do that in New Mexico. Sometimes it will rain on one side of the house and not the other. We sit at the dining room table in the mornings with our tea. My husband faces west. I face east. He comments on the Rufus hovering over a butterfly bush, the deep blue of the sky, the hues of green on pinon and sage. I see rain, wind in saplings, a mist gray sky. And that’s it, I think. If I saw what he did, could face another direction at the same time, I’d find my opening. But I can’t look everywhere all the time.