Friday, August 26, 2011

In All Fair-ness

The freckles on my arms have reached that critical mass that almost makes it look like I have a tan. OK, so maybe it doesn't rise to the level of a "tan" exactly, but it could be called a "beige" or maybe an "off-white." Perhaps in the spirit of journalistic accuracy I should call it what it is--a plethora of  summertime freckles, a veritable galaxy of tiny points of pigment that don't quite add up to a tan. But a girl with Scandinavian and Scottish genes has to take what she can get.

Summer wardrobe,
Denali National Park style
I should have grown up in Alaska, where long sleeves and beanies in August are the norm. Growing up in sunny California I felt conspicuously pale. The Beach Boys didn't help matters much--you remember the lyrics: "The west coast has the sunshine and the girls all get so tan . . . " All except me, that is. My legs were the color of Wonder bread (and I don't mean the crusts) while my friends spent carefree days at the beach or pool and quickly took on a gorgeous bronzed finish. This was before the days of SPF 30 and so a few hours in the sun left me with a painful sunburn that faded slowly back to a slightly deeper white. Nothing even close to a tan. My nose peeled continuously from Memorial Day until school started in September.

Mom assured me that my "fair" skin was an asset. (We all knew that "fair" was just code for "whoa girl, let me put some shades on to cut the glare from your legs!") She tried to comfort me with the thought that in 30 years my friends would have leathery wrinkled hides from all that sun worship while I would be dewy and youthful. Somehow the thought of my peers shriveled like prunes didn't help a lot when they were singing "Blinded By the Light" at the top of their lungs from the boat while I water-skied. I just smiled and waved my pasty white arm. Every summer my futile quest for some color continued. What was I thinking? That I would suddenly develop late-onset pigment and look like a Coppertone ad?

No more. A tan? Meh. Who needs it? In fact, these days I slather 70 SPF sunscreen on my cracker-white extremities or just suit up like a beekeeper when I go outside. My legs continue to blind innocent bystanders but I can roll with it. The best thing about middle-age is that it doesn't bother me anymore. A faux-freckle-tan will do just fine.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Soul Song

What makes a baby humpback whale leap out of the water, head to tail, and twist himself over to land on his back with an enormous splash? Twenty or thirty times, no exaggeration. It looked so much like joy. Do whales feel that breathless exuberance for existence, the irresistible soul-singing that bubbles up just because and must spill out somehow? He breached again and again, close to our little excursion boat, almost as if he knew he had our attention and wanted to make it good.  I longed to know what it felt like to be him that day. I'm pretty sure it felt like joy.

I love it when reality exceeds expectation and even Planet Earth can't hold a candle to what I see in front of me. Alaska has made me rub my eyes in disbelief all week, certain that I must be imagining that brown bear pulling salmon out of the river or the other-worldly blue glacier cracking and thundering as a massive wall of ice breaks off and slumps into the bay. And I've heard that song--the low-thrumming wordless tune that has no contrived melody, but that I know at my core--and something in me sings along with the fireweed  and the dolphins and the enormous bald eagle perched high above Juneau harbor.

Yesterday we pulled off the side of the highway in Denali National Park to watch an enormous mama moose grazing with her baby. She moved her substantial bulk with such unlikely grace that every motion spoke to my spirit. Of creation and of connection. So I awake this morning and stretch, keenly aware of my Creator. And I feel on every side the vast luminous web of existence that holds us all up and connects us each to every other. The song takes on meaning without words. My soul translates it simply, "Life is good." As inadequate as words are, you might recognize the music. I'm pretty sure it sounds like joy.