Bleary-eyed, I’m shuffling off to the kitchen, the belt of my fluffy gray bathrobe dragging on the ground behind me. I shudder to think of all the dust it’s collecting, but I lack the energy to tie it. Is this Day 6 of the (not COVID!) respiratory infection that has flattened me? Or day 148? I really can’t say. After coughing all night, I am as punch drunk as the cat we once tried to keep awake into the wee hours. Not one of our finer moments, I admit.

I blame the Talking Heads.*

Cough syrup bottles, throat lozenge packages, and silver Sudafed packets litter my bedside table. But I can’t keep warm saltwater there, nor can I spit out my gargles, so off to the kitchen I shuffle.

After so little sleep, I’m not my sharpest when I pick up the glass I used for my last gargle—but I’m instantly transported. From dull-witted to delight when I peer into it. The bottom of the glass is covered in perfectly-formed, milk-white cubes, tiny crystals formed when the dregs of yesterday’s saltwater evaporated.

I’m so delirious I have to sit down to take it all in. When in the last year of upheaval—or the last four-plus years of tumult—have I witnessed such precision, such perfect symmetry? I can’t recall. Which brings salty tears to my eyes.

These crystals transport me back to Stephens College and my beloved geology professor, kindly old Ed Ryan. Geology was not even on my radar screen when I set off for college, but, looking for an easy A, I’d signed up for an intro called “Caves and Oceans.” I mean, caves are just not all that mysterious when you’ve lived most of your life in the land of limestone.

Miles of caves, both natural and many more artificial, underlie my hometown Kansas City, like so much Swiss cheese. One mammoth manmade cave, dubbed the SubTropolis, even has its own Wikipedia page.** When the weather can sling shot from Siberian to sweltering—sometimes in a single day—subterranean space with a near-constant temperature and low humidity attracts technology, cold storage, archival, food and auto manufacturing companies. The US Postal Service stores hundreds of millions of collectible stamps there.

My highly claustrophobic mom worked in a subterranean college bookstore, without a single panic attack. That’s how wide open those spaces are.

Oceans, I knew far less about. But I was willing to bet they were no more complicated: water shapes rocks. I get it. The class was no easy A, as it turned out, but it did ignite my affection for the storyteller known as Mr. Ryan. He made the drab old limestone under our feet come alive. Where I once saw a simple bluff, now eons passed before my eyes, along with species of critters I thought existed only in sci-fi movies. Even now, I’m not sure which I fell in love with first: storytelling or Earth herself.

But that blasted mineralogy class challenged me like a kindergartener in calculus class. Distinguishing triclinic from tetragonal crystals confounded me. I’m just not good with visualizing in 3D. Ask my architect-trained husband. He can draw with precision his plans for yet another whatsit to be built into the whatchamacallit. But I just can’t “see” it until he’s got it built. And sometimes not even then….

So you can imagine my glee to be able to identify halite, dear old table salt, with its perfect cubes, every time. Tiny boxes of salt….which always causes me to wonder what wiseass at Morton’s saw fit to package the stuff in round containers. Not that I mean to disparage the Morton family. Joy Morton, the father of the Morton Salt founder, helped establish Arbor Day as a nationally recognized holiday. The family has given acres upon acres for conservancy. So I’ll overlook the round box fiasco.

…..Where was I?

Oh, yes, back in the geology lab, I nailed identifying halite every time. What’s not to love about these tiny boxes with their perfectly consistent forms? I understand boxes. In fact, I have a borderline unhealthy relationship with MacBook boxes, but that’s another blog post.

So predictable and stable. I suppose these beauties struck me as particularly exquisite after all the unpredictability of the last year. I sit and gape for longer than my family members consider normal, but they haven’t called the authorities on me yet. Perhaps they fear exposing anyone else to my scourge.

Then I grab a clean glass for today’s gargle…not willing to wash away my precious cubes just yet. Gargling now done, it’s time to shuffle back to bed with a smile on my face. Thanks, halite. I needed that.

I take my therapy when and how it comes . . even if it’s from the bottom of an empty glass.

*From “Stay Up Late” by the Talking Heads:
“Baby, baby, please let me hold him
I wanna make him stay up all night
Sister, sister, he’s just a plaything
We wanna make him stay up all night
Yeah, we do.”

**SubTropolis Wikipedia page

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