I pay a lot of lip service to solitude. But it hasn’t really been solitude all these years, it’s been the absence of live-in human companionship. There has always been a strong dog presence in my home, for 38 of the past 40 years, and those two dogless years were back in my 20s. Now I am without a dog again, and living alone, truly alone, because you can’t really count an aloof cat and a hibernating tortoise. It is cold comfort that I have no regrets about euthanizing Stellar when I finally chose to: I’m still alone. But, the truth is, I am always alone, no matter what connections I recognize; we are all always, ultimately, alone. So I’m grateful for the capacity for solitude, and for the opportunity to explore it in more depth than I have for the past forty years, with gentle curiosity and self-compassion.
Here I am doing a beautiful Liberty Puzzle, and thinking of Auntie, who introduced me to the joy of these remarkable functional artworks; very aware of her absence. Listening to Eva Cassidy crooning Songbird, keenly aware of her premature death. Hearing the absence of Stellar’s every breath. So much loss! It’s only human. And it’s human also to continue to find joy, delight, and contentment in the unutterable beauty of this fragile life, and to feel gratitude for each and every day.
It was a rough holiday season here at Mirador. The worst of it, on one level, was the dogs, who each suffered for three straight days, first one then the other, with diarrhea. It was a real shitstorm. I was up every hour or two for that whole week letting one then the other out, and entered the new year as sleep deprived as a new mother. But from a big picture perspective, this latest escalation of US dominance and prerogative in the Middle East is just about my worst nightmare, for so many interconnected reasons.
Consider the Iranian spider-tailed viper found only in the limestone mountains of western Iran. Imagine that you are that creature. You hatched from an egg, and you have grown up just the way your millions of years of evolution have conditioned you to do. The tip of your tail looks just like a spider, with a pale bulbous abdomen and a bunch of legs. When you’re hungry you emerge from your cave and coil, perfectly camouflaged on the limestone rocks, and ever so slowly wave that tail tip about, until a bird comes to eat it. Then you strike and eat the bird. It’s a marvel of adaptation, one of the most amazing examples of caudal luring in the animal kingdom. There you are, in your remote desert-cave, living your amazing, singular life, and some corrupt, lying, power-hungry bozo an ocean away decides to start World War III. KABOOM!!! You are no more.
Spectacularly unique endemic species like the Iranian spider-tailed viper live on all continents. Endemic means that they exist only in one particular place or habitat on the planet. We have a few here in western Colorado: the Colorado hookless cactus, for one, and the Gunnison sage grouse, as well as four ancient and endangered fish species. Most of our endemics are threatened by habitat loss and destruction, much of it from extractive industries.
The astonishing variety of reptiles and other animals native to the wartorn Middle East, as we call it, or center of the universe as they might refer to it, diminishes with every bomb that some regime explodes. We humans are destroying the planet in many ways by the needs and greeds of our sheer numbers, but the worst culprit by far is our addiction to petroleum, and the lengths we will go to to get more of it.
For 150 years the Petroleum Industry has fed this addiction and knowingly deceived us about its consequences, with evil disregard for Life on Earth in pursuit of their obscene profits. The climate crisis that now rages unchecked is the end result of the stupid greed of a small number of heartless magnates over the past century, though we are all complicit for having bought into or been born into this ‘consumer culture.’
Imagine that you are a tiny marsupial, a joey still confined to your mother’s pouch, and she is running or hopping for her life ahead of a monstrous fire that sweeps at the speed of wind across the only home you’ve ever known. And that fire is faster than you. More than half a billion animals have perished in the Australian wildfires this season, and countless more are suffering. Entire endemic species may go extinct on that continent. Don’t let industry propaganda fool you: there is no question that this disaster is a direct result of the climate crisis perpetrated by the petroleum industry.
Perhaps you are a refugee from Sudan or Central America fleeing unlivable conditions that have arisen from the climate crisis, and you traverse seas and countries to find safe haven, just to continue to live your fragile, single human life. You get somewhere and you’re not welcome, and you try to move on hoping you’ll find refuge somewhere farther along. Or you die on the journey. Or you are imprisoned at the border.
I cannot bear the pain of living in this world for another minute. My heart breaks constantly, and I am filled with rage.
And yet, here I am, with my delusions and my hopes (many of which are the same things), with my best intentions, with my random prayers, with my gratitude and appreciation, witnessing the magnificent, minute, grand and ever-changing exquisite beauty of existence on this fragile planet. I continue on with a crushing burden of guilt for my part in this human shitstorm that is rendering the planet uninhabitable for many species including our own.
How is this not visible in every living moment to every living human on this spinning globe? We are but a tiny, miraculous speck in an increasingly incomprehensible universe. As the inter-relationships among all things become more clear, the very nature of Life grows more divinely mysterious. Not only is the largest living organism on the planet an underground fungus, but Gaia’s crust is actually alive. We the human species are a tiny part of an immensely complex organism.
We are all one. None of us is a single unaffected, unaffecting life. But how does this awareness help us? How do we do something in the service of Life, to protect and preserve the LIFE that we revere above all in this world?
It’s hard to be a Buddhist and practice acceptance during this time. It’s hard to cultivate loving-kindness for the people in the regimes of this country and others who perpetuate war, hate, misogyny, and genocide. I personally can’t do it. I believe there are enlightened people who can. I try not to hate, but I hate. The most cogent expression I’ve encountered of the crisis facing us is Roshi Joan Halifax’s Friday Fire Drill Speech.
Who wins if the US goes to war with Iran? Not the Iranian spider-tailed viper. Not the people of the US or Iran. Not the young men and women who will lose lives and limbs. Not the parents and children of those soldiers. Whose stocks have soared since the US president’s reckless assassination of a revered Iranian general? The manufacturers of weapons, the manufacturers of the devices from drones to jets that deliver those weapons, and the Petroleum Industry. Those will be the winners in another war. Their wins are short-sighted and will be short-lived. Another war will only speed up the already accelerating climate catastrophe.
This isn’t what I want to write about. But I must. We must talk about it with open, breaking hearts, to our friends and families, with people who share our beliefs and with people who don’t. We must meet on the common ground of our shared planet. I implore you to vote for compassion in the next election, whatever country you live in.
Vote in your own self-interest, which is not the interest of the Petroleum Industry, the Weapons Industry, or the corporate billionaires who have won tax cuts that only hurt you. Stop voting for their interests and vote for your own. In the US, vote to save the place where you live from reckless energy extraction, vote for comprehensive healthcare and a decent living minimum wage, vote for extensive upgrades to our failing public education system, and the crumbling roads and bridges we travel every day in our petroleum driven vehicles. Vote for science-based solutions to this climate catastrophe, for renewable energy to power our homes and vehicles, for common-sense kindness, for the protection of Life on Earth.
Deep into the first puzzle of the season, a light snow drifts down again. We’ve all ordered our puzzles for the year, and since everyone else’s were primarily blue hues, I chose different colors. There are so many factors to review in choosing only one puzzle per year. When I first got addicted, I made my selection solely by the image itself. As it became clear that more recent puzzles feature more complex cuts, I began looking for harder puzzles, those with fewer edge pieces, smaller pieces, more intricate whimsy pieces, and now, knock me over with a feather, there are several with alternative solutions!
The seemingly infinite variety of the cuts, as Liberty’s designer gets more inventive season by season, brings surprise and delight in each new puzzle; older puzzles in our community collection continue to gratify as I do them again with a different strategy each time: from the outside in or the inside out? starting with a color, or a figure, or clockwise or counter-clockwise…? The designer’s puzzler fans here are growing with him and seek more complexity in each puzzle we choose. This winter we’ve all opted for challenging puzzles, one even designated “Experts Only.”
Opening the puzzle box that enticing new puzzle scent wafts out. I have a particular way I sort the pieces, as I unpack them from their tissue paper nest. Whimsy pieces all to one side, obvious edges at the top, and then some other classifications as each unique puzzle invites. People have asked if I have a strategy, and the truth is that the particulars of each puzzle dictate how I sort its pieces, and all following aspects of my strategy: each strategy is unique as the puzzle that shapes it. So I’ve sorted all the pieces, played Forest House with them, and it’s time to stretch my legs, my back, give my eyes a break from close-up for awhile.
I look away from the table, and movement out the south window catches my eye, three does leaping the picket fence. A small forky buck strides up under the apricot tree.
No wonder the does leapt. As he stalks stealthily west across the yard and leaps after the does, I notice a good-size three-point buck in the brush left of them. Scanning for more I glance away, then am drawn back by odd movement. The buck has something caught in his antlers, and seems to be struggling to scrape it off — is it wire? God no! I’m always worried I’ve left some stray piece of wire or fencing around that will accidentally snag a buck.
Then I see he’s got a juniper branch stuck in his antlers: he does, then suddenly he doesn’t, then he does. Then he stands tall with his white antlers free of green twigs, and looks to the right, into the woods, from which emerges a larger three-point buck, stalking in that wild restrained way of rut. The smaller buck casually veers off to the south, and the big buck comes to the same juniper, a small sapling I see now, about four feet tall, and rages through it with his antlers in the same manner. Both have been spreading their scent all over this little tree from their forehead glands. Topaz sleeps in her cushioned bed on the sunroom table missing the whole thing. She would’ve enjoyed watching it. The large buck turns back into the woods, herding an older doe ahead of him.
It’s been a thrilling wildlife interlude, more fun than I could have asked for in a ten-minute break. After they’ve all moved past the boundary fence I let the dogs out to read the air, and we stroll around the yard before returning to the now oddly more relevant puzzle.
At this point, on the third morning, I can hardly bear to finish the puzzle, yet I can’t stop myself from working it. So few pieces left, only barely easier than it was at the beginning to find a matching space for each. So complex, so alive, a naturalist’s delight. Fleas as one-of-the-leopard’s spots! A tiny monkey face in the top left corner and another half monkey, magpies flying all across the top; pink toes, too many feet! But they all fit into their perfect places perfectly. It’s time to invoke Kathleen’s Rule.
I’ve been working so far with Seymour’s Rule, which is usually called into play before starting the puzzle, but can be invoked at any time. Seymour’s Rule dictates that you may look at the cover image once, before starting the puzzle, and never again until you finish it. At first it seemed unimaginably challenging to me, and I excused my lack of willingness to play it by saying, I enjoy the original artwork too much to not look at it from time to time while doing the puzzle. But now looking makes the puzzle too easy, seems almost like cheating, which is what Seymour obviously thought, and also Philip, who insists on this rule.
Kathleen’s Rule states that once you pick up a piece from the table, you must place it before you can pick up another piece. You may slide pieces around to get a closer look, but once you’ve lifted it, it must go into its proper slot. You don’t want to invoke this rule too early in the puzzle, or it might drive you mad, so it’s usually only called when there are a few dozen pieces left out. However, I find myself enjoying doing more of a puzzle in this methodical, meditative way, and often start with nearly half the pieces left. But of course I bend the rules when I play alone. All except the cardinal rule, No Food or Drink on the Puzzle Table!
And there she is, Diana and her Nymphs, and her jaguars, and monkeys, and magpies, in her mythical jungle, together after two and a half days of concerted focus. A weekend well spent, with a few chores and exercises squeezed in between bouts of obsession that left me with a stiff neck and blurred vision. Next long weekend, I’ll tackle the alternative solution, unless another puzzle comes my way first. Notice how the weird, imperfect symmetries of the original solution now make sense.
My living room looks so lovely without those two huge dog beds in it.
I’ve moved them outside for the morning while I vacuum and rearrange furniture to accommodate a new chair, my first ever grown-up recliner. Last year I bought a fairly expensive couch, hoping that I could recline on that and fulfill two needs with one piece of furniture, but it hasn’t worked out. Degeneration in my spine demands that I finally shell out for a real recliner with manual adjustments. Not electric, since I’m off the grid and can’t add another phantom load to the household power draw. Also, I hear the Colonel’s voice in my head: It’s just one more thing to go wrong.
So, I imagine that in a few years, when my precious dogs give up the furry ghost, there will be one and only one silver lining: My living room looks so lovely without those huge dog beds in it. Meanwhile, they’re outside (the dogs and the beds) basking in the one purely sunny day we’re expected to have all week, while I ready the house for what will no doubt become everybody’s favorite chair, despite my best efforts to keep it to myself.
Speaking of dogs on the furniture, Rosie has found her forever home, in a family with two children who especially wanted a rescue dog. Finally, she is home safe, and I got tingly and teary when I saw the pictures just this morning. Rosie flying after something a child threw, Rosie sleeping on her bed with her new little girl stretched out next to her, Rosie kissing her new children, and this one. Here she snuggles between her two children on the couch. I can’t imagine a happier ending! Or beginning, for Rosie the Dog.
I can still feel the love from this very special dog when I remember cuddling with her, her soft snout, her firm smooth body wiggling happily, her expressive eyes.
A six-inch snowfall last week drifted more than two feet in the driveway. So thankful for good neighbors Ken and Joe who both plowed with their tractors.
Houseplants and potted herbs in the sunroom belie the snow blanket outside.
We are forecast to receive 3″-10″ of snow in the next five days, down, thankfully, from the 6″-18″ predicted yesterday. While grateful for the bountiful moisture, I was dreading that much shoveling: the front door to the front gate, the back door to the back gate, compost pile, generator; a network of paths I’ve kept sort of clear all winter, furrows in the surrounding foot of snow, little trails we all use, the dogs, the deer, and I. When feeling extra energetic last month, I shoveled a path from the compost to the pond and back up to the house, and that has stayed worn down by the dogs and deer alone. So funny how even the deer prefer a shoveled path through crusty deep snow.
Despite continuing snowfall and cold temperatures, more and more birds each day are singing and chattering in the trees. Finches, ring-necked doves, piñon jays; last week a juniper titmouse and a nuthatch vied for the hole in the tortoise tree, while another nuthatch and three finches flitted around watching the contest. Redtails, ravens, and bald eagles are circling and perching. Spring is on the way. I can almost feel those crocuses starting to sprout underground.
There is a cluster of juniper trunks outside my kitchen window with a particularly dense canopy. I noticed something dark flicking and twitching high up in the branches several times last week, like a magpie or jay tail. Maybe magpies building a new nest? Finally I remembered while I was outside to go look. I stood in the center of the trunks which open out basket-like from a central base. I leaned back against one stave after another, circling the inside and searching the canopy for any sign of a nest. Nothing.
Suddenly, scrabbling behind me, and up into the top shoots Topaz. Aha. The next day, I did see magpies working on their nest in the juniper out the bathroom window. Such fun to spy on them!
Preparing for the coming storm, I’ve started a 642 piece puzzle which promises to provide pleasure for many days. I love how some of the whimsy pieces overlap with their depictions, like the fallow deer, fox, giraffe, and elephant below. Thanks, Norma, for sending this one to your sister, and Pamela for sharing it! Easily shaping up to be one of my favorites.
As I write, the dogs announce the truck from Lily and Rose backing up to the gate, right on schedule. This family-owned store in Delta sells quality fine furnishings, and will give you extra stuffing any time if you want to plump up any part of your chair. In short order, the new chair is in place, dogs and dog beds back inside, and I am reclining in luxury.
Though chaos and misery born of despots, climate change, ignorance, and greed swirl around the globe, all is right with my little world. My life today is one of the lucky ones: sunshine and firewood, a grilled cheese and sauerkraut sandwich, happy dogs and cats, a new chair, friends on the radio, flowers in the house and waiting patiently under snow. Some days I am more keenly aware that I or someone I love could die without a moment’s notice. So in this moment, I wallow in gratitude for many blessings.
I can’t do it any longer. I can’t not say anything. I don’t want to offend people, or sabotage their world views, or judge them. I just want to enjoy being a living incarnation of the magnanimous force that created this universe and keeps it in eternal unfathomable motion. I just want to be a good person.
My dear friend gave me a shirt last year that says, “I’m silently correcting your grammar.” I am. Even though sometimes the rules are ridiculous, like punctuation inside or outside of quotation marks. I can’t help myself. It’s the one thing I can do. It’s the one thing that I love. I learned grammar like a fish to water, and therefore, I can play with it. As a writer, I can play with grammar.
But you? You news writer for NBC who wrote for Miguel Almaguer to say, “Downloaded more than a hundred million times, prosecutors allege the widely popular Weather Channel App was doing much more than giving users the forecast….”
Prosecutors were NOT downloaded more than a hundred million times.
Yet that is is actually, in fact, what Miguel said, with his grammar. There is no dispute about it, if you agree with the laws of English grammar: the prosecutor was not downloaded more than a hundred million times, The Weather Channel app was. That sentence, if you want to be educated about it, should read, “Prosecutors allege the widely popular Weather Channel App, downloaded more than a hundred million times, was doing much more than giving users the forecast….”
Now, how hard is that to understand? You should have learned that in sixth grade, NBC writer.
My contribution to Christmas Dinner was peach pie.
I pulled whole peaches from the deep freeze and microwaved them for two 30 second hits, mixing them up between, rolling the bottom peaches to the top, letting the top peaches slide down the inside of the bowl.
Peels and pits to the side for compost. Their skins really do slip right off, and they practically break in half. Still partially frozen but juicy, they’re so small I can put them in the pie shell in halves, pit-side down, round shining essentially fresh peach halves.
I did bake the bottom crust first. Having finally figured out to add a little more water at this altitude right off the bat, and mix fast but not too much.
My friend’s husband Steve was right: you have to use your hands; a pastry cutter won’t result in the right size butter inclusions. You need tiny, uniform pockets of butter (or butter/lard) to make the pastry flaky. That’s science. I don’t get it exactly but I’m beginning to experience it, and I believe experience is what makes a pastry chef, or anyone, an expert at something, whether they can explain the physics of it or not.
A nearly perfect peach pie: enough peaches to fill and round the pie plate, mixed with some sugar (not too much), and a palm-full of tapioca, stirred, and left to sit. Crusts mixed, chilled, and rolled; the bottom crust baked for around ten minutes with parchment paper weighted with beans; filled, topped, and baked, like, forever.
I think my new oven is not quite calibrated for my altitude. I think ten minutes at 450 degrees would be ideal. Then filled and quickly covered, crimped, and replaced in the oven for another ten minutes. Then, the book says, bake at 350 for 45 to 50 minutes. 50 minutes came and went, another ten, another ten, it took forever to even start to brown. Once the peach juice bubbled up inside the edge I took it out of the oven. Mmmmmm, the aroma.
Pastry baking science aside, how hard is it to comprehend that United States President Donald Trump flat out lied? He promised during his campaign, and was elected on the promise that, Mexico would pay for the wall.
It infuriates me that people, whatever their alliance, are not outraged, are not bombarding their Senators with phone calls and emails, exclaiming that this Shutdown is not good for America, and that Trump promised Mexico, NOT WE, would pay for any wall. He lied to you!
If every one of the nearly one million Federal workers who are working without pay, or not working without pay, would call their Senators and tell them whether or not they favor this Trump Shutdown, maybe, he says, for years, I bet that Congress would hear a whole lot more NOs than they would YESs. Every one of these people, whether they support or oppose Trump, counts on the income, purpose, and dignity of their job with the Federal Government. Trump does not speak for them. They speak for themselves.
This is a broken promise masquerading as some other closet monster. It’s monsters all the way down. The squirrelly (no offense to squirrels) course that this person’s chicanery and abuse takes is exceptionally skillful. The guy is a magnificent manipulator. And I’ve come to know some damned skillful manipulators through the years, even as recently as last summer.
Thanksgiving’s pie was apple/plum, both from last year’s harvest, in the freezer. I figured out the crust mixing physics that time, but not the cooking science, so it had soggy bottom, ick. Also, the apples were undercooked, too al dente for my taste. Otherwise, a good mix of cinnamon, sugar, tart apple, and more tart, but less of, plum, just a layer on the top.
Sorry friends, I didn’t ask your permission. But you kind of have to assume, knowing me, you might show up here one day. I love this picture. It expresses to me the ultimate in community. When I moved here almost 27 years ago, I could never have imagined how lucky I would become, how grateful for so much in my life. Every day that I wake up, I thank my lucky stars. For waking up at all, for the day ahead in this place, for community at ever-deepening levels.
So, that’s grammar and the president’s lies out of the way. Back to the allegation that TWC, our go-to weather source (and admittedly a drama queen of a station), has been illegally stealing our private information. “The app deceptively collected, shared, and profited from private location data of millions of consumers….” Miguel went on. Then he introduced the LA City Attorney, who said:
‘Think how Orwellian it is to have a third party you never had contact with know where you’ve gone for a therapist, for a date, for what you did last night…’
“Banking on TWC brand, the Weather Company, owned by IBM, operates the app… which manipulated users into turning on location tracking, using valuable personal data, for commercial gain.” Owned by IBM? Why should this be surprising? We’ve all signed those agreements we never read. We’ve all been complicit in so many ways in the prostitution of our privacy.
I’m sick of it, I tell you, sick of it. All of it. It is all I can do to get out of bed in the morning some days. But there is so much to live for, so much to get out of bed for, that I can sometimes set aside the incessant enervation of our species’ chatter, to enjoy the day.
Today, “another bluebird day across the state,” said Colorado Public Radio. It was spectacular. Blinding in its perfection. Every second with eyes open was a calendar photo. And the minutes and hours or portions of hours spent indoors with friends, or alone, were succulent every second. I could not be a more lucky human being.
So much I don’t have, yet so much more that I do. Let me remember to be grateful every living moment of every day.
This essay first appeared in the Montrose Mirror in 2013. I’ve been addicted now for almost four years, and I still can’t wait to start the next one.
The challenging pepper puzzle in Ajo, $2.50 from Dollar General, starts my slide down the slippery slope from passing interest to obsession.
Jigsaw puzzles, I’ve heard, are good exercise for your brain. I hadn’t had much experience with them since I was a child, when I could get absorbed in them for hours at a time on vacation at Virginia Beach or in the Blue Ridge Mountains; in my adult life I haven’t considered them worth the time. But on a recent trip across the country they popped up everywhere. Admittedly, after the first two, they did not appear spontaneously; I sought them.
The night after I arrived at a friend’s house in Ajo, Arizona, she pulled out a dollar store jigsaw puzzle. Diagonally striped fields of many colored tulips converged at a windmill against a blue sky.
“If we finish this in…let’s say, two hours, we get a million dollars,” she announced to her sweetie and me. This was, for me, a new approach to solving a puzzle. I played along. It was something they liked to do for their own reasons, among them that this was her family tradition.
At first I wasn’t comfortable with it. I felt rushed, and distracted by my sense of incompetence, as she fitted sections together one after another and I sat there dazed by her alacrity. I couldn’t see as fast as she did, or I couldn’t discern the specific relationships among colors and shapes as quickly. Eventually, I let go of that resistance and settled into my own pace. After all, what did it matter? The two million was imaginary anyway. I was pretty sure I’d get another cocktail whether we made it in time or not.
The next day we agreed to start another puzzle on the condition that there be no deadline; we’d leave it up and drop in together or alone to work on it at our leisure. This was the tradition I grew up with. I ran out to Dollar General and spent seven dollars on five more puzzles to choose from. I told my aunt on the phone about my renewed interest in puzzles, and my bargain purchase.
“Mary Pat loaned me a puzzle that cost a hundred dollars,” she said. I was incredulous. “We can do it when you come.”
That evening in Ajo, we ceremoniously disassembled the Netherlands landscape. Before we took it apart, each of us said a few words of appreciation about the puzzle, and what it meant to us.
Ritual disassembly of the Windmill puzzle.
“I’m grateful to this puzzle…” began my friend, and as she continued with heartfelt sentiments we began to giggle, then to chuckle. Our improvised tributes built one upon the other until, by the time the three of us had each had our say, we couldn’t stop laughing. We rocked in our chairs and doubled over, gasped and squeaked, tried to catch our breath and laughed again, practically wet our pants, in one of those exhilarating, exhausting fits of uncontrollable mirth that only happen when you’re completely at ease with your companions, or sometimes when you watch America’s Funniest Home Videos.
We cast secret votes to choose which puzzle to start next. I confess to voter fraud— I cast an extra ballot—I couldn’t choose between the peppers and the jellybeans. Both were 1000 pieces and looked devilishly challenging. The peppers won.
Three days later it was time for me to hit the road, and we weren’t halfway done. But we were having fun with it, and I could feel my brain getting in shape. I asked for photo updates as I drove across the continent to Virginia to visit my aunt.
My first wooden jigsaw puzzle since I was six years old opened a new door to art and obsession.
The day after I arrived at Auntie’s, she produced the hundred dollar puzzle, a “Classic Wooden Jigsaw” from Liberty Puzzles, 506 pieces, and just over 12×18 inches. The image was appealing enough, an antique print of an American Express Train smoking through an imaginative landscape, but I couldn’t see the point of paying all that cash for a puzzle that small just because it was made of wood and came in a nice box with tissue paper.
As we started unpacking pieces and sorting out edges, I became enchanted. The pieces felt good, in the first place. Then, instead of the standard innie and outie pieces in a few basic shapes, we found intricate representations of couples dancing, cowboys on horseback, ballerinas, mermaids, shooting stars, bison, birds, pinwheels, horse-drawn carriages and more, and connecting pieces of complex curves and squiggles; every piece was unique.
Whimsy pieces include starbursts, people, animals and other recognizable things, often related to the puzzle image.
A whole new aesthetic world had just opened its door. I looked on Amazon, just out of curiosity, to see what wooden puzzles I could find. I never intended to buy one. But when I found a print of hummingbirds (actual, astonishing, and some extinct) by Ernst Haeckel, the nineteenth century polymath who coined the phrase “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” I succumbed despite the price tag. I know this puzzle will be assembled many times by many friends, and more than pay for itself in entertainment value.
Liberty Puzzles arrive prettily packed and continue to please from there.
The big day arrived! We saved the puzzle til happy hour, then sorted the edges. There weren’t enough edges! Amazingly, there weren’t even any corner pieces. We had advanced to another level of challenge. Auntie held up the box top, with its small image, and said, “Take a good look.” Then she whisked it away. What! This was the tradition of her friend
Seymour, who let you have one long look at the box top then took it away for good. I put my foot down.
Edge pieces don’t look like edges, and corners don’t look like corners. More than one puzzle to this puzzle.
With this puzzle, my brain really kicked in. We had it close to complete before we could even finish the edge; many edge pieces simply came to a point between two others. We reveled in the assembly every spare minute for three and a half days. We were building art. The last night we worked til we were falling over sleepy. We didn’t want to finish, yet we couldn’t stop. As you get close to the end of any jigsaw puzzle, pieces find their places faster, the tempo picks up; we forced ourselves to quit til morning. Then, sleepy-headed in pajamas, we dove back in and finished. The satisfaction of completion only slightly outweighed the longing for another wooden puzzle.
I looked up Liberty Puzzles online, and found a small business in Boulder, Colorado, that offers hundreds of wooden puzzles, with hand-drawn whimsy pieces and puzzle-cut patterns. For a little more money, you can get your own image turned into a custom puzzle. (Uh-oh.) From their website:
“Before the advent of cardboard puzzles, almost all jigsaw puzzles were made of real wood and cut by hand. The United States has seen two prolonged jigsaw puzzle crazes, one in the early 1900s, and the next in the late 1920s and early 30s during the Great Depression. Jigsaw puzzle collectors prize old wooden jigsaw puzzles for their intricacy, craftsmanship, and the “heft” of the pieces. For the serious jigsaw puzzler, there is nothing quite as satisfying as plunking a wooden piece into place.”
And it’s true. Searching the table for a particular color and shape, then finding one that doesn’t look anything like you expected, and dropping it into the perfect spot, does feel pretty great.
Also from the website: “Traditionally, jigsaw puzzles came without a picture of the puzzle image on the box. Most simply had a title to tease the puzzler about what the image could possibly be.” I guess Seymour was on to something. Liberty offers customers the option of no image on the box.
Artist/naturalist Ernst Haeckel’s print becomes a stunning, difficult, and gratifying puzzle.
Of all the adventures I anticipated in crossing the continent, developing a jigsaw puzzle obsession was not one of them. Yet it has been one of the more gratifying results of this journey. I’ve broadened my horizons, learning different styles of puzzles and puzzle doing; I’ve resurrected the pleasure of conversing and laughing over a puzzle with dear friends and family. Collaborating on puzzles has not only sharpened my brain, it’s also helped me to cultivate generosity and patience. I can’t wait to start the next one.