Tracks in the Snow

Tracks in the Snow

It snowed in the night.  While we were sleeping, it snuck up on us as the world held its breath.  We woke to a new monochrome morning, the air electric with the possibility of a day unspoilt.  There’s something regenerative about a covering of snow – somehow it erases yesterday, leaving a fresh canvas to mark with tracks.  And tracks there were.  A polka-dotted trail of prints left by our soft-hearted, firm pawed, slightly dimwitted tomcat as he had earlier forged a path across the roof, off to carry out his daily inspection of his extensive lands.

This time last year, BMO and his sister Bellatrix (Trixie) were gracious enough to decide that we have the privilege of being their humans.  “BeeMo” was the result of an 8 year old’s naming decision, the culmination of a fortnight spent compiling a flip chart of potential identities for the tiny black ball of chaos and his sister, rescued from the streets and adopted with glee by us all, condemned as we had been to a temporary feline hiatus.  Since then, BMO and his 8 year old have been inextricably linked by a combination of dogged persistence (the 8 year old), inexhaustible patience (the cat) and Dreamies (also known as ‘cat crack’).

This time last year, it was easy.  BMO was a tiny black ball of crazy with no interest in the outdoors, happy sleeping between us on the pillows at night.  This year though, he’s started to wander further afield.  First came the late nights, although I convinced myself that was just because he was ignoring the call and hiding out in the garage or the orchard.  Then last week, I spotted our practically-challenged black devil at the bottom of the hill.  Quite definitely not in the garage or the orchard and quite obviously most comfortable with that eventuality.  I resisted the urge to bolt out of the car, scoop him up and lock him inside forever.  He’s not an ‘inside-cat’ after all, and to restrict him for protection would, by equal measure, diminish him.  Besides, knowing the great big gallumping oaf, ill could just as easily befall him in the confines of home … he has been known to fall off things and run into doors.  Even if that isn’t his destiny, I was moved to ask myself what I was protecting him from.  So instead, I drove on and waited on tenter hooks until his eager face appeared at the bedroom window, much to my relief.

This morning though, on a day so full of possibilities, he had left us tracks.  Tracks that beckoned seductively, whispering, ‘Follow us’.

This was how we had ended up here, gazing downwards on a snow-covered road, bedecked in all manner of thermally-assistive clothing, following the siren’s call of the little black indentations in the snow.  Tracking something is a strange mix of meditation and serendipity.  Before long, we had fractionated, the 8 year old lured away by pheasant tracks, the loping traces of a rabbit and once, the memory of a fox in the crystalline carpet.  I stuck with BMO though, eager to see if following the ghost of his passing could give me insight into the life he had that was no longer mine.  He zig-zagged, marking his territory with a capricious freedom, drifting from one interest to another until I lost his tracks under a hedgerow in a patch of meltwater where his world became private once more.

I turned around to call back to everyone, to tell them that we’d followed as far as we could, that we’d have to let him go here into his own world.  In that instant, as I looked back up the hill towards a small child bundled up in brightly coloured woollens, scooping up snow with abandon and launching it skywards with a cry of delight, I realised it wasn’t really the cat I was tracking.

I read somewhere recently, that having a child is like taking one of your vital organs out and letting it live on the outside, spending the rest of your life with a deep-rooted fear for it as it will always be integral to your survival.  That resonated.  Just as the cat spread his paws and outgrew the garden, so too will his 8 year old.  In September, there will be new schools and new challenges, buses, distance and freedom.  We are not raising an ‘inside-child’.  BMO needs the sights, scents and secrets of the outdoor world and our daughter needs no less.

Looking back along the path we’ve walked, there’s another set of tracks interspersed with the prints that have led us this far, those of a small person stepping out in the world.  Maybe one day, these will be what we have to follow.  But not this morning.  This morning I scoop up my own handful of possibilities, run back up the hill and throw it high with laughter.

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‘In Memory of the Children of the Ghetto’

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I’ve added this week’s Featured Story,In Memory of the Children of the Ghetto and I wanted to share some of the inspiration behind the story.

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The Lodz ghetto was a very real, very brutal place.  If you are interested in the history of the ghetto, I strongly suggest that you Google it as there are sites that can fill you in on the history of the place with far more skill and detail than I can.  I love Lodz.  I lived there for a number of years and we have family that still live there so we return as often as time and money allows.  The station in the story is a very real memorial place.  It is nestled in the centre of a functional city area and has been made into a very moving memorial museum.  It steals up on you because you’re lulled by the pedestrian nature of the surrounding buildings.  Suddenly the enormity of what happened here during WWII is so apparent because these atrocities were also exacted in a pedestrian background of wartime ‘normality’.

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The branch track is abandoned now and the last time I visited, it was thick with summer flowers.  I am always struck by the loneliness of railway tracks but these tracks seem more isolated, despite the yellow and white blooms between the wooden sleepers.  It’s as if the thousands of names that are listed in the original transport rosters in the small museum are standing guard, unwilling to permit these tracks to reconnect with the modern city.

It is hard to explain the atmosphere of the place.  I think there is a memory of the people who passed through on their way to the death camps that somehow scars the air.  By far the most poignant of the many memorials that adorn the walls, is a black, rectangular plaque mounted on the side wall that simply says ‘In memory of the children of the ghetto‘.  Out of respect, the black stone is polished to mirror-like standard and as you look at the words that are carved there and think about what it really means, what the reality of those words was for the children who lived in Lodz at that time, they are superimposed on your reflection as if acknowledging that they have stamped their indelible mark on you.

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This is the place that has been trying to find its way into a story for a long while.  It took a simple prompt to open the path.

LibraryThing Changed My Life! – Adventures in Reading in a Cyber Age

LibraryThing changed my life! I wonder how many bibliophiles can honestly say that. It’s certainly true for me.

I’ve always been an avid reader. I remember very clearly the moment when reading ‘clicked’ with me as a child. All of a sudden the jumbles of letters meant something! I can quite clearly remember my juvenile epiphany on a car journey to my grandma’s house, I couldn’t not read things anymore – when I saw a sign, I read the name.  No matter how I looked, I couldn’t go back to the moment when the sign meant nothing to me.  I had to read it!  Being obtuse and obsessive, I took that to heart and haven’t been seen without my nose in a book since.

I clearly remember my first ‘grown up’ book, the first one that I actually owned, a paperback copy of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ that my parents brought back for me from a shopping expedition.  I remember running to the car (followed by my duck Lucky – Lucky by name, lucky by nature … well, until my impatient neighbour ran him over because he was shorter than a goose … but that’s a whole other story!).  I grabbed the book and retreated to a world a million miles away, contained in the pages I held, one that I’ve never fully returned from.  A few chapters into the book, I remember my dad pointing out “You can read in your head, you know”.  To his relief, it dawned on me that I could.  Epiphany number 2 – the world that is created inside your head doesn’t have to be shared with the outside, it’s yours!  (Also that there are limits to parental patience … but that one was less important.)

Fast forward a decade or two (OK, or three, but we’ll gloss over that part).  In the whirlwind of time, we flash past avenues of books … also some more ducks, the same geese and the odd one-legged chicken … rabbits, hamsters, cats, thousands of fruitflies, snails and axolotls … a couple of degrees but only one graduation ceremony … and we return to almost the present day.  The older we get, the busier life gets.  Having removed myself from my English literature degree because it was destroying my love of reading and didn’t live up to my expectations of shared literary experience and stimulating debate, I was still an avid reader and had fallen back on my family to listen to my recommendations and curses regarding the quality of literary masterpieces.  Bless ’em, long suffering though they are, but fully satisfying it wasn’t.  I tried book groups but they just weren’t serious enough for me.  I wanted to talk to people who read as voraciously as I do and who were equally opinionated.  Life also has a funny way of intruding on your reading time.  My habits were often lazy – it’s easier to pick up a sci-fi book than a classic at the end of the working day, and so simple to leave unfinished a challenging tome with the excuse of a work-wearied mind and the easy distraction of television.  I had kept blogs for my own writing but they’d dropped by the wayside, time-consuming in the face of more mentally sedentary pursuits.  One day, whilst browsing my husband’s computer magazines, I came across an article that pretty much described LibraryThing as the second coming for book lovers.  A book cataloguing site … hmmm … second only to my love of books is my love of lists … there might be something in this LibraryThing lark.  So, I jumped down the rabbit hole and I’ve never looked back.  Epiphany 3 – LibraryThing.

First off, my obsessive tendencies were gently massaged by the cataloguing side of the site.  Initially, it became a matter of honour to include all my books on that list (still working on that one …).  Then, as I became more LT savvy, I realised the full potential of tagging – my first efforts were woefully incomplete, it’s now a challenge I’m approaching in a more head-on and systematic manner, but even my proto-tags added so much to my ‘bookish’ experience.  I could browse my library anywhere, no longer did I have to resort to sitting in the middle of the study floor smiling in a slightly psychotic manner at the bookshelves arranged in my perfect order – I had tags, and my husband couldn’t mess them up to play with my mind!  This pretty much absorbed my first year on LT.  I was already an addict – no gateway drug necessary, straight to the hard stuff!  Then I ventured into ‘Talk’ … drawn in by the ’50 Book Challenge’ group (incorporating books, a list of some kind and a challenge … what’s not to love?).  I was undone!  Suddenly I’d found a vibrant community of book-lovers, empassioned debates, recommendations, scholarly commentaries, an ER programme … everything that had been missing from my undergrad experience.  I had found my spiritual web-home.

LibraryThing has enriched my day-to-day life.  I couldn’t honestly say that if all it did was provide me with another technological distraction.  It’s much more than that.  Now I discuss, debate, blog and review.  All of that is secondary, however, to the fact that what I do now is read more voraciously than ever before.  When I was at uni studying English, one of the reasons I left was that I had stopped reading for pleasure.  LT has had the opposite effect.  I’m reading more now than at any other time.  I actively turn off the television once my husband has left the room and pick up a book instead.  I think about what I read and try to complete challenges like the ‘888 Challenge’ (8 books in 8 different categories in a year) and I read books that had never occurred to me as a result of recommendations and the LT Early Reviewer programme.  I review too, which makes me read in a more thoughtful way.  Most of all, I know that I’m not alone out there in my book-obsessed ways.

So, I want to shout very loudly, “Thanks LT!”.