Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Never. How could I? I keep them in my heart where they stay warm and toasty on a night that’s 22 degrees below zero..
and never brought to mind,
Every day I thank them for being in my life. They are a part of me as surely as my hands and feet and head are a part of me. I leave a part of myself with every person I meet, and take a part of them with me.
should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Without them, and one in particular, I would not be here writing this. I would not be writing at all.
for the sake of auld lang syne.
On these cold, cold nights in Alaska, when I stuff the woodstove with spruce and birch, and drink mugs of Mint Chocolate Truffle hot chocolate, I think back on a year filled with adventure and the company of good friends.
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syng,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
Let me help you with that. It’s the least I can do.
and give us a hand o’ thine!
I will never forget the hands extended to me as my husband fought Alzheimer’s for seven years, nor the hands that helped me stand up in the aftermath.
and we’ll take a right good-will draught,
We’re all in this together, aren’t we?
for auld lang syne.
Remember. Always, remember: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.”--Anonymous
Love and hugs from Gullible and Pablo the parrot, who currently is locked in his cage because our temporary house guest Koa, a large dog of perhaps husky and German shepherd lineage, with some giraffe mixed in to account those those stupendously long legs, wants to have Pablo for a snack.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
The ice-glazed highway was worth not even a blip on my muse's radar, until the rear end of my truck attempted to pass the front end, that is. I switched into four-wheel drive and ended that excitement. The highway guys had etched deep grooves into the ice with a serrated blade mounted on some type of equipment—either the grader or the belly-mounted blade beneath the sand truck. The road was sprinkled with a sodium-treated sand, though at these temperatures neither the sand nor the sodium chemical do much good and are quickly kicked off to the sides of the pavement. Nonetheless, in four-wheel drive, and studded tires all around, I was able to drive at relatively normal speeds without too much concern.
And, speaking of temperatures, not even the thermometer in my kitchen with its remote sensor could stir up any interest. This reading doesn’t look too bad—just a normal winter’s day—until you notice the thick black horizontal band to the left of the gauge, That means minus, as in below zero. Yes, eighteen below zero.
I dressed normally in jeans and a fleece jacket. The only concession I made for the cold was the long-sleeved shirt I wore. So you don't think me incredibly foolish, I threw the Carhart black-lined coat, my winter boots, fleece hat and ski gloves in the truck also. In the back, in a plastic crate, were the things I normally carry year-round: emergency road flares, jumper cables, tow strap, etc. And blankets. I always carry a couple wool blankets for emergencies.
Besides, why whine about eighteen below. It’s forty below in Fairbanks right now, and up in the Matanuska Valley where Gov. Sarah Palin and her family live, the wind is blowing off the glaciers, making temperatures similar to those at my house seem a lot, lot worse. No, it wasn’t the cold that got my attention as I drove to Seward.
Nor was it the noon-day sun, which at this time is so low on the horizon it shines beneath the sun visor in my truth. Well, if you’re my height it does. So with the sun shining in my eyes and reflecting off the icy highway, I drove into Seward barely able to see approaching traffic or any moose that might be on the road. So far, so good. Just a normal day.
Twelve miles down the road, however, a new speed zone woke me up and seized my imagination. First, it slowed traffic from 55 mph to 45 mph. Then, crossing Trail River bridge the speed limit was 20 mph. Ditto with Falls Creek bridge just a hundred yards or so away. It picked back up to 45 mph for a mile or so, then again dropped to 20 mph over Ptarmigan Creek bridge. After that, it was back to 55 mph all the way into Seward.
This photo is Trail River bridge, taken as I was driving north on my return and the sun was no longer a problem. On the right is Lower Trail Lake and the railroad trestle across Trail River. Straight ahead is Trail River bridge with its 20 mph speed limit. The reason for these reduced speed limits is quite simple—the wooden pilings under the bridges are rotting away and making the bridges very unsafe. In a move designed to lessen the pounding stress on the bridges until they can be repaired, the state has restricted speeds on these three bridges. Further, heavy trucks are restricted to night-time travel only, though I’m not sure how that’s supposed to help save the bridges.
I did notice, however, that a temporary weigh station was open at Mile 13 in a pull-off beside the highway. With no equipment set up to weigh vehicles, it was apparent that the lone State Trooper on duty was there only to enforce the nighttime truck travel. It also appeared he’d already “busted” a truck carrying a line of well-known tools, as it was parked in the pull-off. For those of you who don't understand the paucity of roads in Alaska, it's quite simple: this is the ONLY road into and out of Seward.
All of this seems a bit extreme to me, but I suspect it’s really meant to limit the state’s liability in the event of bridge disaster. Two of the bridges cross what are essentially shallow creeks. But the one over Trail River is another situation entirely. Better slow than sorry, I reckon, and my imagination led me to thoughts of liability risk management. And, those thoughts led me to the Nina, one of the ships that sailed to the New World with Christoper Columbus and the Pinta and the Santa Maria.
More on that tomorrow. My muse works in mysterious ways.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
The Littlest Snowflake didn’t know whose front yard it had landed in, and really didn’t have much time to think about it, because a whole bunch of his siblings and cousins were falling around and on top of him. Soon, enough of them had joined the Littlest Snowflake that the entire neighborhood was two feet deep in new-fallen snow. They spent the rest of the dark night visiting with each other, catching up on gossip and news, drifting into the open arch of a dog house, taking turns covering up and sliding off the slippery orange plastic wrapper of a newspaper, and in general having all kinds of fun that you would never guess snowflakes had at night. Some of the snowflakes that had landed on the branches of a birch tree jumped onto a trampoline that had been left outside. They bounced and bounced and had a wonderful time.
Just as light began to draw an outline along the Chugach mountain peaks to the east, the Littlest Snowflake heard a loud noise at the end of the street. Around the corner came a huge, noisy truck with yellow flashing lights and a curved blade on its front. The wicked-looking blade was snatching all the snowflakes that were still playing in the street. At first the Littlest Snowflake was afraid, but then he heard all the snowflakes in the street giggling and laughing as the truck scooped them up and swirled them around in the big shiny gray blade.
Hundreds and hundreds of snowflakes laughed until their sides hurt as they came spilling out the small end of the snowplow blade. When they rolled out onto the sidewalk, they all stuck together in big, round balls, as snowflakes will do. One of the round balls rolled past the Littlest Snowflake, and he jumped on, hanging on tightly as the ball rolled several feet and came to a stop.
After the big truck left, the snowflakes began to settle down to sleep for the day. Just after the snowflakes fell asleep, a loud bang woke them up as five children rushed from the door of a nearby house. Immediately the children gathered up buckets and shovels and even an old wheelbarrow and began to gather up the snowflakes. They loaded bucket after bucket with snow, carried the buckets to the front of the yard, and dumped the snowflakes in a pile that grew higher and higher.
All day long the children worked piling the snow. Finally, the light began to fade and the tired, hungry children went inside their house for the night.
The Littlest Snowflake watched all this activity from the far corner of the yard. He hoped the children would come and get the ball of snow he was riding on, and add it to the big pile on the other side of the yard. That looked like fun, he thought, and he began to imagine all that he could see from the top of that mound of snow.
Early the next morning, again right after the Littlest Snowflake had fallen asleep, another bang jolted him awake. The children ran out the door and headed for their buckets and shovels. This time, though, they were joined by their father, because the mound of snow was getting too high for the smallest children to empty their buckets. They all filled their buckets and ran to the mound.
“What’s that, dad?” asked the first child. There, stuck to the big ball of snow was a piece of paper. The father grabbed the paper and read it.
“Well, kids,” he said, “It’s from the city. It says the snowman is a public nuisance and a safety hazard. This is an order to cease building our snowman.” The children all dropped their buckets and hung their head in sadness, because they had been building giant snowmen for several years. It made them happy, and folks came from all over town to take pictures of the snowmen. It made everybody happy. They all trudged back into their house, to spend the day sitting on the couch watching television.
The hours passed and the light left the yard where the big pile of snow sat forlornly incomplete. All the snowflakes were sad and felt very sorry for the disappointed children.
Several days passed, and then sometime during the night, when it was very, very dark, the Littlest Snowflake felt his ball of snow rising from its resting place and moving. It was too dark to see, but from all the whispers, the Littlest Snowflake soon understood what was happening. He felt gentle pressure patting and packing the snowflakes closer together. The snowflakes right beneath him were moved aside and a long, dark shape appeared in their place. From somewhere not too far away, he recognized some of his cousins’ voices saying, “Aaaaaaahhh. That feels nice…” He felt something soft and fuzzy brush against him, then fall away.
The sky in the east began to turn from black to purple, and the Littlest Snowflake settled down to sleep for the day. Suddenly, one of the snowflakes cried, “They did it! They did it!” The Littlest Snowflake opened his eyes and looked. He was far, far above the ground and could see all around the neighborhood.
He looked down and saw that he was resting on a bright orange thing sticking out of the snowball. Right beneath that was a corncob pipe. Farther down was a multi-colored scarf tied below his snowball, and two huge snowballs beneath that. A big thick tree branch stuck out from either side of the middle snowball, and bright red gloves were on the end of each branch.
The Littlest Snowflake looked up and saw two black buckets stuck in his ball of snow, and a big black stovepipe hat on the very top. "Wow," he cried. "I'm King of the World!"
Soon people began to gather and take pictures of the giant snowman. The father came out of the house to see what all the fuss was about.
“Did you stay up all night to build Snowzilla?” asked one man.
“I don’t know how it got here,” answered the father with wonder on his face. All the children in the neighborhood came to marvel at the giant snowman.
“It’s bigger this year, isn’t it, Mr. Powers?” said one.
“Yes, it is. It looks to be about twenty-five feet high,” said Mr. Powers.
“Did you hear about the protest at City Hall?” Mr. Powers said he hadn’t and the man told him that a dozen three-foot-high snowmen were picketing the front of entrance of City Hall. He said they were carrying signs that read “Snowmen have rights” and “Heck no, we won’t go” and “Snowzilla needs a bailout.”
Snowzilla’s picture was on the front page of the newspaper above the banner headline: "Revenge of Snowzilla.” On the editorial page were dozens of letters chastising the city for trying to stop the building of Snowzilla. From his perch atop the carrot nose (he’d finally learned what it was he was resting on), the Littlest Snowflake looked down and felt happy. He was proud to be a small part of this snowman that brought smiles to the faces of children and adults.
All day long people asked Mr. Powers how he had managed to build Snowzilla in one night, because the preceding Snowzillas had taken weeks. Mr. Powers said he didn’t know how Snowzilla had been built so quickly. Again and again he answered their questions, denying any knowledge of how it happened.
Finally, weary of the questions from visitors and reporters, Mr. Powers smiled and told them the truth: “Well, as near as I can tell," said Mr. Powers, "There must have been some magic in that old top hat of his…”
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
It pounds in my head, that obnoxious refrain,
It tells me to hurry, try not to waste time.
I’m beginning to hate it, to dread its return,
“It’s time to bake cookies,” the incessant chime.
I hear it so plainly, and can’t tell its source,
It’s always there, won't give me a rest,
Incessantly nagging and at me again,
“It’s time to bake cookies, this isn’t a test.”
Soften the butter, add sugar to cream,
Stir in the eggs, and turn on the oven,
I measure, and sift, the voice louder again,
“It’s time to bake cookies, pan after pan.”
The doorbell it rings, I can’t answer now.
Tomorrow is Christmas, I’m too far behind
To visit with neighbors or answer a call,
“It’s time to bake cookies!” I’m losing my mind.
“This is nine-one-one, what is your name?”
“It isn’t for me, it’s my friend don’t you see?”
“I need your name, your address and your age.
Stay on the line and remain at the scene.”
“I brought her some cookies, for Christmas, you know,
But as soon as she saw then, she fell to the floor,
And started to twitch and to shake and to moan,
That’s why I called you-- oh, I live next door.”
“The squad car is rolling, it should be there soon,
Are you alone, and is there a gun?”
“A gun? Let me look, her kitchen’s a mess,
Oh, yes, there’s a gun, and no cookies done.”
“Car twenty-one, there’s a gun at the scene,
Be careful, and I will send back-up for you.”
“Oh, no, nine-one-one, it’s not that kind.
The gun’s to make cookies and hors d’oeuvres, too.”
“Your friend is okay,” the officer said,
“I’ve seen lots of these, and so I’ll just leave.
It’s only a virus that comes every year,
When cookies aren’t baked until Christmas Eve.”
Then came a voice, demanding and clear,
The officer spun and pulled out his gun,
“Aren’t you alone? Is somebody here?”
“It’s time to bake cookies, I’ve hadn’t a one!”
“There’s only Pablo, her parrot, you know,
He doesn’t talk much, and I seldom hear.”
But then came the voice ten times louder, I swear,
“It’s time to bake cookies, cuz Christmas is here!”
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Spruce, birch, and hemlock, it devours them all.
Whole, halved, or quartered, no matter the form,
I'm stuffin' them in, trying to stay warm.
The tree is upright, decorated and bright,
As snow falls outside, in fading blue light.
The window's adorned in pine cones and bright red,
"It's almost Christmas" sounds in my head.
"Oh, no, oh my gosh," I sputter in fright,
"I have to bake cookies, stay up all night!"
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I smiled when I read the obituary, and smiled even more when I read he had lived to the age of eighty-two. Good on ya, I thought. Good on ya. Then the memories crashed in with all the force of a tsunami, and I was swept back to 1961.
He wasn’t a friend, or even an acquaintance, and we’ve never spoken with each other. The first and only time I ever saw him he was pointing in my direction because the prosecuting attorney had just asked him to identify who had tried to kill him. Fortunately for me, his accusing finger was aimed the two young men sitting at the defense table just in front of me. I was there as a reporter covering the preliminary hearing of the two accused men. Out of respect for his grieving family, I will refer to him as Mr. C.
In the way of small towns and sparsely populated states, lives sometimes intertwine in peculiar ways, and so it is in this case. I knew one of the defendants. We had attended the same grade school together, though he was a couple years older than me. I knew him only well enough to recognize him on sight, and to know his reputation.
I was in third grade, sitting on the school bus after school, when the kids in front began whispering a warning. Then, he climbed on, all toughness and swagger, bullying the other kids as he made his way down the narrow aisle of the bus. I looked out the window, afraid to make eye contact, when he came close to me. I was surprised to see him on the bus as he wasn’t known to attend school much, and I’d never seen him on the bus before. But years later, as I sat in that courtroom, I wasn't surprised to find him there, accused of multiple felonies, including first degree murder.
The two defendants, whom I shall call Defendant A—the one I knew—and Defendant B, had robbed Mr. C’s cocktail lounge in the early morning hours just before closing time. After complaining about the small amount of cash in the register, they pushed Mr. C into a back room and shot him in the back of the neck. Mr. C testified that he must have lost consciousness and came to after one of the men hit him over the head with a full bottle of whiskey. Next to him lay the body of a young woman singer who had been in the lounge talking with Mr. C.
One of the men had a cord and was attempting to strangle him, he said, but the cord was in his mouth and he was biting it. He struggled to his feet, and glared at his attackers. He was knocked down and shot in the back of the head. The two robbers left with about $250. Mr. C. again stood and called the police. Thirty days later, in an Anchorage courtroom, he pointed at the two defendants and identified them as his attackers.
Another month passed. In a plea deal, the two men pleaded guilty to second degree murder, assault with intent to kill, and armed robbery. They received life sentences.
Thirty years later, I met Defendant A’s brother. We live in different towns and seldom see each other, but I still count him as a friend. From him I learned that his brother was out of prison and staying out of trouble. I was glad to hear that he'd paid his debt to society and staying out of trouble, but I can’t forget the fear that permeated a yellow and black school bus one day when I was nine years old. Nor can I forget a young woman who died, and Mr. C’s horrendous ordeal.
The story I wrote of the court hearing that day was printed under a banner headline on the front page with my byline. The next year I was awarded honorable mention for best news story by the Alaska Press Club. In another curious twist, the paper I worked for was boycotting the press club for reasons unknown to me, and had submitted no entries on behalf of its staff. My story was submitted, again unknown to me, by a freelance writer whom I knew slightly. Because of that, I was the only one from my paper who received an award that year.
As for Mr. C, he continued in the bar business, eventually owning one himself. In another of those odd small-town twists, I learned from his obituary that he first came to Alaska in 1952, about the same time a young delinquent was terrorizing a school bus I was sitting on.
According to family members, Mr. C was a kind and thoughtful man. I’ve been wondering all day if he’d lived his life with that extra joy, that special appreciation that sometimes comes to those who have been spared, because, really, he should have died forty-seven years ago.
The answer was in his obituary: his favorite sayings were, “Everything is beautiful,” and “Pay attention.” No doubt about that answer.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
About four o’clock this morning, while I was lying in bed unable to sleep, my muse jumped up, grabbed my imagination, and the two of them ran amok. With all my defenses down, it was some time before I realized what they were doing as they scampered free and unfettered through my cranial catacombs. Even after I became aware of their shenanigans, I let them go, because I realized what a terrific idea they had.
By way of explanation, I need to tell you that death has been much on my mind lately. Death had insinuated itself into my small community and made off with people I cared about. A few days ago we gathered to say goodbye to them—to celebrate their lives, as is the preferred custom these days. Along with many others, I suspect, I’ve been considering my own mortality.
After our gathering and our goodbyes, a neighbor e-mailed me with thoughts about her own celebration of life. Lots of beer and sunshine, she asked, and the music of her preference. And, she demanded, it has to last well into the wee hours. I responded with my own preferences, which involved concertinas and zithers.
Coincidentally, another friend from across the continent e-mailed about some events in her life. After losing her much loved spouse, she followed up his funeral with two radical mastectomies. Then came a diagnosis of two tumors. She began to plan her own memorial celebration while she waited for her surgery. As with most well laid plans, reality didn’t exactly conform to her grand idea of a proper send-off.
The gifted vocalists she asked begged off, claiming their grief would prevent them from singing. Instead, the musically-challenged volunteered. Gourmet food was replaced with quirky appetizers. She planned a video to express her love and appreciation. Everything was done, and she was ready to “go softly into that good night.” Just one problem. The surgeon couldn’t find any tumors, and my friend is alive and well today.
I recalled an article in the newspaper a few years ago about a fellow with AIDS, who had been given a few short months to live. Being of a certain turn of mind, he and his friends planned his celebration of life. They held it in a gravel pit near his home, so the noise of the party wouldn’t wake the living. It was complete with ghostly and ghastly humor, a symbolic coffin with a symbolic headstone. A good time was had by all, including the guest of honor, who was alive and not-so-well. Five years later, thanks to the new AIDS drug cocktail, the fellow was still alive and enjoying life even more.
While all this was going through my mind, those two scalawags—muse and imagination—were trying their darndest to lure me out from under the warm covers and into the chill air on the loft, where I was to take dictation from them. I resisted, knowing full well there was no way I would ever forget what the two of them had dreamed up this time.
Their idea was this: we should have our very own celebrations of life—before we die. Just think of the possibilities. We can tell our friends and relatives how much we love them and what they have meant to us, though it probably is best not to tell Aunt Elsie that you’ve always hated her Swiss steak. We can choose the venue, and it doesn’t always have to be the usually accepted places for such. We can hug everyone, and I mean everyone. We can have Elvis sing, if we want.
We can even supervise our own obituaries, and have them with or without the wings of angels. A writer named Heather Lende from Haines has promised to write mine. That promise came about because of chickens. She’d written a column in the newspaper about operating a retirement home for laying hens past their prime, and her inability to make chicken and dumplings of them. That’s the one, I thought. I wrote, expressing my complete understanding and empathy, having been there myself.
Then I asked if she’d write my obituary, because that’s what she does for her local newspaper. Except, Heather goes beyond the usual guidelines for obituaries, and finds the essence of the person. Having written many obits myself, I envied her the freedom of that search. How’s she’s going to do this for me, I have no idea. We’ve never met, have never corresponded beyond that simple exchange of e-mails when she wrote that she would be honored to write my obit, and diplomatically hoped it wouldn’t be required soon.
We almost met this past spring. I’d mailed my registration for a weekend seminar of women in the wilderness classes, or “wild women” classes, as a friend put it. Alas, I was a day late and the enrollment was closed. I was doubly disappointed when she wrote about attending it. So close and yet so far. We would have bonded, I’m sure. Any two women who name their chickens and allow them to live out their lives free from the shadow stew pots, would bond with Super Glue.
But, back to the celebration of life before you die. I will admit there might be a couple drawbacks. I mean, after you say goodbye to everyone, maybe they will expect you to go, like company that has overstayed its welcome. Plus, you might not like the answer to the question we all ask, “Will anybody come to my funeral?”
In spite of those things, I still think the idea has great possibilities and hope it catches on. In the meantime, I reckon we should all just celebrate our own lives, each and every day.
Oh, I forgot to tell you why I was awake at four o’clock this morning. I had been up taking photos of the mountains, swaddled in new snow and bathed in moonlight. Yep, there was a full moon.
Dec. 12, 2008
Friday, December 12, 2008
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
As is the custom in our small town, we gathered tonight at the community hall to say goodbye to two of our own. One of the volunteer firefighters pulled the fire engine from its bay to make room for six long tables to bear the pot latch food—the pasta casseroles, meatballs, chicken, vegetables, roast salmon, sliced pork and beef, spinach salads, and crudités trays.
In the adjoining hall more than a hundred of us gathered, seeing folks we seldom see because our town is spread out over thirty miles of highway. Outside, the storm that had battered us for two days with sloppy and then freezing snow had diminished to a peaceful snowfall. Most of us had spent the day digging ourselves out, shoveling the decks, and plowing the driveways.
Still more people arrived bearing still more casseroles, blueberry muffins, breads, and gelatin salads. Children eyed the dessert end of the tables with the brownies, chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon rolls, and sugar cookies.
First, though, first we wanted to tell a few stories of Whip and Judy who had passed away last week, leaving grief in our hearts and holes in our small community. We wanted to share with the surviving relatives how much they had mattered to us, and how much we will miss them. They had moved here twelve years ago from Fairbanks. Whip, according to one of the stories, had bought a house and shop here. In a great leap of faith, he did so before Judy saw the property. On the long drive from Fairbanks, Whip was beside himself with anxiety, hoping that Judy would like their new home.
They pulled in late at night after a long day. Judy said nothing. They went to bed. Judy said nothing. Whip stayed awake most of the night, then finally fell into an exhausted sleep. When he awoke the next day, he found his wife sitting in the kitchen, holding a cup of coffee in her hands and crying. Heart in throat, he asked why she was crying.
“Whip,” she said, “this is the most beautiful place in the world.”
It wasn’t the house so much as the place. The house is unique, as old houses tend to be in Alaska. It would never fit in a modern subdivision, would never pass covenants in an urban area. What it did have was charm, and history, and peace. Over the years, several additions had been made to the original cabin, adding to its quaintness. There was a shop area for Whip to set up his welding and blacksmith shop, and a gift shop to sell his creations.
But the place—the stupendous Kenai Peninsula, turquoise Kenai Lake, the nearby salt water port of Seward, the Kenai and Chugach mountains, the rural areas of Alaska where people live because they love the country and the community.
The two of them became a large part of our community. They leave an even larger void with their passing. As for me, I will forever remember, and forever miss, Whip’s traditional greeting to me when we chanced to meet. First, a big hug, and then “…if you ever need anything….”
Saturday, December 6, 2008
of death, and loss, and healing….
Death has been too much with us these days. It haunts my small town, its appetite more than we can bear.
Forty-three years ago, I had a conversation with a friend about death. I don’t recall the impetus for the conversation now, only that we spoke of various means of dying. We talked of which were awful, which were truly awful, which we abhorred and feared most of all, and which we preferred, given that there was no alternative.
The latter mostly involved a lack of both pain and awareness—in our sleep after a long and adventurous life being the number-one rated. In a letter written shortly afterwards to a friend, I quoted myself, “I'm not afraid of death at all. I just want to get all these words out of me, and then I'll be ready."
My friend saved that letter, along with many, many more, then returned them to me after more than thirty years. I saved them, hidden from sight, and then two years ago finally read them. Idiot, I laughed to myself when I first read that letter and computed my age then as newly twenty-four. In five short years, since leaving my parents’ home, I felt I had managed to make a mess of everything. Instead of spreading my wings and soaring, my flight of freedom into the adult world involved much more flapping than soaring, and a vast number of crash landings.
I went easy on myself after reading those long ago words, because I vividly recalled my various failures and the sadness they caused me. Perhaps it is fortuitous that we are not always and immediately granted our hopes and wishes, because I quit writing shortly after that conversation, and I certainly wasn’t ready to leave this earth. Except for a couple brief forays into the world of words, I abstained from writing until after I read those old letters.
I still think I was an idiot for what I said at that age, but now I can see a truth in part of it, so I have—as I said earlier—been easy on myself. Am I afraid of death? You darn betcha! Am I ready? Not one bit! I am crammed full of words that need release. I will, as Dylan Thomas wrote, “…not go gentle into that good night (but will) rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Those of us who attempt and presume to be writers deal with sorrowful matters differently than those who are not. We are blessed with the gift of reaching within ourselves to pull out the grief and hurt, and to capture it on paper. It is a method of cleansing our souls, of cutting things down to a size we can deal with, thereby gaining power over those things that cause us hurt. In the simple act of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, we begin to make sense of what haunts us, or to realize there is no sense to be made of it. And that begins the healing.
Recent events in my small community have stunned me into silence for the past week. Last night, while still awash in grief, I put pen to paper. I apologize in advance if some would deem the following inappropriate. Such is not my intent; it is my way of coping.
When Death first came to claim its due,
it took the one who’d spurned its grasp,
had cheated Death time and again
until Death said, “Your time has passed.”
We paused in sorrow on the news,
shared our tales, whispered, “Godspeed,”
hoped that Death would shun us now,
sated and content to leave.
Unbeknownst it lingered still,
with icy finger touched one’s heart,
felled a man yet in his prime,
gathered him in cold dispart.
Despondent widow summoned Death
offered out her hand to it,
looked beyond the dread divide,
and crossed the cold, dark river Styx.
“No,” we cried. “That cannot be,
you’ve taken more than we can bear.
Leave us now to mourn and grieve,
and ponder yet why Death’s unfair.
But Death was greedy and not sated,
at bottom of a staircase waited
for the one whose chance misstep
tumbled him to Death’s cold grip.
Now we lament in disbelief,
searching for the sense in it,
asking what awaits for us,
and knowing Death is infinite.
Dec. 6, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
In the meantime, let’s look at some of the things that have happened so far. The government bailed out AIG, the big insurance company. AIG executives celebrated with a big party at a swanky spa. “Previously scheduled,” they claimed when the “fit hit the shan,” while the homeowner with a mortgage to pay and kids to feed watched in incredulity, pink slip in hand. A large bank was bailed out with federal money, but instead of using that money to make credit available to get the economy moving, it tucked it away and loomed like a vulture, ready to snap up smaller banks in trouble.
The three top wheels from the auto industry, which employs tens of thousands of people, went to Washington to ask for money to get this vital industry back on track. Did they drive? NO. In what would have been the perfect opportunity to showcase their fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles of the future, they chose to fly instead. Not commercial, mind you, but by corporate jet. And, no, they didn’t jet-pool. They flew in three separate jets, arriving in comfort with their satchels open, expecting Uncle Sam to fill them with greenbacks.
Then, some other big guys rode in to the rescue: delegates to the G-20 summit on the world financial crisis met over cheese, crackers and ginger ale to …. NOT! They dined at a luxurious banquet on quail, lamb and five hundred dollar bottles of red wine. About the only thing appropriate in that scenario was the red color of the wine, because that’s the color we’re bleeding.
Executives of failing companies make salaries and perks of multi-millions of dollars, and get golden parachutes that keep them in quail and fancy-shmancy wine for the rest of their lives. I’m sorry, there’s more, much, much more of this idiocy, but I’ve had enough. It’s more than I can take.
And what’s happening on the other side of the fence? People are losing their jobs, their homes, their savings, and their retirement accounts. Students are looking at tuitions beyond their means to pay. Seniors are afraid to check their investment portfolios for fear of bringing on strokes.
But most of all, we’re losing hope. And the pitiful thing is we’d been given a blueprint for avoiding all this. It’s been right there in front of our faces, complete with examples to follow, all dressed up in black and white formal wear, fluttering around our bird feeders. Okay, wait. Don’t toss this aside. Just listen to what I have to say. I want to tell you about chickadees.
First, chickadees usually mate for life. That means no broken homes and two wage earners providing for the present and the future. That means dad’s around to help mom feed the young. When statistics show that sixty percent of children living in poverty do so in a female single-parent home, there is much to be said for mating for life.
Second, chickadees’ wings beat twenty-seven times a second. A second. No couch potatoes in chickadee-land. And no unemployment lines, either. The chickadee either gets its butt out there and works, or it’s no sunflower seeds for it. Sorry, bird feeders don’t take food coupons. Which brings up another point. While tens of thousands of humans set out feeders with peanut butter and sunflower seeds, research indicates that up to eighty percent of a chickadee’s daily winter food supply comes from natural sources such as dormant insects, spiders, and even carrion. They’re not free-loaders, but hard workers, because their survival depends upon it.
Third, chickadees will lay between six and eight eggs, and the young fledge in about twenty-one days. Then, it’s off to work. No laying back and letting mom and dad bring the goodies home, because junior’s too precious to work at washing dishes or at a fast food joint.
Fourth, chickadees don’t necessarily eat all those black oil sunflower seeds at your feeder that day. Instead, they save for hard times. They save and they diversify. They find separate hiding places for each seed, and they remember where they put each one. They don’t tuck away their savings in the same spot where some raiding Stellar’s jay can clean them out with one beakful.
Fifth, chickadees don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. They excavate their own nests in rotten trees or decaying wood. They don’t over-extend, or try to pay the mortgage on an eagle’s nest when a woodpecker’s abandoned nest will do. No sub-prime mortgage problems here.
And sixth and last, the other trait I think humans should adopt, is this: chickadees keep an eye on the food-finding success of their peers. If one is doing especially well, the others emulate that bird’s behavior. They don’t go running to some chickadee appropriations committee, peeping for a bailout. They learn from the birds that are making the right decisions, working the hardest, and having the most success.
So, there it is—the blueprint for when our economic Phoenix struggles to rise from the ashes of the current meltdown. Come to think of it, it isn’t such a bad plan for social progress either.
Nov. 29, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
Down at Tern Lake, rain was falling, adding slop to an already messy highway. And, keeping an eye on it all were these four bald eagles in a cottonwood tree. There's another in the small spruce to the left. Two more were across the highway, not visible in this picture.
There's something a bit unsettling about this picture. A driver rounds a sharp curve on a wet, icy highway and sees these birds of prey lurking above. They are not only hunting birds-- they also eat carrion...
Thursday, November 27, 2008
"Oh, it's warm," I answered. "Twenty above."
A long pause, and then, "That's cold."
"No, I said. "Cold is when it's below zero." All things are relative, I suppose. So when teenaged boys in Moose Pass need to burn off excess energy, they do some of the things teenaged boys all over the country do. They play basketball out in the yard. Here are the pictures, also from a few days ago:
Yes, that's a snow bank. Yes, he's wearing a tee shirt. See the bare arms?
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
"....... In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.
" Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are—but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"—a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.
" Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?
" In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
"And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.
" My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
" Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.:
Lately he has been enforcing that code to the breaking point. Due to the high cost of heating fuel, I have been using the woodstove every day. Most times the fire has gone out by morning, and there’s a chill in the house. Am I allowed to wear a sweater or long sleeves until I get a fire going? No way. Not if I want peace and quiet, instead of a screeching ticked off parrot lunging at the bars of his cage, doing his best to get at me.
I’ve noticed, as this winter drags on, that he has further limited the approved wearing apparel to five tee shirts, all in subtle and subdued shades of gray and blue and green. He even seems to be deciding which pair of jeans I am allowed to wear—the pair he identifies with me staying home as opposed to
me going away for a few hours.
Now, offending garment hidden from sight, he sits on his perch in the loft as I work at the computer. He’s been making little happy noises for a while as I checked e-mail and a couple online sites I visit daily. At one, I laughed out loud. So did Pablo. Then I laughed some more to make I was hearing correctly.
He giggled right along with me. What an unusual sound, coming from this little green and yellow dynamo who scares every one of my friends who visit this house. They’ve never heard him like this—jovial, content, and oh, so pleasant to be around. I doubt they believe me when I speak of these moments. Or, of how he will lie on his back in my lap
while we play. No, they’d never believe that.
Friday, November 21, 2008
I’ve looked on my desk, I’ve looked in the car.
I’m sure I last had them when I sat in this chair,
and I don’t recall moving, to leave them elsewhere.
I’ve looked all around, on the printer and sill,
under the papers that threaten to spill.
They’re not on the top of my head in my hair,
and of course they’re my only tri-focal pair.
I hate to think what would happen tonight
if I try to cook dinner by fluorescent light,
wearing only the glasses that I use to read,
and not the ones that I really do need.
Oh, where are my glasses? Have you seen them at all?
I need them to go down the stairs and not fall.
If you should see them, please catch them for me.
I really do hate when they go absentee.
Later: more from the dark side of poetry:
I found them where they’d hid from me,
those wretched things that help me see,
not in the dark but in the light,
sitting there right in plain sight.
There they were, next to my walker,
Beside the book I register
the things I am supposed to do
when mem’ry gives me not a clue.
As I knelt beside the chair
where glasses lay in “hidden” lair,
I found the hearing aid that dropped
when it rolled off the countertop.
Now I’m missing only teeth,
not the tops, the ones beneath,
the ones I need to chew my food
so I don’t eat with manners rude.
With senior aids I am replete,
just two more, then I’m complete.
Can anybody tell me where
I left my mem’ry and my hair?
Thursday, November 20, 2008
In Pursuit of Dancing
I was followed last night, but fear was not my companion. While the circumstances of the pursuit were eccentric in the extreme, they could not have been called nightmarish. I opened my arms and embraced them, and found myself dancing.
When I was very, very young—perhaps two or three lifetimes ago—I loved a man who was the epitome of elegance and grace. I allude not only to his physical bearing but also to his essence. He could speak, it seemed to me, with the whole of mankind’s knowledge within his ken. He spoke with eloquence and cogency, such were his intellect and learning.
Then, in an instant of inner roguery, he could utter words of such ribald mischief and hilarity that I would be rendered speechless and would gape in stunned disbelief before laughing. He would bite the insides of his cheeks in a successful effort to maintain a straight face, and I would see his dark eyes light up with deviltry as he savored my reaction. Perhaps it is testament to his nature and charisma that even his most risqué remarks were never offensive, but always witty and waggish and droll.
As we made our way side by side along the corridors and sidewalks of our town, I had the sensation he was floating, rather than walking. There was fluidity in his movements, as if he need not bend his knees to walk as we mere mortals did. I caught myself, one sunny afternoon as we talked and strolled along a sidewalk, unconsciously mimicking his walk, but I cannot describe how it differed from the norm.
I asked him once if he danced. A soft and gentle smile appeared on his lips and in his eyes as he shook his head and said he did not. Yet that is how I remember him, moving with the gracefulness of a dancer, dressed in the handsome and elegant suits he wore. When I hear a particular type of music, I often imagine being in his arms and dancing with him. “See?” I would say. “I always knew you would be a fine dancer.”
So I suppose it is not outlandish, when he came to visit in my dreams last night, that we were strolling the sidewalks of our neighborhood on a lovely summer afternoon. As he walked beside me on the path of concrete, we occasionally held hands, occasionally placed an arm around the other, occasionally embraced. All the while we chatted and smiled and laughed as we made our way down the street to the avenue that connected his home with mine.
When we reached that intersection, the avenue glistened with a film of ice. I let go of his hand, ran a few steps and slid along the ice as if skating. He followed me a ways, then caught up, taking my hand as he passed, drawing me into his arms as if we were dancing. Suddenly, in that wondrous, miraculous manner of dreams, we both were wearing ice skates, spinning around backwards and forwards, waltzing on ice in a sunlit dreamscape.
And I was right. He was a fine dancer.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Her dreams soar, like the allegorical eagle in the morn. Mine, to complete the equation, hoot like a screech owl at midnight. When she writes of her phantasmagorical dreams, her prose is lyrical, pastoral, and enchanting.
Listen—don’t simply read, but listen—to what she’s written of her last dream, posted on her blog at “Switched at Birth:”
“…I awoke in the morning …with my head singing, full of fantastic, colorful, music-filled dreams. There were children playing in a sprinkler and a young couple bathing their baby in a small robin’s egg blue Victorian bathtub that had gorgeous flowers painted on it. I saw an old couple holding hands, sitting side by side, their thin legs touching, in a white wicker glider. I met an elderly judge in a l9th century suit complete with ornate pocket watch who flirted with me over tea and scones in a most courtly manner. People gathered for ice cream under the canopy of huge spreading oak trees, and I enjoyed conversations with many of them.
“Last night Aristotle visited. We walked in a grove and talked about some of his favorite subjects: change, movement, purpose, and potential. I practically sprang out of bed, fully rested and recharged.”
She sits around in those bucolic dreamscapes chatting with cool dudes like Aristotle. Of course she wakes up refreshed.
I think if I had dreams like that, I’d jump out of bed fully rested and recharged, too. Instead, after I summon the strength to roll over and manage to pry open one eye and so I can see the big red numbers on the bedside clock, I mutter, “Oh, crap.” I’ve slept late again. And each day, it seems, it gets later and later. Yesterday I briefly entertained the idea of letting this insomnia/late-sleeping thing just runs it cycle. Then some day in the far off future, I’d go through sleeping all day and getting up at night, to finally getting up at a decent hour of the morning. Impractical, I thought, and abandoned the purposeful chase of that strategy.
I know exactly why I don’t spring out of bed “fully rested and recharged” like Beth. I work all night. I’m worn out by morning. Take last night, for instance. It started out with just one big white sulfur-crested cockatoo that someone found alongside the highway in sub-zero temperatures, and brought to me because they knew I’d once tried to live with one. I located a cage and placed said cockatoo inside. The bird disassembled the cage in seconds. I put it back together and put the bird inside. As soon as I turned away, the bird took the cage apart again. If you’ve never had the experience of knowing one of these Australian parrots, trust me when I say they can escape from anything.
Soon there was a second cockatoo, and putting them in the same cage was a mistake. I found another cage, and put the second cockatoo in that. While I was reassembling the first cage, the second bird was disassembling the second cage. All of a sudden, there were cockatoos of all sizes running about. I spent all night putting cages back together and chasing cockatoos.
When I woke up at ten this morning, I didn’t say, “Oh, crap.” I said something else.
And while Beth was sojourning with Aristotle in a diaphanous arbor and waxing philosophical, I was doing my darnedest to get hamburgers to hold together. Then some moron orders Bouillabaisse.
Bouillabaisse! Come on, the two menu choices were spaghetti and hamburgers. It was bad enough that the woman I was working for insisted that I put a paper towel on the grill and cook the darned hamburger on that. Then she nixes the spaghetti because everyone’s ordering hamburgers that won’t hold together because the meat’s too lean. So, half the night I’m trying to peel pieces of paper towel off chunks of hamburger that won’t ever get done because of the paper towel.
Then in comes this Gregory Peck kind of guy, and my boss takes a shine to him, and lets him order Bouillabaisse. I’ve never eaten Bouillabaisse. I’ve never ordered Bouillabaisse. I will never cook Bouillabaisse. But I ruined what might have been a halfway decent night’s sleep by attempting to fake my way through Bouillabaisse. Of course, she didn’t have most of the ingredients for what I thought Bouillabaisse contained.
In case you’ve never eaten, ordered, or cooked Bouillabaisse, you can do what I did: do your research in “The Joy of Cooking.” I knew that it was a fisherman’s stew with its genesis in the Mediterranean. I knew it had a tomato-based broth, and had shrimp, fish, and clams and mussels—shells and all. I never would have guessed the saffron, though. Onions, yes; leeks, no. I’m not a stranger to leeks. I’ve used them many times in my previous life, the one in which I cooked, as opposed to my present life in which I lean heavily on microwave magic.
I never did get the Bouillabaisse cooked in my dream. When I woke up, I was still searching for the harvest of the sea ingredients. The closest I came was freeze-dried salmon and some foil-wrapped leftover scampi that the boss had brought home from a restaurant back in the Pleistocene era. But, the secret to authentic Bouillabaisse is this: you need to use a rock fish that can be found only in the Mediterranean, and which is high in gelatin content.
I should tell you something else about Bouillabaisse. First, you heat some olive oil in a casserole then sauté all the non-fishy ingredients—the veggies and the spices. Then you add cut-up pieces of fish and cover all that with Fumet and let it boil. Now, Fumet is a fish stock, and it’s the piscatorial version of all the pieces you always suspected hot dogs were made of.
Bouillabaisse has its devotees. I am not one of them. “The Joy of Cooking” is, though. In fact, in the three long paragraphs of something Beth could have written, is this: “We offer a free translation of bouillabaisse into American—realizing fully that we have succeeded only in changing poetry to rich prose.”
Friday, November 14, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
See the airplane in the winter scene below? It's on wheels. Where does a small craft land on wheels in the snow? See the airplane in the scene below. It's Christmas alright, but not in a place where it snows or the lake freezes. So, what's an airplane doing rigged with skis, which are for winter landings in deep snow?
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
1) I can start the snowblower and spend the rest of the daylight hours clearing several inches of wet snow from my five hundred foot long driveway, or
2) I can stay in my warm, cozy, neat as a pin loft and avoid looking out the windows, wasting the whole day playing Spider Solitaire because my muse is nowhere in sight...
My plight reminded me of something I "wrote" last year when facing the same question.
To plow, or not to plow, that is the question:
Whether ‘tis wiser in the mind to suffer
The bumps and jolts of aged snowplow,
And to take blade against a sea of snowflakes,
And by plowing, stack them. To rest: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The back-ache and the thousand jarring shocks
That spine is heir to, ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To rest, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of night what snows may come
When we have parked the plow,
Must give us pause.
© Gullible 2007
Hmmph! I don't have a snowplow. Maybe the muse will show up while I'm out there battling a snowblower that's too big for me to handle with ease....
Monday, November 10, 2008
One of them is Ree's, who blogs as The Pioneer Woman. She has a special section to her blog that gives recipes and step by step photographed instructions for the cooking-impaired. She has a cookbook in the printing process now, and I’m looking forward to it.
The other blog I follow faithfully is written by Beth, who blogs at Switched at Birth. I love Beth’s writing and her touch with words. I also love the photographs she posts, especially her food photos. She recently e-mailed me that she wished we lived down the road from each other (she's in Florida) so we could have a face-to-face writers’ group. I wrote back, after looking at her blog, that I wished we lived down the road from each other so she’d invite me for dinner.
In addition to yummy-looking food, both women present their entrees on exquisite serving plates, which greatly compliment their creations.
Beth must have read my blog about cleaning up my writing studio—the place where I take dictation from my muse, who has been absent for several days. I’ve found that doing mindless physical labor is one way to locate her, because sometimes during the labor when the mind is otherwise absent, the muse is quietly at work in the background, which explains many of my imcomplete chores. The other is to simply start writing crap and she’ll show up and start over so she doesn’t have to take the blame for it. Doggerel is especially helpful for that.
Beth apparently feels the same, as she started her blog like this:
“What is it about writer types that when there is something big brewing, something fermenting in the true ink pen or the walking hard drive of the mind, that we find something -- anything -- else to do, like I did today?”
Her latest food photo of Chardonnay seared sea scallops with capers on garlic mashed potatoes with steamed baby spinach did me in. Yesterday it was barbecued pork chop with mashed sweet potato, boiled greens and a bowl of speckled beans.
I'm embarrassed. I must rise to the occasion and post food photos of my own.
But first, a warning to all who knew me "back when." Be prepared to have your previous perceptions of me shattered. Be prepared for shock and awe, culinary style.
Ahem. Welcome to Gullible's Fine Dining Bistro. The featured special today at Gillible's is Rotisserie Chicken Salad on a bed of leaf lettuce, accompanied by imported sweet red grape tomatoes. The entree' comes complete with an exceptional black plastic container, which does double duty both as a serving tray and storage container, and the ever convenient plastic fork. Saves dishwashing, you know, in these economically troubling times. From the refrigerated deli display at Costcos everywhere. The gourmet filled bottles in the background are all for show, and not on the menu here at Gullible's.
To accompany your meal, we recommend the beverage of choice at Gullible's. No sugar, no carbs, no calories....just pure flavored water. On sale at Wal-Mart for $4 for the convenient fridge pack of twelve cans.
Icky and yucky outside? Want something hot from the oven to warm you up? Select your favorite from a variety of Microwave Magic meals stocked at Gullible's:
In a rush? Too busy to eat? We have just the thing: Delicious Milk Chocolate Delight Shake, loaded with vitamins and bursting with flavor. Only one net carb after you fool (yourself) around subtracting the dietary fiber and certain sugars.
Once in a while, we actually cook here at Gullible's, as evidenced by this Chicken Tortilla Soup, served in this lovely scalloped bowl. Simply boil whatever's left from the Costco rotisserie chicken carcass, add onions, a can of corn kernels, a can of black beans, a can of diced tomatoes, salt, cumin, coriander, garlic and dried cilantro. Serve with Nacho Doritos topped with shredded cheese. Bowl from Wal-Mart's collection of fine dining culinary ware. Sorry, no brand on bowl.
Seating is available in the living room in front of the TV, at the kitchen counter, or upstairs in the loft in front of the computer. Wherever you choose, as long as you share with Pablo. He'll eat everything but pickles and olives. He'll even eat green peppers and marshmallows and meringue, except those things aren't served at Gullible's Bistro. He especially loves winter squash. Ever seen a parrot with an orange beard?
Sorry, no pix available of the left-over-from-Halloween peanut butter taffies. I'm saving those for myself. They're only available once a year, like Jonathan apples.
You come up the stairs and don't trip over the vacuum cleaner hose. There is open floor space.
This is my window seat. It was hard to see before due to the unfinished projects that were piled in, on, and around it.
Even a clean sheet on the desk blotter, pen and pencil ready. The tea bag ("T is for Trespass") was a Christmas gift from the author Sue Grafton. The bookmark, in an Aboriginal design called Turtle Dreaming, is from Australia.
The "in" basket still over-floweth, but that's another project. That cart next to the desk is a handy item from Costco. It's marketed as a scrapbook cart, and has fifteen drawers for paper and supplies. I've adapted it to my needs: now I have a place to put the various drafts of stories I'm working on, or the chapters of the Alzheimer's book. Perfect.
Just in case you haven't figured out why I'm baring my messy loft and my soul, well, the muse has been missing for a few days. I'm trying to entice her to return. We have an assignment for the on-line Mystery Class. This is the big one--we have to solve the mystery, figure out the plan,climax, and ending. I'm at a loss without her.