Expectations, Great And Not So Much

To have a list of things one wants to see or do while there still is time seems fairly common. Today it is called a bucket list; in the past it was called a wish list.  I have kept such a list all my life, and out of the varied items, designations, events I included on it, only one remains, unfulfilled.

And lest anyone thinks I have been all over everywhere and back again, not so.  I have kept the list for a long time, but it always has been a short, not particularly glamorous one. Some items were easily accomplished or achieved, some took longer; some so exceeded my expectations, they took my breath away, and still do when remembering them, others were such colossal disappointments, I still shake my head.

Greatest expectation exceeded? Touching a glacier. When I moved to Alaska, it was before the days of readily accessible information via the internet; if one wanted to learn something, it was off to the library, and the trusty card catalogue. We were moving to Juneau, Alaska, and therein was located the Mendenhall Glacier. I did the research, and thought I was prepared to experience one of my life’s goals; laying my hands on a glacier. Based on the pictures I saw in books at the library, I envisioned the Mendenhall Glacier, and was expecting something large and beautiful. Not even close. And it seems irreverent to attempt describing something as staggeringly majestic as that glacier is, except to state it is epic. I was able to touch it, watch it calve, and marvel at a color blue I had never before seen, nor ever will again, unless I am up close to another glacier breaking off a huge chunk of itself. Age, magnitude, complexity; it is like an ice age peacock full of its own splendor.  It is spectacular.

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Second greatest expectation exceeded that was on my wish list? Seeing it rain on the ocean. This one has caused more than one eyebrow to raise in serious questioning of just what the criteria was to get onto my wish list. It goes way back to earliest elementary school lessons on weather. I checked it out, and what do you know? The drawing still is there, today, even on the internet. You all know the one that teaches us where rain comes from; evaporation from the ocean, condensation into clouds, precipitation in the form of rain, snow, sleet, hail. In all the drawings, sketches of the ocean’s role in creation of weather show droplets of water rising from its vast expanse to the sky.

Being the extremely literal person I was as a child, and still am today, it never occurred to me that is not exactly what happened. When I was that child, I believed everything an adult said. I did wonder, occasionally, why during our family vacations at Santa Cruz, I actually never witnessed the phenomena, but it was summertime, the sun was shining, and I did not have time to solve the mystery of rain. I concluded those drops of water probably ascended in the fall and winter months, so it was not an issue for my summer vacation days.

Finally, in the summer after eighth grade graduation, we were on our way to Santa Cruz, and for the first time, ever, in all the years we had been vacationing there, it was raining. I knew then, intellectually, it rained everywhere, so this should not have been such a stunning event, but the part of my brain that had been imprinted as a little child learning things for the first time, believed rain falling on the ocean instead of rising from it was a miracle. When we arrived, I jumped out of the family car, ran to the edge of the cliff overlooking the surf, and stared in amazement at the complete reversal of all I had held true regarding the formation of rain. The only way I can describe my reaction was as though I were viewing the world, itself, in the process of turning upside down. Yes, I was watching a weather miracle, and to this day, I cannot pass a view of rain falling on the ocean without remembering that feeling of wonder that drops were falling on, instead of rising from the Pacific Ocean in Santa Cruz, California.

The disappointments from my list have been plentiful, mainly because I always had an active imagination, and therefore expected things or events I anticipated to be great. Unfortunately, many were not. It has taken a long while to learn how to deal with the disappointments; after all, my expectations, and how they were met, will never set the value or worth of the thing, itself. The two most recent experiences are perfect examples of hopes colliding with reality.

When one’s life has been spent residing primarily on the west coast, there are a couple things noticeably missing that residents of other areas of the country take for granted. Two of these were of special interest to me; one because I could not fathom how it worked, and the second because it seemed to epitomize nature and beauty, all in one. When I finally had the opportunity to see each, I was so let down, I actually grieved over the disappointments. And they both happened in Maine.

The first? To see a red bird in the snow. I spent a lifetime envisioning the glory of a cardinal hopping around on a pure white snowbank, or magnificently perching on a snow dusted pine bough. I thought it would be somewhere between the size of a large robin and a chicken, regal and dignified. The first one I saw was smaller than a robin, but larger than a sparrow, surly looking, and poking around in some dirty grey snow on a slushy sidewalk. No, no, no. That pitiful little bird did not exemplify Christmas, or the Norman Rockwell type holiday spirit I had longingly wished for, or gazed at on Christmas cards and calendars for so many years. Instead, it seemed more like a cold, winter weary creature looking for some morsel of food in slightly melted boot prints left by someone scurrying to get home and warm from the ravages of winter in a coastal village in Maine.

Finally, the next to last item on my wish list was to see a firefly. Once again, my image of that little bug was of a creature just this side of a fairy, but still an insect. I actually had never seen a picture of the firefly, itself, only pictures of the night landscape filled with their twinkling little butts flitting all around. Then came the summer evening when one had been captured, and brought to me for up close and personal viewing. Oh no. It was in a jar, alone, butt still shining; however, not at all cute, nor even charming. It had all the appeal of a large winged ant, maybe even a termite, with its end glowing. I wanted to demand it be taken back outside, and the real firefly of my hopes and dreams be brought in. That did not happen. I stared at the pitiful, scrawny little creature, and simply remarked it was a bit thinner than I thought it would be. After what I believed a suitable amount of time, I took it out back, and set it free. No bug that ugly should be alone in a Mason jar on a summer’s evening. No, it should be with like creatures, where its creepy little existence was not frowned upon by someone who had expected more.

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So, with one remaining thing on my wish list, I debate if I should pursue it, or leave it unfulfilled. At this point, I am leaning toward keeping it on the list, intact, and experience it only in my imagination. The item? To see the Southern Cross. I have entertained the idea of going to Patagonia to fly fish, and from there observing the night sky. I have read about the Southern Cross, seen pictures of it; and perhaps, this far along, in my imaginings is where I should keep it. I like having something to look forward to, something that makes my soul rejoice just knowing it exists, and if I maintain the dream, as it is, nothing will alter its unique, pristine quality. And there is an importance in having something that still remains, something to hope for, because as long as our wishes and dreams exist, we have reasons to continue this trek through life, our journey.

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