Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Welcoming Elsworth

He has two plants in his yard that sort of just appeared from nowhere, he tells her, but they are conveniently and beautifully thriving in two exactly parallel beds on each side of the sidewalk leading to his garage.

One fine Spring afternoon, a Sunday when the sky was dotted with those beautiful cotton candy-like white fluffy clouds, she just happened to mention Myrtle in an off-handed way; something like, "Myrtle could really use a bath."

He looked at her and said, "Who is Myrtle?"

"Oh," she answered, totally unaware of just how insane it was going to sound to say, "The car...you know? Green Ford Focus? Rounded back? Myrtle. As in Myrtle of Myrtle the Turtle fame. Get it?"

She shielded her hand over her eyes to shade the sun, winked her left eye closed and glanced up at him and he laughed at her.

After a little playful punch-throwing and slapping and rock throwing and wrestling until she was finally cussing and angry and he was using the pin-her-to-the-ground-to-keep-from-being-severely-injured tactic, they climbed into Myrtle and drove the half-block to his house, dragged out all the car washing tools, including the Turtle Wax, which they giggled about, and set out to bathe their baby.

When he pointed the hose at her and she was sprayed with cold water, she backed up and he suddenly yelled, "My God, don't step on Helen!!"

She stopped dead in her tracks and turned slowly to look behind herself, and nobody was there.

"What are you talking about?" she screamed! "You scared me half to death!"

"Helen, down there."

She looked down and all she saw was a nice-sized hens-in-a-basket plant, resembling the ones her grandmother grew. She became engrossed in the memories that plant brought to mind then, squatting down and cooing at it and said, "My grandmother used to grow these! I loved them! They remind me of her! Uh, wait a minute...THIS is Helen? It's a PLANT."

He smiled and said, with ceremony and pride, "And meet Louise."

Louise was growing with fervor on the other side of the walk, very proud and every bit as large as Helen.

Then he pointed to Helen's side and practically swooned with pride, "That's their baby! When he gets big enough, you can take him home if you want."

She contemplated that and then asked, "I thought you said their names were Helen and Louise. How did they have a baby?"

"Yeah," he shrugged. "They're lesbians but they did the artificial insemination thing."

They laughed and went about the day, and a couple of weeks later, she returned to check on the growth of her baby plant, and he came out of the house with a little pot and a trowel and handed them to her. "He's ready," he told her. "Go ahead and break up the little family while Helen and Louise aren't paying attention."

She dug the little start up and headed home, walking, down the alley behind his house, while he kept the two gay hens-in-a-basket plants distracted, to her own house where she had already prepared a bed by the Beach House.

After setting the little plant into his place she said, "Chloe, Dandy, welcome Elsworth."

She marked his territory with decorative stones with such peaceful words on them as Peace, Beauty, Sunshine, and left Elsworth to bond with his new friends and family in the quietness of her back yard, impatiently awaiting the day when Helen and Louise would produce another offspring, already named Mary, for her to bring home to keep little Elsworth company and hopefully produce many little grandchildren for their parents down the road.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The One that got Away

The day had been just about as close to perfect as a day can get. The temperature, the humidity, the sun, the wind and the setting came together to create an ambience that she searches for, hunts almost endlessly for, the entire rest of the year. In Southern Indiana, a day that is not too cold, not too hot, not too humid, not too cloudy and not too sunny, only happens about three days out of a three-hundred-sixty-five-day year.

All day she had fished. Cast, reel, cast, reel, cast, reel. The monotony of fishing is the beauty of fishing. Her mind wanders, she becomes drowsy with the sound of whir, plunk, whir...whir, plunk, whir...as the line is cast out, the bait hits the calm water and she slowly reels the fishing line back onto the reel, removes the moss from the hook and bait and starts all over.

At the end of this particular Saturday, her body sun-logged, her skin slightly burnt, she overheard Don and his brother, Bob, discussing possible ways to retrieve a barrel that had broken loose from an old pontoon boat that had been constructed over many years, by everyone in the family, which was floating aimlessly about in the water.

She and Bob stood up on the dam and observed Don as he beat at it with a large stick, which, on that day, seemed like a totally sane thing to do, when she said, "I bet I could cast out, hook the lip of that barrel with the hook and at least tease it in close enough to the bank that you and Don could figure out a way to drag it in."

It was silent for a few minutes. Don continued to beat the water with a large branch off a fallen tree and Bob said, "Betcha can't."

Another couple of minutes passed, and she asked, "Are you challenging me, Bob?"

Bob said, "Yes."

So off she hiked toward Don, her rod and reel balanced on her shoulder. Bob had taken a seat on the grass at the top of the dam and was shaking his head. She cast out, missed the barrel on the reel-in, cast out, got a little closer. With the saying, "The third time is the charm," chanting through her head, she hooked the lip of the barrel and carefully and slowly began reeling that three-quarters-full-of-water huge plastic barrel toward the bank.

Don now had a good use for the stick as he could reach the barrel and bang on it, and she distinctly heard, on the breeze, Bob saying, "I'll be damned."

He joined them at the site of the wayward barrel, and while Don banged on it with a big stick, Bob used a board to effect a wave-like motion toward the bank, and she reeled.

"I have a rope here," Bob said.

"Okay," replied Don.

"What are you going to do with a rope?" she asked.

"Well, if we could figure out a way to get it thrown around the barrel and tie it, we could pull it in."

She said, "How you going to tie it around the barrel, Bob?"

The frogs sang, the sun continued to set, the fish started feeding on the far end of the lake, in the shallow water, woodpeckers pecked. The wind blew. The two men began batting at the barrel and the water with the stick and the board and promptly pushed it out where it caught the little bit of current that can be caught in a lake that size, and floated out into the center.

"Well," she said, "that's that."

She calmly tied up her rod and reel and began the hike up the dam. When she looked back, they were still standing there, looking at that barrel, wondering where they had gone wrong.

She laughed, and her laughter drifted off with the evening breeze, into the woods, and all just seemed right with the world.

The one that got away that day was white and weighed about two hundred pounds.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Stars

Several natural phenomena occurred to birth Friday night, April 14, 2006. The day was unusually warm with heat advisories posted early in the afternoon, the wind was wild all day long, ushering in a feeling of living in another dimension. Her hair was in her face all day, the branches of the trees dancing for her entertainment, and the storms tracked north, leaving a washed shimmering atmospheric dark blue to the sky, white clouds skirting the perimeter of her world, leaving an opening of nothing but blue.

The sound of aluminum bats on baseballs at the stadium a few blocks over, was carried like musical notes across the streets and through her open windows, a sure mark of summer fast approaching.

Birdsongs were loud and clear; courting songs that will eventually give way to the deeper, throatier, thirsty chirps of a heat-infested, dry summer.

She worked all day, listening, waiting, hurrying the day, so they could take their McDonald's picnic dinner to the lake, relax there surrounded by water and woods.

They arrived there at about five o'clock that evening, were the only people visiting the beautiful, serene gated members-only environment. April in Indiana is not usually so amenable, and the sudden transition from winter to summer took many people by surprise and they were not yet ready to embrace the season. All the better for the two of them who can sniff out a warm evening coming even in December and have learned to take full advantage of that.

The two of them walked and walked, skipped stones on the water, wiggled their toes in the damp sand at the beach, laughed and occasionally walked in perfect silence, traversing the fallen limbs, picking up interesting rocks or sticks.

Once around the Upper Lake, they ran like kids to the swings at the park. The swings there were the wooden seats, not the plastic slings that someone decided would be better; not the plastic slings that squeeze your thighs together so that you are knock-kneed; not the plastic slings that you cannot jump out of mid-swing; but the nice, wooden, straight seats with real chains that you can twist and twist and twist and then spin madly around in when it is released. They swung, they twisted.

He was ready to leave and she said, "Please? Can we just stay until the stars come out?"

And she pouted just a little until he gave in, and they walked again, around the Lower Lake this time. They played hide-and-seek in the woods, darting in and out behind huge old pines and fallen logs, easily concealed in the quickly coming dusk. She was watching her watch, calculating when the stars would start appearing, anticipating the canopy overhead, so brilliant out here in the darkness of the woods with no houses, no noise, no cars...no light. And as the moment drew closer, her heart began to race.

Back up at the shelter house and park, they positioned themselves on the teeter-totter. He teeter-tottered and she sat on the other end with her feet propped up on the board in front of her, not teetering or tottering, just watching the sky.

He said, "Did you know that it takes so long for the light of the stars to reach the earth so we can see them, that those stars might not even be there anymore? That they might have burned out a thousand years ago but their light is just now visible to us?"

And she said, "Did you know the stars are there all day but we just can't see them because of the brilliance of the light of the sun?"

They teetered and tottered on in silence, then, in awe of the gravity and the enormity of those observations.

She laid down, then, on the ground, the darkness wrapping around her like a quilt, and watched the sky.

Pop. The first star became visible to her and she wondered if it was really the star or if it was just the residual light from a star long gone. Pop. Pop pop pop pop. The stars were popping out and she listened to hear if they sounded like a bag of microwave popcorn heating up, exploding. Suddenly, with him laying beside her, the skyscape offered up its light show, and they held their breaths together when the wind, almost on cue, gusted. From their pine-needle cots they watched the thin, tall pine trees sway like hundreds of couples slow-dancing to a windsong, while the stars popped. They reached over and grasped hands, contemplating their place, their tiny, tiny, very unimportant place, in the Universe.

Then, they quietly stood up and drove home in silence, neither willing to break the magic spell by speaking.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Butterfly Wall

If you ever need to get away
For a year or for a day,
Give me a call and meet me
Behind the Butterfly Wall.

We'll bury our troubles in the sand,
Become little girls skipping hand in hand,
Swim naked in the lake, catch our dinner
And make white clover bracelets woven
Stem to stem and swing on the grapevine
Limb to limb.

Hear the wildlife settle in for the night,
Huddle by the fire, the moon for our light.
We'll kneel at the edge of the universe,
Chant a prayer to the stars
Saying thank you Mother for getting us this far.

Close our eyes, chase the years and try to find where they went,
Fall peacefully asleep in our Barbie doll tent.

So if you ever need to get away for a year or a day,
Give me a call,
I'll find you behind the Butterfly Wall.

The Thing About Dogs

Today is a maintenance day for Annie, her loyal little Dachshund. Time for summer preparations.

You know, nobody gives HER flea medicine or chigger or tick prevention medicine, or even mosquito preventative. What's up with that?

Annie gets a pedicure today. She gets a heartworm test and a new prescription for rather expensive pills that "taste like liver," she will take their word for it, knowing only that the dog scarfs it up like she would scarf up a handful of M&Ms, to make sure those pesky, mosquito-bite-introduced three-foot long parasites do not get the opportunity to invade her little heart. Her loyal and loving owner will also purchase from her quickly diminishing checking account, a six-month supply of super-duper flea and tick formula. Maybe a one-year supply, half to use on her own self before going out four-wheeling in the tick-infested woods?

"Don, excuse me...will you please put this little tube of Advantix between my shoulder blades? No, no, don't rub it IN!!!"

Having a dog is like having a child except the dog can and WILL walk on its own from birth and will also listen to her. Never mind, it is not like having a child at all.

What's On TV?

Cable TV is awesome...overly priced but awesome. She has a TV in almost every room of the house, and usually at least three of them have different channels playing at one time. She calls this ADD, but she hears an echo in the back of her mind, "Add the 'H.'" "H" for hyperactive. Maybe she is, maybe she isn't, but she does know that cable TV was invented for her.

The channel lineup is approximately 90 channels, four local networks, the remainder everything from 24-hour science fiction and psychics and aliens from other planets to the top ten hotels in the world to a geography lesson on the Middle East. Everything from Baby Boomer favorites on TV Land, like "I Love Lucy" and "Mayberry RFD" to constant streaming music videos and world weather reports. She had the choice last night, of crawling into The King and tuning into a debate on one of about five world news stations she receives for paying her bill of sixty bucks a month, watching an overdone cop show where the suspects always spill the beans without benefit of an attorney, even when there is no evidence against them, or "Family Guy," a sort of out-of-the-mainstream animated show where the characters are so believable that you forget you're watching cartoons, right down to the talking dog, Brian, who lives within the family unit as a slightly odd-looking human member, complete with a vocabulary that Webster would envy, and a truly frightening looking infant child in diapers whose vocabulary Brian envies.

"Family Guy" won out, really without much contest at all, and she settled in for a couple of laughs, which she definitely got, and maybe in a bizarre way, a little nudging lesson in life.

Stuey ran away from home with the express purpose of finding the BBC studios where his favorite show, a Snow White-like production with a colorful green hill and plush grass and loveable characters, was filmed, thinking in his childish mind that the setting for the show was absolutely real.

Brian ran after him, of course, to save him, and they both found themselves landing in the Middle East instead of Great Britain. From a vendor there, they stole a camel and rode into the middle of the desert. Keep in mind they could not buy a camel because Brian only had fifty dollars in cash on him and Stuey, well, Stuey wears a diaper and nothing else.

The two quickly became lost in the desert, the camel died, it was getting late and cold out there. After a conversation regarding the necessity of staying warm, Brian convinced the baby that he had to cut the camel open while it was still warm and crawl inside, to provide shelter from the freezing desert that night.

The slaughter was gruesome, and baby Stuey held his breath and crawled in, promptly shouting out, "Oh, I've puked in his lung!"

Standing outside the camel, Brian looked up and said, with no ceremony at all, "Oh, a Comfort Inn." About 50 yards away was a luxury hotel, teeming with life, in the middle of the barren desert.

The life lesson? Do not, under any circumstances, crawl inside an eviscerated camel for shelter in the desert until you have done a 360-degree survey of your surroundings.

Oh, and Stuey found the BBC studios and was crushed to learn that the people were only regular folks with pissed off attitudes playing parts they hated and the plush green hill was made of painted cardboard. He learned the grass really is not greener on the other side.

Laughs and lessons. She thinks she might have done better in school if "Family Guy" was the teaching film strip.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Who Is She?

Someone asked her yesterday who she was. Who "she" was. There was silence for awhile. Now, here's a lesson from The Facts of Life: A really close friend, someone who is almost a part of you, can sit silently on the other end of the phone line without giving up and hanging up. She can sit there in dead silence, doing her toenails, watching a muted soap opera on TV for a half-hour at a time while you struggle with an answer or while you cry so hard you are no longer able to take a deep breath, much less speak words.

But someone asked her yesterday who she was and there was no answer until this morning when she sat up in bed when the 5:00 mockingbird alarm sang her awake, even in the midst of a pouring rain, and realized who she was.

She is a mockingbird. She can sing everyone's songs but has none of her own.

She has a friend like herself, and they are always alert to finding where they belong before it is too late, before all the best spots are taken. They are like puzzle pieces that have had the tabs bent so when they are put into a place in the puzzle where they should fit, they upset the smooth surface of the finished product just a bit.

She is a mockingbird, moving around, learning new songs, rippling the surface, always returning to the same tree in the Spring alone, happy to be singing someone else's songs from the safety of a familiar branch.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Seventh Street/Mockingbirg Lane

Last Monday morning she slowly opened her eyes, emerging from a deep dream-riddled sleep, to the sounds of a dozen species of birds, it seemed, singing right outside her window. When she pulled her sleepy, groggy-eyed self to her elbows to look out her second story window just above the head of her bed, that she had opened the night before to let the fresh air in, expecting to see an aviary of colors and nearly every species of bird perched on the power lines just across the street, she laughed.

Back from that place it flies off to in order to escape winter, was the mockingbird. Sleek gray body, a long tail that usually is at a right angle with it's back unless it is bobbing around to create balance on those skinny little legs, the mockingbird sings the song of every other birdkind it has encountered while traveling, along with the songs of the Midwest bird families it lives with all summer.

On Tuesday, it seemed the little bird with the loud voice had moved almost imperceptibly closer to her open window. At six o'clock that morning, the morning starting a little earlier as the earth moved closer to summer, she shook herself awake and smiled out the window at her new alarm clock. "I've missed you," she said to the mockingbird.

On Wednesday morning, the "alarm" sounded at 5:59. It was beginning to sound like possibly the Bird Population had escaped from their confines somewhere and had taken up residence on the wire across the street. But she glanced at her clock and snuggled back under the covers for fifteen more minutes, reaching up to close the window over the bed.

On Thursday morning, at 5:58, without bothering to look, she slammed the window closed on the choir with the incredible playlist rehearsing outside, seemingly on her windowsill.

Then it was Friday. 5:57. She rubbed her eyes and sprang out of bed, made coffee and sat on her front porch so she could throw rocks at the mockingbird across the street. The beautiful little bird watched her with amusement, first singing a Robin song, then a Cardinal song, then some mixture. A rock zipped past his little head and he never missed a beat.

"Are you frickin' BLIND?" She screamed! "These rocks could seriously injury you!"

The mockingbird sort of did a little bob on the wire, clearing his throat for the next barage of songs, and she grabbed her coffee cup off the step and stomped into the house where she closed all the windows and turned up the volume of her own music inside.

It became a competition, then, with the little guy outside quickly mastering nearly any music she played, running through the octaves and sclaes like a child with a choral instructor.

That night she went to bed late, knowing that Saturday morning was on the horizon when she could sleep in, recuperate from a long, stressful work week. She pulled the shades to keep the room a little darker a little longer.

Saturday morning dawned at 5:57 when she heard her cell phone ringing by her bed.

All of her friends in all of the time zones they represented, knew better than to call her before dawn on Saturday, unless it was bad news, and she sat up, fished the phone off the nightstand where it was hidden under a book or two, dropped it, quickly got out of bed to retrieve it, stubbed her already-sore toe. She clicked it open, "Hello?? Hello???"

She pushed the menu button, scrolled, found the recent received calls list on the menu. There was nothing there. No missed calls, no recently received calls. And then she heard it. The ring tone of her phone, perfectly imitated, from outside.

"Okay," she said quietly. "You win."

She crawled back into bed and opened the window wide, now after finally bowing to Mother Nature's sense of humor, and fell back to sleep right in the middle of the aviary she owned, and the mockingbird sang.

Learning to co-exist made for peace in the neighborhood.