Ahh, those happy little clouds

As a child, I loved watching The Joy of Painting on PBS. For half-hour stretches, no one could budge me from in front of the television while I marveled over Bob Ross’ ability to effortlessly create the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen with all kinds of happy little trees where happy little animals lived.

I am a sucker for scenery, I get that from my dad.

When I was little, we spent a lot of time riding around. My dad owned and operated his own business, so there was little down time for him. Our Sunday driving trips, when we got to take them, accounted for a lot of our family outings. We went on road trips that were sometimes aimless and sometimes not, but we always ended up someplace that made an impression. The trip always ended with him saying, “That sure was pretty country.”

Of all the places we went, though, I can’t say I ever saw anything that looked quite like the places Bob Ross created.

His brush strokes always found a way to highlight the prettiest aspects of nature. Each of his paintings brought to life a perfectly euphoric place where time stood still and all was right with the world.  I always wanted to find a place just like that.

If ever I wanted to escape to one of those places, it has been during the last month. The last three weeks in particular have been a rough stretch. It started with a stomach virus that delivered a decisive K-O to four of us over the course of six days. Then, after a week of trying to get back to normal (but not actually ever getting there), the pneumonia came. First to Wyatt, then to Matt, and finally to Dylan. We’ve caught each other’s illnesses before, but we’ve never all been sick at the same time, and this was everyone sick, twice in a row. It was like a collective gut punch to the whole family. I felt like a tire with a slow leak. Except, instead of losing air, it was my sanity steadily seeping out.

Even in the thick of it, I could still see the big picture. I was (and am) thankful that these have been our greatest worries of the time being. Still, it wasn’t fun. Along with the sickness, there’s been little sleep and a lot of grouchiness and frayed nerves all around. And, then there’s always the added concern for Wyatt, who has asthma, because you never know what else one illness (especially pneumonia) might lead to.

During these times of domino-effect sickness, I tend to lose track of what’s going on in the world around me. Life becomes a very small sphere that consists only of what’s-going-on-in-my-house.

Inevitably, when we cross the hump on the path back to normalcy, I’m hit with a realization of well, reality — what I’ve missed, what I’ve fallen behind on, whatever has been pushed to the back burner. And then it’s catch-up time.

Sunday night was the first in a week that I didn’t have to give anyone medicine in the middle of the night, or put someone in a lukewarm bath to get a temperature down.

I felt a sense of relief, finally, and my mind started wandering outside my little world and then I suddenly became intensely aware of what day it was, and more importantly, what day Monday was.

Several weeks ago, we had made plans for a short trip during the kids’ spring break. We scheduled it way before the stomach virus and pneumonia when we didn’t know how tired and behind we would be when it rolled around.

So Sunday night, I realized that Monday, Monday was the first day of spring break. The day we were supposed to leave. I had given this trip no thought whatsoever, but I hated to cancel it, because the kids were feeling better. We were feeling better. Everyone needed desperately to get out of the hot germ-bed our house had become and do something fun.

As badly as I wanted to sleep in that next morning, I got up early and I did work-work and house-work, going as fast as I possibly could go. I washed dishes, and washed clothes, and sent emails, and approved ads, and cleaned out the car, and packed clothes, and vacuumed, and I also sanitized a good portion of my germ-infested house.

I did it all in four hours and 37 minutes. I’m pretty sure that’s a record.

When I finished, I was frazzled. I had tension-tightness in my chest, and I was a little shaky because even though I had remembered to tend to even the smallest details in my trip preparations, I had completely forgotten to eat. By then, I wasn’t sure anymore if the fun we might have was worth the aggravation.

It took two hours–the length of the trip–for me to begin to decompress.

Then we got there.

From the car, the sun drew me onto the porch before even taking our bags inside. It was so much warmer than it should be on April second. I looked around, I mean really looked, and I noticed that… it was green. Beautiful, bright, first-of-spring, full-of-life green. Somehow, I had missed that during the drive.

But when I scanned the horizon, for the first time ever, that was when I saw the brush strokes. They were clear as day.

The contours of the mountains looked like they’d been pat, pat, patted, down to the valley with a two inch brush loaded with sap green and a touch of cad yellow.

Happy little trees were everywhere, and the meadows rolled lazily in the foreground. White dogwoods popped against that new green and the cherry blossoms were pink and full.

There was a hint of pthalo blue in that bright sky and happy little clouds were floating all around.

I could hear Bob Ross with his near-whisper, comforting monotone narrating the scene before me. It was easy to hear, because the only other noise was the breeze.

After taking it all in, I sat in the sun for the longest time with my head back and my eyes closed and I concentrated on the sun — and sanity — seeping down into my skin. For the first time in three weeks, I did not feel stress.

Sitting on a porch in a rocking chair at a cabin in a clearing, with the meadows and mountains and happy little trees and clouds, I realized that those Bob Ross paintings I dearly loved were about more than just the scenery. Somehow, he painted calm and peace and tranquility right into every piece of his artwork. And that, that was what I had found.  That was what I was sitting there soaking in. I’m sure that is why Daddy so loved his Sunday scenery-searching road trips. I had probably never seen it before, not because it wasn’t there, but because I hadn’t really needed it.

I wish I could’ve stayed longer. When it was time to leave, I still wasn’t quite ready to return to normal life–my everyday hustle-bustle craziness, but it was mostly because I was just enjoying the trip so much. Maybe–at least for a little while–it won’t be quite as topsy turvy as the last three weeks. But the next time things go upside down, I am going to try my best to remember that place. More than anything, though, I hope I’ll be able to remember what it felt like.

And I hope I can feel it again.

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