The Keys To Happiness

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Photo: Alfred Schrock on Unsplash

 

Two years, and he could hardly remember how he’d managed to survive before.

The rush. The never ending tasks. The constant worry. The being pulled a million ways by demands and the dreams of others.

He’d run on fumes for months on end, then crash and burn in ways that hurt not only himself but also the ones whose lives were closest. All those bridges he’d burnt.

It was the last burnt bridge that had paradoxically saved him. It became a light from burning embers. He’d flown out to care for an ailing uncle, but in truth just to escape the consequences of another interpersonal disaster. He expected to discover his uncle, who’d been the family’s previous pariah, on death’s door. What he did not expect was to find him so content.

“Live here,” were his uncle’s last words. “Need little. Use less. The Keys saved me. Claim your turn.”

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Florida Keys

 

Ripples In The Water

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Photo: Bibin Tom (Tulabi Falls, Manitoba)

 

The dream took almost a decade to fulfill.

And there it was. Reality.

She could scarcely believe it.

First there were the logistics to overcome: savings to secure, the children to raise beyond immediate dependency, paperwork and releases to organize, complicated details to ensure such international travel would even be possible.

Then there was the soulmate to find. Or rather, to have find her.

She looked around. At the deep calm. The ripples in the water. She’d pinch herself, only  it would rock the boat and she had no intention to fall out. Not when it had taken so long to get in.

“You’ll have to adjust,” they’d told her.

“Some things you just won’t be able to do,” they’d said.

Well … stubbornness had gotten her through the accident. It got her through years of being a wheelchair-bound single parent.

It got her back into a canoe.

With Hugh.

 

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Manitoba, Canada

 

No Prayer Crossing

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Photo: Faris Mohammed via Unsplash; Punakha, Bhutan

 

I glanced across the chasm. For someone born and raised in the Alps amidst sharp elevations, I was woefully unequipped. Sometimes I wondered what Karma I’d accumulated to explain it.

“You are protected, Dania.”

I looked up desperately at my mother, who wore an encouraging smile and already had one foot on the swaying bridge and a hand held out to assist me. Even as a baby I’d been known to tremble at the sight of any height, yet Mother’s optimism never wavered that one day her offspring would overcome what to her was an incomprehensible fear. She adored climbing.

Why she took me to Bhutan.

“This bridge is blessed,” my mother tried. “You’ll come to no harm.”

“I cannot,” I whispered, my legs shaking. Each prayer flag a flutter to match mine, the river vertiginous miles below. “No prayer will suffice. My very soul knows it’ll die.”

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Bhutan

 

Not Disappointed

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Cape Disappointment (Photo: John Westrock on Upsplash)

 

The damp timbers creaked under her feet as she wondered if the fog would lift. She half-hoped it would not.

She was still small and timorous when her uncle had brought her here for the first time. “And you won’t be disappointed,” he had laughed, the lines about his eyes creasing in merriment.

It was only later that she understood his joke. It still made her smile.

Indeed, she loved Cape Disappointment. Even in the fog. Perhaps especially in the fog, in its unique magic. She’d read that almost a third of a year’s hours are spent in fog on the headland, masking rivers, hugging sand.

A gust of wind dripped cold into her collar and she laughed. Her uncle used to shake a branch onto her. This felt like a gift.

“You were right, Uncle,” she wiped a tear. “This place did not disappoint. Neither did you. Not once.”

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Cape Disappointment, Washington, USA

 

 

The Sultan

Portrait: Sultan Saifuddin of Tidore, Czartoryski Museum, Krakow

 

“Kesultanan Tidore does not betray its people,” the Sultan waved his hand to dismiss the envoy. “We are not Ternate,” he added, ignoring his advisor’s frown.

The envoy left, stiff-backed, and the Sultan sighed and rose from his seat. It was past time for lunch.

“I do not like the Portuguese any more than I like the Dutch,” he admitted.  “Neither have our well-being in mind. But the Spaniards have helped us resist the Dutch’s dogged attempts at making us their puppets. I will not become Ternate.”

“The Sultan speaks wise words,” the advisor bowed. “As for the trade?”

“I will take the Dutch’s payment for the cloves my people grow,” Sultan Saiffudin’s smile was tight, “and I will gift it to my people, whose support I trust more than that of the Dutch East India Company.” His smile dropped. “Make no mistake, the Dutch’s only aim is monopoly.”

 

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Raja Ampat, Indonesia

 

 

Part Of History

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Photo: C. M. Highsmith, Old Live Oak Cemetery, Selma, Alabama

 

“There is glory in the graves.”

“No there ain’t. There is only death in them graves. And bones, if they ain’t turned meal theyselves yet.”

“I’m only reading what it says, Gramma.”

“You is only saying what is lies, then, and it don’t make it no more true in the sayin.”

“I’m sorry, Gramma.”

“Hmm.”

Moss trailed from the old trees like cobwebs strung on homes for Halloween. There was eerie beauty in them. And sorrow.

“Why did you bring me here, Gramma?” she asked.

“Because it be part of history. Good and bad, you is supposed to know it.”

“It looks really old.” And peaceful, she didn’t add.

“I hear tell they’s started buryin’ here about 1830. Didn’t have no old live oaks then, or young’uns. Just dead peoples.”

“When did they plant the oaks, then?”

“Nearabout 1880. They trees is pretty, Chile, but they graves still got no glory.”

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Selma, Alabama

 

 

Fussy Fossa

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Photo: SeaReeds on Pixabay

 

“Is it a mongoose?” Molly squinted.

“Kind of cat.” Alfred raised his camera.

“No cat nor mongoose. It’s a Fossa. Belongs to the Viverrids.” Know-it-All Natalie noted, head-to-toe in expensive expedition gear.

“Vye-ve-whats?” Molly blurted.

Alfred shot Molly a warning glance, but it was too late.

“Viverrids. Civets. Genets. Or, if you need the very basics: Mammals. Endemic to Madagascar. Carnivorous. Eat lemurs, mostly, though they won’t turn their nose at lizards or birds or tenrecs.”

Alfred sighed. There’d be no stopping the Nataliepedia now. The woman was the bane of their group. He eyed the animal. Vye-ve whatever. Looked like dorky cougar to him.

“Nice fur,” he tried.

“You better not even think of it,” Natalie admonished, delighted. “They’re protected by fady. That’s local for taboo, in case you didn’t know that, either.”

Bet you aren’t, Alfred grumbled internally.  Are fossa too fussy to have YOU for lunch?

 

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Madagascar

 

Life Abridged

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Photo: Willie Fineberg via Upsplash, 10th St. Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA

 

She waited.

One more step and she’d have gone more than half-way across, but she found herself unable to move further. She sat on the asphalt, frozen by cemented legs.

So she waited. It was early, but sooner or later something will come by and she’d find out the price of her betrayal.

All her life she’s been bordered by this bridge, the yellow metal rising like a sun in her horizon: untouchable, unapproachable, dangerous.

They were raised to never cross it.

“Evil lives beyond this bridge,” her father had preached in daily sermons in their basement, the family huddled on aching knees and wreathed by incense, fear, and smoking wicks. “Leave here and your soul will be eternally forsaken. Abandon my teachings and you will not be saved.”

Well, she’d had enough. She could tolerate no more of his invasive ‘instruction.’

And she was ready.

To not be saved.

 

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Pittsburgh, PA

 

Reclaimed Royalty

 

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Lord O’Neill’s Cottage, Ram’s Island (from article in the Dublin Penny journal – 1830s) 

 

He’d come from royalty. Or at least from those who should’ve been but history had been too blind to realize their value. He’d seen promise in his older brother James: a lust for power and a need to force his will onto others. But James hadn’t shown enough self-preservation for a prince. A pity … but at least it left no issue of seniority.

Since childhood the conspiring doctors tried to claim him ill with “grandiosity.”

His mother failed to see. “We come from farmers, Thomas. Always have.”

Perhaps she truly believed her forefathers were but serfs to the O’Neills, but he knew better. He’d seen himself in the drawing, and it fit what he’d always known: He was destined for more, a royal progeny.

He’d take the island by force. It’ll make them realize it was past time he reclaimed what was his by rights, even if forgotten by history.

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Northern Ireland

 

When The Ice Breaks

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Photo: Barni1 by Pixabay

 

He said he’ll be home when the ice breaks.

And every day she waited, one baby tugging at her skirts and another growing restless under her heart, and tried to not look at the field of crosses planted right outside her window. Reminders of the many who the frigid sea or dark winters or the loneliness of this place at end of the world had claimed.

Some days she hated Greenland. The endless nights. The gnawing cold. The monotony of the same few faces and the bickering that eventually picked open old scabs and gauged new hurts for the next arctic dark to revisit.

Other times she couldn’t fathom living any other place. Summer’s endless light. The sparkle on the water. Pups, babies, and not-so-babies frolicking. The wide spaces full of breath and warmth that thawed old sorrows into joy. It felt like coming home.

Will he?

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Greenland