When I was a little girl there was a thing that would delight me beyond all others. Maybe twice a year I would receive one and so they kept their magic. They were called surprise balls and I have no idea if they still make them but I certainly haven't seen one in decades. They were balls of colored paper, wound together in strips tightly and as you unraveled the paper, tiny objects fell out...a fortune, a charm, a flat kinda duck whistle, a tiny tin harmonica in the middle, or a miniature magnifying glass, or some other unexpected treat. It always seemed like just when you thought you had discovered everything in the ball, there was one more reveal.
Good books are like that. One story that takes you down a path and you think you understand the characters and how they behave and then they slip into someone else. The unexpected mystery or behavior or plot twist. Good movies, which are based on good stories, of course do the same.
Gardens can surprise when the bed of tulips holds a Johnny jump up, jumping up. Or the vegetable garden sees a carrot emerge amid the squash. Or the tree you think is barren one spring bears apples. There is a great sense of not knowing it all. Not seeing it all. Having surprises that bring you joy, unbidden.
It happened years ago when I was editor of this paper and I had a sports reporter I thought was pure jock. A bat, ball and stick kinda mentality. One day I was searching for a quote.
I looked at him as if he had just explained the theory of relativity, since I could in no way figure out how he knew that quote and author and I was relatively certain he was right. (He was.) I never looked at him the same. I encouraged him to write his own sports column and he did for a spell and it was filled with such literate images that each Thursday (we only published once a week back then) he would surprise me.
Last week when I was in the desert and exiled from the National Parks I had to find different surprises the unexpected waterfall or Indian paintbrush flower or desert creature crossing my path. Except for the afternoon I drove through Zion, which was legal as long as you didn't stop and walk around. I asked the ranger if could stop to take photos. He looked embarrassed and sheepish and said "just get your car off the road and don't wander off how 'bout that?" And I was grateful. It was late afternoon and I later learned there are just three weeks of the year when the light is this intense in that part of the world. Somehow, the red rocks hold onto the light, after the sun has set and they vibrate with rich, infused color.
I was already driving slow, feeling like I was in some kind of time and place warp and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Coming down from the ridge where the wind and water had carved a checkerboard pattern in the heaving, several stories high, mounded rock, were meandering a herd of curly-horn sheep. I found a place to pull over safely and I let the parade go by. Further down the road I encountered another herd. And finally in the middle of the road yet another. With the lack of cars and buses they decided to come out to play or show off or just surprise and delight the half dozen cars that gathered.
The stars were something else.
In the desert in Utah, you are hours and hours away from any big city that might flood the night with lights. You look at the sky with your naked eye and you can see... everything. I wandered back from my dinner at the on-site restaurant to my tiny bungalow with my head bent backwards looking at the star-filled sky. And I couldn't find The Dippers. Not Big or Little because the sky was crazy with stars. More stars last week than I have ever seen in my life, anywhere. Someone shook the star shaker, hard.
I always heard about the Milky Way and saw photos of it, of course. But never, with my naked eye, did it jump right out of the sky and present itself. So many stars of so many sizes, it was dizzying. I never knew you see all that, in the right place, on the right night, at the just right time of year. It came as a complete wondrous surprise. That kind of reveal is the universe reminding you in full force the power and majesty and mystery that is always in the sky but only visible at certain times and places.
I came home from that all-too-brief trip so happy, I had been so far away, I could experience surprises day and night. And so a beautiful rock left in my garden with the green and gold colors did not go unnoticed. I don't need to know who left it but I am grateful for the surprise. And I will look into the night sky here and even if I can't see the same number of stars at night, I will take great comfort in knowing they are, nonetheless, still there, each Sunday (night) in the Park...
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.