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You might make mistakes, but try again
by Sharon Randall
Scripps Howard News Service


March 12, 2005

One of life's more amusing ironies - for me, anyway - is how things that look easy often turn out to be hard; and things you thought were going to be hard turn out to be a lot harder.

That bit of insight occurred to me yesterday as I was melting a layer of flesh off my hands.

When some friends offered me their cabin in Carmel Valley, Calif., for a place to get away and do some writing, I was thrilled. A long, wet winter had left me hungry for a taste of spring, and there's no finer place to taste it than Northern California.

Officially, it's still winter, but the hills don't seem to know that. Or maybe they're just so drunk on rain they don't care.

I wish you could see them. The word "green" doesn't begin to describe their color.

When we were children, my brother, who was born blind, used to make me tell him what things looked like. The fact that I was not good at it did nothing to dissuade him. If the image I tried to paint failed to match the one in his head, he'd say, "No, that's not it. Try again."

Try as I might, I can't think of a word to conjure up the color of these hills.

If you were my brother, I could take you out and roll you in grass that's just been mowed, stuff a little in your mouth and a lot down your pants and say "There! See? That's green!"

And you'd say, "That's not it, try again." Or you might do as he did and beat me to a pulp.

Let's just leave it at "green."

Before letting me solo at the cabin, my friends took me out to show me things like where to find a spare key if I got locked out, how to refill the kerosene in the heater and what number to call if I blew the place up.

"Not to worry," I said, "I grew up in the South. I know all about roughing it."

The cabin was actually better equipped than my house. It was surrounded by giant redwoods, a raging creek and a real live bobcat.

The biggest challenge was figuring out how to use the remote for the satellite dish.

And then the heater ran out of kerosene. I didn't notice it at first. I was busy writing and sometimes when I'm working I forget where I am. You could stand behind me and burst into flames and, I'm sorry, but I probably wouldn't notice. At least, not in time to put you out.

The first clue I had about the heater was that my fingers got so cold I couldn't type.

I knew what to do. My friends had showed me. I took the tank outside and did exactly as I was told. It was easy.

Or it would've been. But the little yellow thingy on the end of the whatever snapped off in the - what do you call it? - tank.

First I tried to shake it out, and got soaked up to my armpits in kerosene. Then I tried to talk it out. Never mind what I said. It didn't help.

Finally I tried to fish it out with my fingers, which after many, many attempts, worked.

It also melted my fingernails and left my hands about as red as the rear end of a baboon - a small price to pay for heat.

I've done some hard things - not many, only a few - in my lifetime: Given birth, reared three children, buried both my parents and the man that I was married to for 30 years.

Here's what I've learned that I wish somebody had told me: The hard things are harder than you dreamed they'd be, and the easy things aren't always easy.

Don't worry. You'll know what to do when you need to do it. You might make mistakes, but that's all right. Just say, no, that's not it, and try again.



Sharon Randall is the author of "Birdbaths and Paper Cranes."
Contact her at P.O. Box 931, Pacific Grove, CA 93950,
or at randallbay(at)


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