Molly Fisk: One Plexiglass Rhinoceros

This morning I drove across two rivers and beneath one moving train to get to the periodontist. I passed about ten thousand trees, growing in perfect linear rows, all leafed out now, their blossoms blown away. Mostly almonds and walnuts. Some prune-plums. I saw quite a few brown and white cows, and one plexiglass rhinoceros, to whom I always wave. It lives in someone’s front yard, pretending to be art.

The strawberry fields were open for buying, even at 7 a.m., and I could feel the heat building as I got closer to sea level. I descend 2,454 feet, over about 40 miles, to get my teeth cleaned. This is not an urban lifestyle. I wouldn’t say it’s the reason I left cities, exactly — I had great dental care in Cambridge, Chicago, and San Francisco. But it’s kind of a weird perk of the rural life, that services you need are sometimes far-flung, so routine errands turn into adventures.

My actual dentists, a husband-and-wife team, are right downtown, ten minutes from my house. But a few years ago I had a tooth pulled, and began these treks to Yuba City to see the most wonderful periodontist on earth. Now, twice a year, I get up in the dark and zip down there for an hour’s cleaning. Another tooth needs to come out and we’ve been waiting to decide exactly when. Today I got the news that sooner is better than later, and was sternly advised not to eat any Milk Duds. I’m pretty famous for eating everything but the kitchen sink, but I’m not sure I’ve had a Milk Dud since 1976.

The two rivers I drove over are swollen with spring run-off, blue and sparkling. I wanted to stop the car and jump in, but knew I would freeze my toes off. The train, like all trains these days, looked old-fashioned: the cars faded into beautiful muted colors, a little rust. And the trestle I was driving under seemed of the same vintage, its lacy metal sides like something out of a movie, not a real crossing and me in a 12-year-old green Toyota.

I’m afraid, despite using a laptop and cell phone all day, every day, I’m feeling a longing for the old-fashioned. A desperate kind of nostalgia has caught me and won’t let go. This year, the speed of life seems radically changed. Just in the four months we’ve gone through, so many difficult things have happened that it’s hard to figure out how to proceed. From the broadest brush-strokes of flood, earthquake, tornado, tsunami, and radiation leak to the most close to my heart: a dear friend dying, the world is rocking me. Not to mention political cruelty and economic vertigo. I know I’m not the only one who feels this. Something about spring both brings me back to a calm center, and amps up my worry. The recurrence of springs, abundant, green and cheerful, year after year, is reassuring. But I also wonder if I’ll ever see another: my father died when he was my age. Either something will happen to me, or the world will change so fast that next year spring won’t come.

I try to use road trips like this to settle my nervous system. I look around and take deep breaths. I say, “Molly, this is Thursday. Can you let it just be Thursday?” Even though Prince William of England turned British citizen Kate Middleton into princess and duchess in the same breath, and days later someone killed Osama bin Laden with two shots to the head, the almond meats on these trees are slowly growing into their secret oval shapes. Despite gas and food prices soaring and me needing a tooth pulled out, which will cost $964 that I don’t currently possess, the dogwoods along Route 20 — graceful, serene as duchesses — have quietly, overnight, turned princess-pink and wedding-dress-white.

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  • Wendl in Manhattan April 24, 2017 at 7:40 am

    Lyrically written, Molly, thank you. (And wishing you good luck with the dental pain (physical and financial). I’ve been working a few days a week in Central Park for six years–although “working” is just not the right word for helping to clean, beautify and preserve what I consider a sanctuary. The hopefulness that Spring signifies each year, delivering what she can and must, despite the cares and worries of the human world, inspires me to fully observe and appreciate one day at a time.

  • Mickey M. April 22, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Milk duds?! My implant crown came out with taffy. I told my dentist: Taffy and I are not friends anymore! Yes, implant. I eke out $36 a month for my dental insurance to pay $787 for an implant instead of $1,800 and receive two ‘free’ cleanings a calendar year. I pay for a 3rd cleaning to remind myself to brush and floss! Is this too much information? And breathing. And anxiety. And the world, what a world. Stop saying nuclear holocaust, please, CNN or was it Lewis Black?! Third World War. Stop saying that! Yes, a lovely hummingbird came by to drink from my blooming aloe vera. There’s a bird whose voice is ‘tsk tsk’ and I think it has a nest nearby. Hugs, Molly. I love you and your writing. Oh, look, Hillsmom! Hello, to you, too! And Gussie!

    • hillsmom April 22, 2017 at 12:28 pm

      Hey Mickey, I just sent you a PM…stay cool out there. Another dreary drizzly day here and cool again. Fortunately pretty spring wild flowers blooming nicely. Gussie sends xo, too =^..^=

  • Karen Donaldson April 22, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Beautiful. Thank you, Molly. All best wishes for the dental adventure ahead. I’m going to try letting today just be Saturday. Breathe in, breathe out. Cheers.

  • hillsmom April 22, 2017 at 10:44 am

    Oh Molly, so well written that I could see it out my window. Well it’s patch, patch, patch, but please don’t leave us here without your treasured wit and warmth. My DH is very deaf even with hearing aids in both ears (he was a fighter pilot) but even I have noticed that people are talking faster these days. I have wondered why…perhaps to keep from being interrupted? There have also been more essays about “slowing down to smell the flowers or coffee” lately. So others, of an age, have noticed it too. Remember, you can never see enough Bluebirds… =^..^= Also, better over the hill than under it!

  • Deb Lundstrom April 22, 2017 at 8:54 am

    This is the most beautifully written, gloriously descriptive essay I’ve ever read. Thank you for the wonderful start to my day. I’m so sorry about the sad and terrifying thoughts swirling in your head, and I must admit that I share many of them. “The times, they are a changin”, though at a much faster rate than in the past. Sunshine, fresh air, freezing cold streams are the best ways to escape. Do whatever you need to help yourself feel better – we can’t afford to lose you, Molly! You are the ray of sunshine to the rest of us out here in our corner of the planet.

    • Molly Fisk April 22, 2017 at 10:06 am

      Oh, my goodness, what a lovely thing to say, Deb, thank you! I go outdoors for solace (unless it’s really raining hard), and try to remember my animal self, a being who breathes and gets thirsty and is gradually aging but loves being alive.

    • Susanna Gaertner April 22, 2017 at 3:02 pm

      I’m with Deb…this is precisely the roil and boil we all feel all the time while wanting–and sometimes receiving, a moment of pastoral plenty. Only you, dear Molly, have the language and comprehension and compassion to put these comforts and anxieties into those, as Deb says, “gloriously descriptive” essays.
      I’ll spare everyone my tooth story, suffice it to say, there is no tooth fairy for adults.