Toothpick Sailing in the Rain

The rain doesn’t matter when you’re sailing toothpicks on the little make-shift stream of water running down the street in front of your house. Past mini-dams of fallen maple tree blossoms, the toothpicks rush, forging their way through branches and tiny beaches of sand and pebbles. The best ones travel all the way down the street, ultimately finding a mysterious end through the grates of a sewer.

When you’re a boy, you don’t mind standing in the rain so much, especially when there’s something like that to watch. It’s like the whole world closes in around you, and all you see or care about is whether that tiny toothpick will find its way past all the obstacles in its path. At some point it’s no longer a toothpick – it’s the massive hull of an island-sized battleship, or the orbiting body of a space rocket, or the simple wisp of a lifelong dream. All in the smallest of wooden vessels.

There are so many things to stop it, to snare or tangle it in the roots of a tree or the veins of a stripped leaf, and the odds are always stacked against it, but somehow there’s one that makes it. Sometimes it takes a little nudge. Sometimes the small hand of a boy acts as God, freeing it from a whirlpool or picking it up when it gets stuck. And sometimes the boat just can’t be righted, so you send it on to make its own way.

Once upon a time I was a boy who watched those toothpicks traveling down the street stream, seeing how far they could go, helping out some, leaving the rest on their own. It passed a rainy day, and proved that even beneath a dreary sky there could be the light of imagination – waiting to be kindled, and burning brightly through the rain.

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