Hardened by the season

Hiding behind the veil of the softening trees.

I learn to find my place and keep my space as the tourists begin to flock, moving in like the geese soon moving on from the delta flats where they hatched their young.

Swelling of the pussy willows.

Cirrus clouds to breach an otherwise stark blue sky above me.

Soft.  The Aspen are filling with lace of caterpillar like seed pods draping delicately from their softening branches.

The subtle art of learning to stand up softly… when I see my technique is much too harsh.

Soft.  Small as I may be, this is not a word many might use for me.  At times I wish it were.  But life, or destiny, the way I was born, the path I chose, or the way things just turned out had something else in mind.  I’m not saying “tough” is good, but chances are, you’d use that word to describe me more than “soft.”

I guess it started as a skinny little girl when the biggest girl in class was after me.  You know the type. For dramatic purposes, I’ll paint her portrait as a young female version of Lennie Small from “Of Mice and Men.”

Jenny Tole was her name. Big boned and slow witted we said at the time.  Probably an unkind and untrue description.  Children are too often cruel.  She came from the wrong side of town and I never remember her around much past fourth grade.  Don’t know if she dropped out or moved on.

I became the object of her attention, me, the smallest kid in class, always sitting front row center in every class picture at the suggestion of the wide eyed and every smiling photographers, probably so I wouldn’t get lost, and being closer to the lens, perhaps I would appear larger…

It started as a rumor.  “Did you hear?  Jenny’s got it in for you…” And spread like wild fire until the entire class was abuzz with the prospect of the ensuing battle.  And I just remember feeling they all felt I would triumph.  Though half her size and weight, at least that’s how it seemed at the time, they laughed like it was a done deal.  No one would whoop me.  Why?  I do not know.  So I tried to convince myself I could win a backyard brawl, though I don’t believe I had ever hit anyone besides my brothers before then.  And the prospect truly frightened me.

I remember being sick to my stomach, the tangled gut feeling every time I walked (ran!) home from school wondering and waiting to see if she was in the bushes about to attack.  For the first time in my life, I didn’t want the school bell to ring.

Now what I don’t remember is exactly what I did, so probably no big dramatic battle scene must have ensued.  Sorry, I know that would be fun to hear.  However I have these memories of turning to face her, feeling a bit like David against Goliath, though somehow at the time being overwhelmed with this HUGE feeling and imagined myself actually towering over Jenny.  I felt strong, mighty, powerful.  A dark red rage.  I would not be scared any longer!  I remember being in her face, pointing my finger, and putting her back in her place.

No punches flew. Whatever I said, it worked.  I think we even became friends after that, which I guess is probably what she wanted in the first place. Ginny and Jenny.  The mouse and the elephant.

I told myself harshness is how to handle people. Stand up!  Be strong!  I find myself still saying that. I know no other way.  I try to learn, and usually fail.  As one friend said, sooner or later, they’re going to disappoint you.  And I will you. So why do we even try?  Such socially strangled creatures we are. How dependent upon one another.  No matter how I try and fail, try I still always do.

The harsher side of self.  Longing for an internal softening.

The land here, my husband says, is harsh.  A winter away in a softer land has reminded him anew.  There was soft, pink, moist, mild.  Here the sun, wind, air burns, cracks, parches with little comfort from hard rocks and rushing river.

And yet of course it is the people which will always hurt more than the elements. So against them must I don the heaviest cloak.  And the softness that I allow myself alone on the mountain, letting down my guard when no one but nature surrounds me, closes off and shuts down for the season as the sentinel arrives to stand guard and protect.  The inevitable conflicts await, approaching with the season.

12 thoughts on “Hardened by the season

  1. I’d say “assertiveness” rather than harshness. Assertiveness can be regulated according to the situation, or even turned off when not required, just as you respond to the mountain according to her moods.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this post over the weekend, trying to decide how to articulate my response but since I’m not that great with words I’ll just type what I feel…

    What do I see in you, Gin? I see a kind-hearted, gentle soul who loves animals and people alike…okay, not alike, animals definitely win out here and there is nothing wrong with that! No one can love and care for animals the way you do without having a gentle and patient disposition. Oh sure, we all have to be “tough” sometimes, the world around us forces our hand and we find ourselves getting tough or drowning. When we come out on the other side of the mountain we are renewed with a greater sense of who we are and who we want to be. Then the real “tough” ones, like you, hold on to their quiet, gentleness while the weak ones resort to bitterness.

    Harsh, tough? No, quiet, gentle and kind…that’s you!

    • First, you ARE great with words, Karen.
      Second, you are biased. You see the goodness in me when even I question it within myself. I believe you can find the soft spot in the hardest rock, and that is a beautiful trait you are blessed with. It is not ignorance, but a strong sence of seeing through darkness and finding light. I am glad to know you, Karen.

      • Julian, I reflect further upon your question. My response above was more in line with where my thoughts had wandered (towards today’s post). But in proper consideration, I would say the more realistic response would be “fear of losing control of how (I) respond.” For too often it is not how I wish it would be… ;-)

  3. That’s very honest of you, Gin. Admitting that one has dark fantasies is a good way to defuse the risk that one might do dark deeds. It’s from that risk that fear spreads. Knowing ones enemy enables him to be avoided or countered. Freud would agree with that. Each one of us contains the potential to do good and evil. Recognises this allows one to steer clear of the evil that we might do. Of course not one of us is perfect.

    • I did not realize I admitted my dark fantasies, but I can’t say I don’t have them. So is seeing our dark side the first step in learning to control it? And then on the times we are unable to exhibit such control (like shouting at another in anger, as a somewhat tamed example)… well, then what? How do we learn from that? Ah, to be calm and cool and collected all the time… how do we get there? And then, as I write that, I realize, I don’t want that ALL the time, for I love the passionate bouts of life – as long as they are the positive ones. It’s those negative ones I’d like to eliminate. Can you have one and not the other?

  4. We can’t become perfect. But we can admit to our personal dark fantasies. Not necessarily in the open as self-abasement. (Incidentally I’m not saying that you broadcast yours, Gin.) But recognition that such things exist is the first step, and recognising our personal dark side is the next. What we know about, we can guard against. We can anticipate its steps, avoid the triggers, laugh at it (for, above all, darkness cannot abide being laughed at.)

    No, you won’t become cool and collected all the time, like the quiet sanitised take-home “Gin”, because you are unique and passionate. But perhaps you won’t snap only to regret it later, nor frazzle yourself bottling up emotions. (I’m smiling at the “quiet” image – Little House on the Prairie up at the Divide, Gin in a long frock barefoot baking – quite ridiculous but we have to laugh at the contortions that the Shadow of the unconscious would seek to inflict.)

    Oh, and I’m not so great myself, Gin – after telling the pony-club-mothers at the barn just what I think of their dreadful parking and making one of them move her car. I can flare up too (and at “civilisation”) so I guess that the Shadow can poke at me too.

    But, yes, I think that we can substantially reduce the negative outursts whilst remaining passionate. And we can also stop judging ourselves more strictly than necessary.

  5. Mike was bullied in 5th-6th grade. He’d double over in pain, turn grey, clutch his tummy–acid from stress. One kid, jealous that Mike was better at Scouts, sax, soccer. And so violent and irascible that everyone else feared him. None would play with Mike because he told them not to. (He eventually moved to Columbine. Would have been w/in 1 or 2 years of the perpetrators there. I wonder???) Mike is an authority in his field at 32, author of a book, co-founder and owner of a successful dot com, married to a successful wife, handsome (I think!), funny, nice. Yet…he still bears the scars. I’m so glad our schools are paying more attention to bullying… And, for what it’s worth, WE always thought you were adorable!

    • Good to bring up the importance of awareness of bullying, Jean. I both was bullied and bullied growing up. Terrible. Back in the 70’s, I remember hearing, “get over it, it’s part of life, makes you stronger.” Good night! Inexcusible. To see how far we are coming, though not far enough yet. I have hope. We lived in a community in Washington over the winter that stood up and together against hate crimes. It takes awareness, role models, and others simply not tolerating the bully behavior. When society stops thinking it’s “cool” or “ok”, we’re heading in the right direction.

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