The veggie isle — this mountain of health piled in one place — is Barb’s Mecca. She craves health. Staring at mounds of veggies kept crisp with a quick spritz every hour, she returns out of hope. Plus, she carries more than her hips will allow in thirty years. Even heavier, though, is the dense desire to feel better in her skin. So she comes. Then she waits. Tiny movements – a exhale of air, a shift to the other leg — make room for some stem or stalk to whisper veggie wisdom. But nothing. She had hoped her presence, her abject willingness, would spark something; anything to break up her gluey insides and surge toward a new stage in life.
Barb searches for a friendly face: carrots. Tamed to a suburban familiarity, carrot sticks were every soccer mom’s scepter of health. She remembers knighting tired kiddos with baggies full of healthy intention. True, Barb had julienned enough carrots to slay a measure of vegetable ignorance. Cucumbers, too. Slices and slices of cucumbers. A mental picture flashes in Barb’s head. Thin, see–through discs of cucumber rest on limp eyelids like coins on a corpse not yet ready to die. Maybe…skip the cucumbers. She shakes it off and scans for the more vague veggies: Grecian columns of leeks, bullwhips of green onions, and round, stubby turnips. These all seemed reserved for the pros, especially the turnips.
Barb steps toward the pile of turnips (Or are they parsnips? She reads the price sign to make sure.) Leaning in, she grabs one from the top. Turning its heavy bottom in her palm, she feels its bed-head of rooty hair tickle her fingers. A blush of purple skirts the fibrous grooves around its base. Funny that such a boring looking food dare to sport a sassy streak of color like that. Somewhere she read that purple was a sign of important nutrients. Can’t remember what, but purple was good, definitely good. Maybe they have something in common, her and this turnip. Maybe they’re both good for something.
Turnips have proven their resilience — having survived centuries of culinary coups — but Barb knows nothing of what to do with them. They aren’t like the potato or onion which anyone can throw into hot water and call rock soup. She abandons the root to its pile. Maybe that’s how they survived. Turnips tucked themselves into the earth, waiting for someone with a taste for more than mere rocks to bring them to life and infuse them with hearty purpose, preferably with added salt and butter. There must be some way to squeeze the secrets from the lowly turnip — even if you couldn’t get any blood from them – but she hadn’t a clue.
No one was going to get blood from Barb anytime soon, either. This morning’s annual checkup at the doctor proved that. The well of scarlet pumped out so fast that she fainted just as the nurse fumbled for a second vile to catch the stream. Barb’s head slumped to her chest just as the needle pulled out.
That may have been a good thing, though; considering it may be the only rest she gets all day. From the moment she leaned into the fridge to snag some creamer for her coffee, Barb was pissed.
“Crap!” she pulled the open spout away just in time to remember. “Damn test,” she muttered, knowing the creamer would mess up the blood draw she had to make it to in just under 40 minutes. Barb hated blood draws. She hated the fasting even more. No time for coffee anyway. Maybe that was the Big Diet Secret: no time to eat, no time to gain weight! Barb threw the creamer back in the fridge. Her stomach growled at its hollow hole. She surveyed her schedule for the day, which was anything but empty. First the test. Then arrive late to work (if she wanted to eat something and not faint during the two hour marathon marketing meeting). Remember to make this phone call and pay that bill. Dinner:
late or just pick something up on the way. Home: crash on the couch and let all that stress-induced Cortisol running through her hungry veins pack away her dinner into more belly fat.
For Barb, this unexpected knock-out was a bonus.
“Whew,” the nurse said before she realized Barb wasn’t listening. “We’ve got enough blood here for next year’s test, too!”
Barb didn’t notice, and she wouldn’t have laughed if she had. You could dice a carrot in the time it took to yank the bloody tip from the inside of Barb’s arm, press a clump of cotton to its red freckle, and tape over with a purple band aid, set at just the wrong angle as to irritate Barb whenever she bent her arm the rest of the day. All that took only seconds. What took longer — what the nurse nor the needle did not notice — was the mental clot prying free within Barb’s mind. Even as her head hung heavy from the rush of sap from flesh, Barb went somewhere else.
She stood at the base of a mountain. Not the veggie kind but a rocky, looming tower. It sharpened to a snowy point like in those fitness magazines with annoying women smiling at the top of some French Alp. Have you noticed how – even as they pose smug in the ultra-bright sun – the climbers look as if no one else is up there with them? Hello! Who’s taking the picture?!
Barb lodged her hands in the small of her back (taking note of her not-insignificant butt shelf) and eyeballed the mountain’s height. A twinge told her it was high enough. This was not good news. But, as dreams often come pre-packaged with backstory, this one did not disappoint. Barb instinctively knew she was to climb this mountain. That fact required no explanation, no justification. She only scanned the stone wall in front of her, looking for a place to start. Skirting the edge, Barb strolled twenty feet when she found a rope. “Ah-hah!” she smarted to the lonely rock. She tested the rope with a yank, thinking, This has been done before. Maybe it won’t be so bad. With both hands feeling for a tight grip, she noticed a soft sheen to the twine just two feet up or so; probably where everyone took their first pull off the ground. Speaking of that, Barb worried, Could she even get off the ground? This wasn’t going to be a repeat of grade school gym class when she couldn’t even make it five feet up, right? The top was waiting, though, and with no helicopters in site, Barb stretched her arms to the soft cord above her head, gave a tug, and…lifted off. Hmmm, not so bad. The same backstory which scripted her climb had been thoughtful enough to lighten her hips, strengthen her arms, or dial down the gravity. Nice!
After scaling higher than any of her gym classmates ever had, Barb paused to catch her breath. She wedged her right foot into a crevice and stiffened straight, using her bones to take pressure off of her muscles. Sure would be nice to have some stairs built into all this rock, she thought, wiping salty sweat from her face. Better yet, an escalator. Yeah, an escalator of carrot slices! Little, orange discs rising up to meet your feet as you step up. This idea gave Barb a fresh burst of energy, and she readied her arms for another round of pull ups.
Just then, at the very second her big toe dislodged from its comfy perch, a gust of wind hugged Barb’s bulk and forced her off center. She dangled, confused muscles flailing while hands clutched tighter. Barb gasped, sucking the wind inside as it tussled her outsides. She pointed her toes for the crevice. It was gone. With legs stabbing empty air, Barb suddenly felt the full force of her weight, as if the fifty pounds she left at the bottom of the mountain had finally caught up. She swung with the breeze. Fingers slipped. Palms burned. Feet scuffed the sides. Loose rock dislodged and pebbled down the mountain’s incline. It was a waterfall of wind, slate, and sweat; only there wasn’t any turquoise gazing pool to catch her fall below. Barb saw and knew all this in a split-second. In the second half of the split, she thought, Great, isn’t this how it always ends for me? If I’m lucky – hah! – I’ll get to start over again.
But she didn’t. She wouldn’t because there was Barb floating in mid-air.
Of course, it took only seconds for this mini-miracle to trump Barb’s panic and get her to notice. After catching her breath, Barb realized that something had caught her. Or was it holding her? She leaned forward, gazing over her belly to check for carrot slices. Nope. She glanced over both shoulders. Her hips counter-swiveled in a suspended twist, but there was not a safety rope anywhere. She was simply still. She held her breath, trying not to scare the miracle. Whatever it was, she wanted it to last, like the electric current that buzzes on your tongue after sucking on a nib of licorice.
The wind came up again, only this time, not so hard. This time, not so rude. In fact, the curl of air felt more like a Latino lover wrapping her hips in a sultry twirl. She raised her arms to catch her balance (If she ever did dance in the arms of a man and raised her arms like that, she hoped she’d have thought to shave her armpits.) Barb splayed her feet flat and wide, anchoring to a floor that wasn’t there. The air became still again. She relaxed along with it and looked around. Birds played in the wind just over her head. She caught a shimmer off a sharp edge, near the rope. She could track her slow rise from the shrinking end of its long dangle. Her muscles fully recovered from the initial climb, Barb lounged into the pillow of air holding her. She stretched out her arms. Fingers softened. Arms bent into a parachute. She could catch the updraft and float higher still. Ahhhh. This is what I want, Barb thought as she rippled the air between her fingertips. To let go; to feel like everything is working, and I don’t have to make it work. It just does.
As she drifted upward, Barb’s face flushed against the cooling air. A fresh gust kissed her brow before flirting with her hair. She couldn’t tell which direction it was coming from. It seemed to come from all sides at once. She leaned into the whirl, trying to keep an arm’s length between her and the rope. She scooted her middle over, but there was no ground to be gained. Another gust threw her back. She reached for the rope again. There…just..wasn’t..enough..oomph to make it work. It was hard work trying to get somewhere and moving nowhere. Another thrust, this time from her shoulders out. The rope hung only inches from her grasp. This was as maddening as pulling chin hairs with dull tweezers.
Just then, a black crow dove into the draft on her left. It hovered, surfing the white caps of air only feet from her. She reached out; not exactly sure why (She certainly wasn’t going to hitch a ride on its tiny frame.) Shiny, black wings ended in five, stiff feathers spread like fingertips. She could almost touch them with her own. Crows are amazing, Barb thought. They can survive anywhere, cruising the mountaintops or loitering in sizzling parking lots. What would it be like to be so adaptable, so willing to inhabit the space around us? The crow beveled its wings to catch an updraft. It lingered there, at eye –level with Barb. Barb steadied herself to keep locked in with its eyes. What did he see? She wondered. Was she out of place up here, or did it know more than her? Had it always served as chaperone, a black angel, to anyone ready for the climb? Whatever it’s notion, the bird didn’t seem in any hurry to leave. In fact, she could see her reflection in the glassy pearls looking back. In a mirror image of what seemed made more of light than anything, her hair whipped. Her arms floated. She was smiling.
“Caw, caw,” the crow called, way too loud for the space which had collapsed between them. She startled. Shoulders jumped as arms and wings chucked both bird and Barb out and away from one another.
Barb batted her body back into balance. Alone again, she realized the rope was not in sight. Great, she thought. What do I do now? Am I going to just hang in the breeze? How am I going to get to the top, really? Now, at this moment – at the crossroads where hope and doubt threaten to collide into a metallic gnarl of bent dreams and shattered possibilities — it would seem ideal for some third party intervention. A booming voice to grant answers, perhaps, or maybe a signpost with arrows pointing the way. Although convenient – and quick — none of that happened. After all, fresh miracles rarely zoom in to reorganize a life. It’s the slow marvels which come through, rising up to meet us in our next step forward. Barb knew this. Of course, there was no manipulating the mountain or the breeze or God or whatever other force-de-jour she might wish to conjure. Barb knew this, too. It was all on her. In one way, this kind of responsibility sucked. It still didn’t answer how, exactly, she would climb the mountain. Yet, owning her role came with a special sureness – a kind of given — that she also had the ability to change things. That’s why she showed up in the veggie isle, after all. To be vulnerable. To be available for change.
Lost in thought, it took a bit for Barb to realize she had already reached the top. Somehow, the peak had come to her. She flapped her arms for a final lift, relaxed, then…touch down. Having lost track of the sensation of ground underfoot, now, every little pebble dented deep into her shoes. She chicken-walked a few steps to make peace with the ground and remind her legs what they were for. Looking around, Barb surrendered to the view; except, it wasn’t spectacular. It wasn’t breath taking. No, what was the perfect word? Right. The view was right. It matched every wish she had ever made. She was that woman posing on a peak. Even more mountains skirted the horizon. Ranges spined in every direction, peaks layered between peaks, like a class picture of the Rockies.
Up here, the wind was even stronger. Tucking hair behind her ears, Barb started to take a look around. The top wasn’t actually all that big. In front of her, a rock cairn jutted from the ground. Shaped out of granite blocks piled into a stubby, roundish wall, it reminded her of a well. The lichen-peppered rocks provided a wind break to whatever squatted within. Barb stepped towards it, sizing the wall’s edges against her frame. Could she fit inside and hide from wind? Getting closer — her hair already wisped from her ears — Barb spotted something already inside the well. She saw orange. One more step. Then a bit of blue. Another step. Now some purple. Standing over the rocks, quizzing her head down, Barb spotted a bunch of books.
Books? Big, red books. Small, paisley-patterned journals. Paperbacks, hardbacks, ripped covers, and bookmarked chapters, they tilted around one another; a haphazard library. Barb picked up the orange book on top. It had that soft, matte cover that she loved so much. Wait. She read the spine. Her eyes glanced to the other titles. She bent low to pillage the pile. The blue, the purple, she passed over one title for the next. Yes, yes, she caught on. She knew these books. These were her books. They weren’t ordered by size and color like on her shelf at home or stacked flat (She hated reading titles sideways.), but these were definitely her books. How did my books get up here, she asked, hands on her hips. Then, she retrieved the orange book again. She remembered this one. She hadn’t finished it. She remembered because she had to give a fake review of it at a book club meeting. That was back when she thought she should join a book club. You know, become more versed in modern woman’s issues and all. Come to think of it, she hadn’t finished most of these books. That didn’t matter so much, though. They were hers. They were on her shelf. They were at the top of this mountain.
She hinged open the orange cover and stuck her thumb between the pages. She opened to a single sentence centered in the middle:
Inability rests in completeness.
Must be between chapters, she thought (one of those inspirational sayings so popular in books now). She licked her index finger and pulled at the top corner to flip ahead. New page; same sentence. She fanned the leafs, front to back. The same sentence flashed a hundred times. She switched hands, testing it back to front. She could read the sentence, start to finish, as the pages fanned in the other direction.
“What the?” Barb said aloud.
She grabbed another book. Hardcover, glossy jacket, sure to have some serious content. The first page: another sentence:
Lack sinks into enoughness.
This was getting weird. Barb grabbed another. More one liners. Even weirder, they seemed to make sense. She reached for any random book. The sentences made sense together, like someone was writing on every page just as she opened each book. There was something here. Something meant for her. She could figure this out.
She turned on her heels and grabbed a handful of rocks. Barb tried to remember the order she had pulled the books from the hollow. Definitely the orange cover first. She pressed it wide onto the gravel at her feet, flattening its spine open with a fist-sized rock. Then the hardback and another rock. One by one, from left to right, she ordered the books at her feet. Then, pointing to each one in turn, she read aloud:
Inability rests in completeness
Lack sinks into enoughness
Emptiness is swallowed up by wholeness
Death, where is thy sting?
For it is not possible for you to be held by it
She liked what it was trying to tell her, but what was it trying to tell her? She tugged at her bottom lip with a thinking finger and cogitating thumb. Then, snif..snif. What was that smell? Whew! That’s strong. How could such a spicy, acrid smell make it all the way up here? No, no, she wasn’t here. Or, here wasn’t there.
She was back in the clinic.
The napalmic breeze of the smelling salts went along slapping every olfactory nerve in the face as it burned up the tarmac of Barb’s nasal passages. She waved the nurses off and bolted.
“You can expect the results in the mail within a week!” hollered the nurse as Barb made for the door.
Back in the veggie isle, Barb rubs the after-burn from her nose and sniffs a horseradish. That mountain top feeling won’t leave her. A lingering sense of support, of not-aloneness, keeps her standing a little while longer in the produce isle. She steps to turn away, then overhears an excited voice.
“Yeah, I never knew turnips could taste so good.” Barb halts. She grabs some green, leafy thingy as an excuse to eves drop.
“I just followed the recipe. I never thought of turnips and rosemary together, but it works! I think it’s the creamy texture of the soup that must bring them together like that.” “Ohhh,” another woman replies with a nod. Barb retrieves the turnip, plus a few more. She makes a mental note to look up Turnip Soup when she gets home. She heads for the check-out.
Fifty scanner beeps later, Barb thanks the clerk and lurches her loot forward. She takes a few steps, then yanks back on her cart, making room for a tense woman in a tight business suit to cut her off. One thirty second traffic jam, then Barb is lugging forward again. As she points for the door, Barb wants to let go. Dang, the automatic door is broken. She loves this grocery store for its pretty produce and steep discounts, but she pays for it in old-fashioned maintenance. How would she get through with such a heavy cart? Just then, a shag of hair appears just above the door’s handle on the outside. Small fingers reach up and wrap around metal. A scrappy boy angles onto his heals, yawning the exit wide with his weight. Barb smiles down at a toothless grin. The Tooth Fairy had done some trading recently. Summer
is all over the boy’s mocha skin. Shiny, black hair flies in feathery chunks. Barb offers a thank you and looks into his eyes. Their glassy blackness reflects back. She is smiling.
When we let go, the space we create by waiting and watching can be filled by helpers. We are not alone, and we don’t have to do it all by ourselves.
Check out the chapter, “The Happy Veggie” in the 100 Pounds eGuide, “Eat to Thrive.” Discover how veggies can eclipse the boring carrot stick. Find it here.
Recipe for Turnip Soup from SplendedTable.com
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