Jodi Hills

So this is who I am – a writer that paints, a painter that writes…

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Asparagus tart.

On my daily search for asparagus, I came across a couple on the path. She was pointing this way and that way. He all the while shaking his head no, and unfolding the map. I continued on the steep side banks. Looking. Bending. Picking. 

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a map girl. So as he approached me map first, I temporarily stopped my search for asparagus, and looked for patience. I used to run from these situations. Not confident in my language skills. I eventually graduated to pre-apologizing for my French. But then yesterday,  I just said, Bonjour. I knew where they wanted to go. I brushed aside the map and pointed out the big rock. The gravel path. Take that left. Follow the road.Turn left again to go up the mountain, or right to get to the river. When I finished explaining, they nodded. But instead of a thank you, she made sure to point out my American accent. That used to hurt my feelings. Sometimes even to tears. Yesterday, I smiled and even laughed a little. “Yeah,” I thought, “But I know where I am…”  I wished them a good day, and walked home with my handful of asparagus. 

I realize I still am living a life of privilege. I only mention it because it has opened my eyes. When I first started looking for asparagus, I couldn’t see it. Everything looked the same to me. Now, with the “asparagus eye” I can spot it in full stride. 

I had never been an other before coming to France. It’s so easy to see when it’s coming at you, harder I suppose when it’s coming out of you. I pray that my empathy has grown. When we know better, we do better. That is the path I hope to travel. Daily.

With my newly found treasure, I made an asparagus tart. It took me an hour to make the puff pastry. Kneading the cold and cubed butter into the flour. Pesto sauce. Parmesan Cheese. Slow baked in the oven. Scents wafting through the house. 

Growth takes time. But oh, it can be delicious!

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Mystery and Peace.

I didn’t see it the first time I passed. There is a giant stone marking the gravel path that I walk on every day. (And I must add, I pay attention to the stone because it reminds me of the one that marked the driveway to my grandfather’s house.) 

It’s close to an hour by the time I make my way out and back, searching for asparagus. Instead of walking past the large stone a second time, I cut through the field, usually rich with asparagus, and then wind my way up the large hill. As I started back down something caught my eye. I wasn’t sure what it was. A woman sitting on the stone? An animal? I couldn’t quite make it out. When I got to the bottom of the hill, I saw it. Four rocks placed perfectly in order to balance on the large one. No glue. No cement. Nothing to hold them, but balance.

Voices carry easily on this path. But I never heard anyone. Never saw anyone. Had they brought the stones with them? How did they manage to find them? Place them? In such a short time. 

I hadn’t seen the art of balancing stones until I moved to France. With mountains and rivers so near, the options are plentiful. With mild research, I found that it was all a meditation in balance. Finding the core strength to stand tall, no matter what nature throws at you. 

I suppose I’ve felt off balance for a few months now. Losing my mother was like losing one of the rocks that held me upright. I hope it’s not arrogant to think this is a sign for me. I don’t think so. Maybe we’re all here to give each other signs. To pick up the stones, when others are weary. To give each other hope. Through words. Paintings. Gestures. Even rocks. And if we can do that for each other, then I think we can create a world of balance that we all long for.

My grandfather gave me this. My mother did too. Maybe they still are. Or maybe the duty has been passed along the path. I find comfort in it all. 

A few days ago a friend of mine sent an email and signed it, Mystery and Peace. I guess that says it all. I hope you find both on your path today.

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Field trip.

It wasn’t my usual kind of podcast, but it came on as I was walking. I half listened as I searched for asparagus. It was something about bats. Rabies. Shots. The woman said she had to get the shots just because a bat was in her house. The doctor said the teeth of the bats are so small you won’t even wake up if they bite you in your sleep. I searched the ground for green stems. And then they said something about rabies in your system. That it could last for a year? Or did they say years? How long? Like decades, or a couple years? I was really worried now. Really listening. Because surely we were all exposed, if not bitten, in the complete darkness of Crystal Cave on our fifth grade field trip.

The teachers were so excited as they passed out the permission slips. My first thoughts were, “Here we go again…” I can’t say there was actually one paper I ever wanted my mother to sign. Each one sent us off to the deep woods. A cave. A bog. Stomping. Roaming. Through fields covered in snow. In darkness. Sometimes both. 

I brought the paper home reluctantly. Dangling it out the bus window, hoping… Crumpling it in my pocket. My mother pulled it out in the laundry. “Oh, you forgot this…” she said. “Forgot…” I thought. “So you’re going to Crystal Cave?” she asked. “I don’t have to,” I thought. “Well, that sounds like, you know, fun…” she tried to convince both of us. (Knowing full well it was something she would never enjoy.) “Or a nightmare,” I said under my breath. “What’s that?” she asked. “Nothing,” I said. “Fun, I guess.” She took that awful pen and signed it, almost apologetically. “We’ll go to the mall this weekend,” she said, touching my face.

I laid awake the night before the field trip. Still trying to think of ways to get out of it. What were my symptoms for strep throat? Mono. People got mono all the time. I was a terrible liar. I kissed my mother goodbye, as if going off to war, and got on the bus.

As far as I know, we all survived. But there were bats. Lined up on the side of the cave. I know I saw them. We could have all been bitten by those silent killers. I googled Crystal Cave after coming home from my walk. They are still open. Still in business. If lots of fifth graders had died, surely they would have shut the place down. Maybe we were safe after all. Still…

I hear dogs howling this morning. They are hunting wild boar. In the woods, on the side of the small mountain (large hill) I walk each day. Apparently we have a surplus. I saw the signs posted yesterday. It sounds exactly like something we would have ridden to see in a big yellow school bus. I smile. And give myself permission to find my own path. My own way. 

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Fluffy random weeds.

It was only in the last ten years that I became aware that asparagus not only grows in large bundled stalks at the grocery store, but also in the wild.

I couldn’t see it at first. My husband pointed to the ground. “Regarde, les asperges!’ I started rifling through the small rolodex of newly learned French words in my head. I must have it wrong, I thought. I couldn’t see anything that resembled asparagus. He pointed again. Nothing. He bent over and picked up the tiniest stalk. That? I would have never seen that. It wasn’t what I used to buy at Byerly’s. “How do you know where to look?” I asked. He showed me the fluffy weed-like thing sprouting on the ground. Oh, I thought, I could see that. “Does it grow within that?” “Oh no,” he explained. “Well, close by then?” “Sometimes. Sometimes not.” That is the worst clue, I thought to myself.

The season is short. Just a few weeks in the spring. I didn’t think about it much that first season. But the next March, while out walking, I just randomly saw one on the side of the road. I looked around all smiles, as one does, to see if anyone saw me make my big discovery. No one had. I picked it. And from then on, without my knowledge or permission, I started not only looking, but seeing.

I suppose we all think we are being so obvious. That everyone should know exactly how we feel. Really see us. Perhaps the clues we give are as ridiculous as a random fluffy weed.

Nature tells us that it is worth the look. Worth the time. As I walk this world, I am reminded to do the same with you. It would be so easy to just walk on by. I’m sure I’ve done it a million times. But I want to see you. Really see you. I will only ask one thing, that you give me even the smallest of clues. Wave in the breeze just a little. I can’t promise I will understand immediately. But I can promise you this, I will look. Daily.