Thursday, September 6, 2012


I sit outside by the fountain on my lunch breaks, the one out in front of the hospital that's big enough to swim in. Not dive in, and ok maybe not even accomplish a decent dog-paddle, but my point is that it's big and I'm always tempted to wade in it, and maybe lay on my back and float while kids throw pennies in. It's made of rectangular cement blocks, all different sizes. From the other side of the street it looks like a city in Star Wars, with a waterfall spilling from the long rectangle at the back.

But it hasn't been running since the hurricane hit. Usually the water is clear white and sparkles in the sun, which is why I'm always tempted to jump in, but it's been green since I got back last Friday. It amazes, depresses and impresses me that in two days a gushing fount can become a stagnant puddle of mildew.  I was bummed when I first saw the fountain that way. I think it was the stillness of it, more than the mildew,that bothered me. I sit in a windowless, gray office that my coworkers and I refer to as a cave within a cave. To get to my work space you have to go through one colorless, windowless office and into the next. I need to be outside on my breaks with the sunshine and the water, and when I watch it run it reminds me that I'm alive, that something inside of me is flowing and colorful.

It's almost a week since I got back to work and it still hasn't been cleaned. I still sit by it though. Because it's beginning to change shape. Dragon flies hover over the surface, and tadpoles are squiggling underneath. In one week, it's become a whole other world - uninhabitable for me and but very much alive. I watched the tadpoles swimming today, the way I wish I could do in the fountain without being arrested or committed, and I wondered if they knew why they were there. If they knew that they were born in that spot because a hurricane had come and made it possible.

I heard a story once on Radio Lab about how when a whale dies it sinks to the bottom of the ocean and for the next several decades its decaying body becomes a vibrant world. First the big beasts, like sharks and snow crabs and things eat away at it, phase two is the enrichment opportunist phase where the whale's soft tissue left over from the scavengers is eaten up by smaller things. Phase three is the sulphophilic stage where sulphur mussels, clams and some microscoptic things live off of the nutrients in the bones. The show said that one whale can live 50-75 years, and in its afterlife it can support a community of organisms for another 50-75 years. A whale dying and falling to the bottom of the ocean is called a Whale Fall. I love that. When I die,  unless I die in the water, I won't float gracefully. It will have to be called "Woman Fall Over" or "Woman Trip in Front of Tractor." Wait, that's a headline. But you see what I mean.

What I mean is, life never really stops moving. It just changes shape when it has to.

After I got off of work, I got into my car and immediately began to change shape - the dress shoes and the cardigan come off, the earrings came out, and the "yes ma'am" tone in my voice was replaced by an imitation of Joan Jett singing "Mama Weer All Crazee Now."  I thought about the dragonflies and the tadpoles and hoped they'd find another place before the hospital got around to scrubbing the fountain. I wondered if they knew, just by instinct, that there's always another place to go.

ps - you can geek out on Radio Lab here:  It's everything that a show about things like decaying whales should be.

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