Sunday, October 27, 2013

the snows of october

It snows overnight, and in the morning
when I wake up
the world is white.
Over the course of the day, the snow melts away
and even if it snows a little more,
it does not stay. The grass is green,
rather a bore.
The amber and orange and lemony
of the maple and beech and papery
look drab, unexcited. A little old, maybe.
But hanging on.

In the morning, with a lace of snow, it all looks
a little dressed up, as if
trying on clothes for the holidays.
For the parties
with fancy hors d’oeuvres.
For the masses
at midnight.
For the hanging out
at the mall.
Take your pick or
do it all.
It will all look a bit better,
won’t it?
wrapped up
in a little
With a little
behind its ear.

Wait! It’s only Halloween! Don’t start on that holiday crap already!
But I do not start.
It is the snow that falls, not me.
I follow. And there
it leads.

There was a day when
the sun shone,
the snow fell,
the leaves hung on,
all at once.
And the cool air,
as my mother would say,
was invigorating.

Your cheeks are so rosy.

Then it rained.

All week long
the ever-changing sky
with its clouds
and its plans
had me awaiting
each surprise
made each moment
from the next.
And different
the moment
I expected.

If you’ve a mind to:

Sunday, October 20, 2013

in my sisters’ town, or come with me to the deep blue sea (plus: on lonesome)

Sometimes when I go to my sisters’ town I stay up on the mesa outside of town, where my one sister lives, and other times I stay in town, where my other sister lives. When I am staying in town it is nice in the morning to walk down the town’s main street to the ocean.

Main Street, USA.

The storefronts are small and colorful, and there are many restaurants and small caf├ęs, some with tables and chairs set up out front or on a side patio. You can get pizza, sushi, steak, seafood, Mexican food, Thai food, Italian food, American food, cajun, and there’s even a spot to get a burger and a shake. There are bakeries, a candy shop, a couple of places for antiques and knick-knacks, a grocery store. There are clothing stores, spas and salons, a place to buy gifts from the sea, a Rite Aid, and a laundromat. You can stop for coffee, tea, or cocktails, pick up and take home a six-pack of avocado honey beer. And there is a surf shop. Overhead the sky is a benign blue, and the skyline is flocked with the fronds of ancient palms. Even in an idyll such as this, though, there are dangers.

No matter where you go, there you are, and you’ve been warned.

One morning, the closer I got to the ocean, the stronger the smell of barbecue. Then, as I crossed the railroad tracks, the scent of eucalyptus. Another step or two and the salty smell of the ocean mingled with the eucalyptus, bringing to mind caramel. The eucalyptus faded, and there she was, the great blue sea.

On the beach.

It being a warm, calm day, I let the ocean wrap around my feet. When it was time to go, I rinsed off at a push-button shower kiosk and sat on a bench, studying this tree.

There was one crow in this tree, which you probably cannot see.

Then, people began flocking to the shore, walking to the ocean’s edge, stopping, staring out. This did not seem unusual at first, but once a dozen or more gathered, I wondered. So I stared out. And then I saw it, out there in the water: Fin! Shark! No! Dolphin! In fact, many dolphins. A veritable school of dolphins passing by, maybe 50 yards or so out, their dorsal fins emerging from the sea in sweeping undulations.

For many years, Chicago and the Midwest was my family’s geographical hub. It is where we grew up, and it is where for many years my parents and I lived close to one another. In the late 1970s one sister moved to California, and several years later the other followed. My folks and I stayed put. Then, I moved north, my father died, and my mother packed off to California to a well-structured community that accommodates her needs as they slowly—and sometimes quickly—change. She lives near my sisters, and they watch over her, and I visit.

My mother worries that being so far away from the family hub as I am that I must get lonesome. Sometimes I do. Recently, though, I was offered a perspective on loneliness that I’ve enjoyed turning over. Loneliness is, perhaps, just about sharing, and perhaps we feel most lonely when we want to share but cannot, or are trying to share and it’s not working, or think we have to share every blessed thing when we don’t. It’s a fine mix of elements—who to share with, how, when, why—and the combinations that work vary among us.

While visiting this week my mother asked, as always, if I ever get lonely. I told her no, not so much, not so long as I find a way to share. I asked my mother if she ever gets lonely, and she told me no, not so much.

Another day, back at the ocean, there was a feeding frenzy. Dolphins, pelicans, fishermen, grebes, gulls, terns, and cormorants were nabbing fish from the ocean. I could not identify all those birds, but my sister’s friend could (the terns were royal and the gulls were Heermann’s), and she thought there must be a school of sardines causing the commotion, possibly a school rounded up by the dolphins. Passing a fisherman I asked what he was catching, and he said perch.

Flocking to the sea.

I stood out in the ocean, floated, decided the long strands of kelp looked like bad decor left over from the seventies, and then my attention was diverted back to shore. Three small dogs were caught up in a rabid discussion. I watched for a while. Two of the dogs are family.

Two West Coast family poodles.

The discussion ended, I turned and looked out over the ocean. About 20 feet away a fin emerged from the water. It disappeared, a second fin came up close behind. The two dolphins swam slowly by, their fins rising and falling, emerging and disappearing, and each time they rose I could see clearly the light gradations of grey on their backs, their taut skin. Overhead, a small group of terns, maybe five or six. One dive-bombed, plucked a fish from the sea.

Just a couple of blocks from my sister’s house is a used book store. It is next to the library and purchases help to support the library. There I found two books to take home. One is “Here is Your War,” by Ernie Pyle, a hardcover from 1944, first printed in 1943. The other is “No More Secondhand God and Other Writings,” by R. Buckminster Fuller. It is a paperback from 1971, originally published in 1963. The first sentence of the preface contains 65 words, 150 syllables (or thereabouts), six commas, one period. Having read the sentence several times, I might understand it but am not sure. “No More Secondhand God” is a poem of several pages that I think I do, for the most part, understand. It begins
Late tonight
(April 9, 1940)
I am just sitting here
for one of the many reasons that
people find themselves passionately isolated.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

dancing in the cabin

Earlier this week, Finnigan and his person, Louis, came to visit. They got a tour of the cabin and the river, and then we took in some sites in the area, like the free house just up the road.

The sign above the Confederate flag reads:
Free House, Must Move.

We went to Otter Lake, where Louis claims to have seen a fish jump clear out of the water. It was a very big fish, he said, maybe a salmon or a trout. A big trout. Maybe a salmon. I did not see it, but I did see the rings the big jumping salmon or trout left behind, and they were big rings.

This is Otter Lake, where the river goes and where
big fish jump clear out of the water.

We stopped at Kurt’s Korner, where along with a fishing license, beer, ice cream, wine, crackers, ice, and ammo, you can get a pretty good veggie pizza.

A good place for pizza.

And then what happened is this: we danced. One minute we were eating pizza and the next minute, or so it seemed, we were dancing. In the cabin. Let me clarify. Louis and I were dancing. Then Finn and Louis were dancing. Then Finn and I were dancing.

When people and dogs come over and start dancing with you in your cabin, well, remember that song from the “The Sound of Music”? Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good ...

It was dusk. There was a glow from the woodstove and some flickering candlelight. Lamps were switched on. We pushed a couple of chairs back. Louis taught me the Texas Two-Step. That was all there was to it. We was dancin’. I messed up on the twirls, but Finn handled them pretty well.

Two years ago, the cabin did not even have a bathroom. Does that sound like a non sequitur? It is not. Two years ago no bathroom, no closet, much of my stuff heaped in piles in the garage, just out there on pallets on the dirt tucked under blue tarps. No plumbing, no kitchen sink, sleeping in the living room on the lumpy futon because the loft was, well, a mess. Anyway. Old story. All I know is that two years ago October was a stressful time, and one year ago, well, now I’m thinking about my old dog Buster. Another stressful time.

I suppose if the pages were to keep whirling off this October calendar, blowing away in the breeze, taking us back to other years with golden leaves skittering across the pavement, we might stop to gawk at more angst-ridden scenes playing out against a bank of pretty autumn colors. Ah, October. Perhaps my favorite month. But now, with age, imbued by a few unpleasant memories ... Happily, fading memories.

This October, there’s dancing in the cabin.

Now, it’s not like I haven’t danced in the cabin before. I have, by myself, because Elliott is not a dancer and Buster never was, even when young. His friend Queenie, a mixed-up border collie—now she was a dancer. But she is gone almost three years now. So I’ve danced alone, which is not such a bad thing, possibly even a good thing. Often while doing the dishes I’m listening to the radio and maybe a song comes on like The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” or Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” or some old disco tune with whistles and beeps and, hey, why not dance? It feels good to spin away from the sink, to grab that dish towel, to dance. And sometimes Bruce Springsteen is playing and that makes me want to dance, or it’s John Mellencamp’s “Little Pink Houses” or Van Halen’s “Jump.” Now that I think about it, yes, there’s been plenty of dancing in this little log cabin.

But there’s never been dancing like this.

Louis brought the music, taught me this two-step thing that honestly seems to have three steps—but who am I to quibble?—and between the living room and the kitchen there was just enough room to make it work. So I messed up the twirls—hey, you can’t have everything. But maybe, with a little practice. Finn cut in, so I stepped back. Then it was my turn with Finn, and he stood on his hind legs, about two feet tall, and I’m pretty sure we weren’t doing the two-step anymore, but maybe something like yippie!-make-it-up-as-you-go-along!, which is exactly the dance Queenie and I used to do.

There are many ways of bringing back good memories; many ways of letting go bad memories. And in one or two steps, it seems, maybe three, dancing does both.

I must say, it’s been an odd autumn. Warm, dry days continuing right into mid-October. Petunias and impatiens still blooming on the porch. Tomatoes, despite a night or two of frost, ripening on the vine. Dandelions dotting the lawn. Elliott chasing butterflies. And lazy, dazed mosquitoes, slap, no comment. Elsewhere, blizzards. But here, a lingering summer. And here, this post was to end, but it cannot. I don’t know how to end it. Later in the week, Louis’ father passed on. My heart simply goes out to him and to his family.

Saturday morning’s sunrise over Marquette’s lower harbor.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

how was your week? (the pajama top story)

Stacking wood, making candles.

View from the upper deck, 8:30 a.m., September 30.

Stacking wood, making candles.

View from the upper deck, 8:30 a.m., October 1.

Stacking wood, doing laundry, running errands.

View from the upper deck, 8:30 a.m., October 2.

Buying clothes.

Four T-shirts, a hooded sweatshirt, and three flannel shirts.


Welcome aboard, Mr. Pike. 

Making candles.

View from the upper deck, 8:30 a.m., October 3.

Writing letters, making candles.

View from the upper deck, 8:30 a.m., October 4.

Tried on new clothes. Discovered that most coveted flannel shirt is actually a pajama top.

Just in case you are like me and shopping for clothes at a used / resale / vintage / upcycled clothing store, where flannel shirts and flannel pajama tops may hang side-by-side, there are some basic structural differences between the two. It mostly has to do with the buttons. If there is no collar button and if the sleeves are not split and buttoned at the cuff, it is likely you have a pajama top rather than a shirt. In general, the fewer and larger the buttons, the more likely it is that your shirt is actually a pajama top. And if your shirt has a tag that reads “Sleepwear,” well, that is a big clue, but understandably one you might not notice until two days later, when the shirt is home, on your back, feeling extremely comfortable, kind of like a pajama top.

Cleaned the summer’s ashes from the woodstove and lit a fire.

Setting up inside the Commons building at the farmers market, selling candles.

Sitting with impressions.

View from the upper deck, 8:30 a.m., October 6.

Such as:
  • Dry leaves skittering across a metal roof.
  • Slightly curled, yellow leaves caught in a northeast breeze landing on a river flowing northeast.
  • The darkness of a new moon 6 a.m. covered in clouds.
  • A whiff of apple cider mixed lightly with beeswax and pumpkin pie.
  • Driving through driving rain.
  • A sun setting across a mirror of lake.
  • People who give.
  • A deer in the yard going unnoticed until we were just a few feet from each other, standing still, staring at one another.
  • The toad in the garden last Sunday.

Sunday’s toad.

Thinking the picture of that toad would make a nice jigsaw puzzle.