Sunday, March 30, 2014

from indiana to michigan, or, what if there were birds flying around inside the airport?

Dear Mom,

You wouldn’t believe the amount of snow on the ground, it being the end of March and all, but we just keep getting more, the last round falling Thursday night, the night I was to fly home from Fort Wayne. I made it as far as Detroit, where I volunteered to wait it out and fly the next day as the flight that night was overbooked. When they made the announcement, I stepped right up. I wasn’t keen on flying into a snowstorm, then driving home through a snowstorm in the dark.

It can get a little funky walking through the Detroit airport.

The airline put me up in a motel where I got a free hot breakfast. I made my own waffles with this fun make-your-own-waffle set-up that some of these motels have. There’s a machine that squirts batter into a cup or gravy boat that you then pour into a hot waffle iron. You close the lid, it beeps, you flip the iron and watch the seconds count down to zero, voilĂ , it’s done! Perfect!

Lots of trees inside the motel, but no birds.

I flew to Escanaba, was ferried up to Sawyer International (where I pushed six inches of wet, heavy snow off the van), and from there drove to pick up Elliott from the pet lodge so we arrived home together. It was a sunny day and the road was clear except for a few big puddles. Everything at the cabin was fine. And the airline even gave me a $400 voucher good on my next flight anywhere. Who knew a simple trip from Indiana to Michigan could be so much fun?

Uh oh. Just a saw a big coyote trotting across the field. I let Elliott in—he was smashed up against the door! Smart boy.

You would like the Detroit airport. There’s a really neat fountain and, believe it or not, birds flying around. Little wrens. They seem to live up in the ceiling and come down to sit in the potted trees that are here and there. And they hop around on the floor. Saw some drinking from the fountain.

One birdie in the fountain.

Somewhere north of Traverse City we flew across Lake Michigan. I looked down and saw long trails of ice on the water.

Do you know why I was in Fort Wayne? I’m sure Penny and Jennifer told you, but I’ll recap. I flew to Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago in order to drive to Indiana with Louis and his dog, Finn. Yes, I just drove to California and back earlier this year, but it was so much fun that when Louis said hey, you want to do it again because I have to go to Fort Wayne and hopefully get up there to the U.P. for a bit, I said, well, yes, that sounds like fun. And it was fun. Louis did most of the driving, but I got to do some, too, and Finn has some proprietary issues with the passenger side window—thinks he should be able to open it and stick his head out anytime he likes—but we worked that out so all was well. (Yes, I showed him who was boss. Ha!)

Oh! You would have liked all the sandhill cranes we saw in Nebraska. There were thousands of them, in gaggles or flocks or whatever they travel in, snacking away in stubby, dry corn fields and in the air winging their way to yet another corn field or perhaps to a creek or river for a drink. They weren’t as loud or boisterous as those whooping cranes we knew back in Springfield—you know, the ones that would come over to the house to play bridge, to puff on their cigarettes, to sip their drinks, to laugh uproariously—but they were quite impressive, nonetheless.

As you know (if you remember), we stopped in Aledo. I found Grandma’s house—directed Louis right to it without realizing I could—and when I first saw the house, I knew it was it, but then I wasn’t so sure because it has changed so—new siding, a little addition here, a little subtraction there—but when we got out to walk around, I felt sure again. Of course it was different when looking for Grandma’s grave. I don’t know why we couldn’t find it, knowing now how it is supposed to be on a hill with a big monument and all. (Too bad you didn’t mention that when we were on the phone.) I’m glad you all found it so funny, me not finding Grandma’s grave. While talking to you and my sweet sisters I was hanging out the truck window because the reception was bad; I thought if I hung out the window it might be better, kind of like the old days when people would shout into the phone when talking long distance. “CAN YOU HEAR ME?! CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW!?” It was a cold and very grey afternoon, and Louis was still steering us around the cemetery, God bless him. No doubt Finn was peeved that I was hogging the window. I suppose I’ll always remember you coming on the line, chuckling a bit—and I’m pretty sure there’s laughter and chatter in the background—and when I ask if you know what’s going on, if you know where I am, you say something like “You can’t find Grandma’s grave,” and then more chuckling. I may go back to Aledo this summer to find that grave, clear up the mystery.

Where Grandma lived.

Did you hear I visited cousin Pete? That was an outcome of not finding the grave, so kismet. He has a pet turtle—a red-eared slider, I think—named Speedy. It’s as big as Mr. Muldoon, who you may recall as Jennifer’s turtle (or tortoise) that ran away that one summer day so long ago.

Oh! I told Louis the “Sweetie Pie/Rita Pie” story. I don’t remember why. I know it’s one of your favorites to tell, but somehow I ended up telling it. Such things happen on cross-country trips, I suppose.

I met Louis’ mother. She was just a little girl when she came to America and spoke only Italian, and she told some wonderful stories about that. I’m sure you’d like her—she’s kind of independent and tough, like you, but, also like you, sweet and loving. (Now, does it sound like I’m buttering you up? Heavens, why would I do that?)

So there’s still about two feet of snow on the ground. It’s getting a little soft, but when I walked to the river yesterday the snowshoes sank only an inch or two. The sunshine was bright and the temperature got close to 50 degrees. Lovely! There are teeny tiny buds on the trees, and chickadees are stopping by, looking for seed. In Fort Wayne, bright green daffodil tips were poking up through the dirt and Finn was chasing chipmunks and geese. He reminds me so much of Buster—small dog, big personality, such joie de vivre. But, like Buster, he’s also very much his own self.

The fountain at the Detroit airport.

Well, I’m working on two candle orders, one for the food co-op in Marquette and one for a shop downstate. And settling back in after my time away. I hope you are well. Thank Penny for me, for reading this to you. Did you celebrate with Jennifer on her birthday? Do you remember how old she is? My gosh, hard to believe, I know. We’re probably all old enough now to start forgetting.

Much love to you,


Sunday, March 23, 2014

traveling with a BB in a boxcar

“I’m not sure the guy even existed.”

I am in a motel room in Golden, Colorado, and Louis is telling me about his grandfather who, before coming to America, was a sheep herder in Italy. He could talk, Louis says, on and on. For hours. Telling stories of various things. Of old-timers. Of invaders. Of legends. Of Giuseppe Musolino. Louis had started out talking about The Iliad and The Odyssey. The guy who may not have existed is Homer.

Heading out on a morning walk; the air is cool and dry. A warm sun climbs through a broad sky. It is calm, temperature in the 40s, the first day of spring. Later, with a borrowed bike, I head out to the desert beyond a red concrete wall on the edge of a housing development. It looks kind of like a vacant lot. Something was to be built here, but then it was not.

Part of this tract is protected by a low fence that seems not so much a barrier as a polite suggestion; I could step through if I wanted to. But that area is being preserved, a restoration of wildlife. I follow a faint road along the fence, going as far as I want, then turn back. The sun grows hot.

A recurring life lesson: If I took things less seriously, things would be less serious.

Also, I only give pieces of the story.

But for that there is a reason: I only know pieces of the story. I think about that at night, not while walking in the desert.

Out in the desert, I see flowers, scrubby plants, broken bottles, plastic bags, plastic bottles, rocks, twisted trees, clumps of wire, scraps of cloth, cable, dried up dog shit, jagged boards, bees, a desert quail.

I hear the quail before I see him. He softly peeps a short string of peeps then stretches his neck, throws back his head, lets loose a call.

Later—I think the same day—I will go to a casino and bet on the Cubs to win the 2014 World Series. I will get a receipt on which it says “$10 to win $550.” I cannot lose. I have had the pleasure of betting on that which I love, a dusty, ridiculous, mothball of a dream.

Back to the motel room in Golden, Colorado
I went to Las Vegas in order to drive to the Upper Peninsula with Louis and Finnigan. The first night we stopped in Beaver, Utah, where we happened upon the Surewood Forest Candle Company. The owner told us he used to live and work in Vegas. He was a dancer, a choreographer, worked with the likes of Sammy Davis, Jr. and Juliet Prowse. Now retired, he and his wife have this gift shop in Beaver where they make candles, molding many by hand, shaping the wax with their thumbs. Some of the candles glow in the dark.

A long time ago, when I was a kid, a cousin said something about my sister’s brain rattling around in her head like a BB in a boxcar. It is the kind of comment that sticks with you, and it is an apt description for how Finn, a lovable mixed-up terrier, behaves in a vehicle. That first day on the road, he bounced around the truck like a BB in a boxcar. Fortunately, it wore him out. The next day he slept.

Both days of travel have been filled with fantastic scenery and vistas, ranges of rock in battleship formation, piles of mountains draped in ski slopes of snow. I do some of the driving, but mostly I am just along for the ride.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

television! and for all you cub fans: the sandberg game

If there’s one thing I learned on my recent trip beyond my own borders, it’s that everyone has got their television. They’ve got TV for sports, for movies, for Italian murder mysteries, for Downton Abbey, for fancy award shows. They’ve got TV for stock reports and financial news. They’ve got TV for everything under the sun and beyond the moon, and it comes through cable, magic boxes, the stratosphere. You can manipulate it with devices that record it, fast forward it, rewind it, even stop it in its tracks.

I love my new TV.

So as soon as I got home, I got myself a TV. And that old tank that’s been out in the garage since the great move of 2011 was hauled off to Vinnie’s (the one in L’Anse, in case you’re interested) for resale (hey, it still has its remote and that $40 converter thingie that was all the rage around 2010 or whenever it was that we had that great, forced, mass conversion from an analog world to a digital one). From that same garage I hauled in an ancient DVD/VCR player, plugged it into my new TV and into the wall, and it works.

I have rejoined the human race.

Now I spend mass amounts of time trying to figure out how to get programming on my new TV—all the shows, movies, sports, and news that I want, when I want it, how I want it, and at the price I want. Not having had a television for the past couple of years, I am really stupid about all this stuff. That’s probably why I bought a “smart” TV—I figured if it was smart enough, it would figure it all out for me. But so far, all that has really changed is that I now watch Netflix on a 29-inch TV screen rather than on a 15-inch computer screen.

Don’t get me wrong—that makes a big difference. Especially since I had to rearrange the living room to accommodate the TV and that spurred me to finally recover that old 57-cent rocker I got at the Goodwill a couple of years back. That was a fun project, and I’d been meaning to get to it for such a long time. And I got rid of the lamp with the busted shade and found, at my favorite antiques place in Ishpeming, a black cast iron and steel floor lamp with a glass shade. I got a new rug, so all in all, I am quite happy with the my new TV.

New old lamp, recovered rocker, and the new rug,
which looks exactly like the old rug.

But now I want more. I want baseball, and as best as I can tell, I have two choices. I can either pay for a satellite service and get some channels that broadcast baseball once in a while, or I can subscribe to MLB.TV, which may not even be an option, because I don’t think I bought the smartest TV on the block. To get MLB.TV on my TV, I might have to buy one of those magic boxes. So. Is it worth it?

One thing I know: it’s going to take time to figure out. My experience with HuluPlus tells me that. Its icon is on my smart TV and there was a one-week free trial so I signed up. There went some lost hours. I watched Jimmy Fallon’s inaugural opening monologue on the new Tonight Show over and over trying to get past the first set of commercials (after the first set of commercials the TV would go blank, dead, kaput, and who the heck wants commercials anyway?) and doing techie things that the pleasant HuluPlus help people suggested, impressing even myself with my ability to do these things, but I always approach it as if it is no more difficult than the Hokey Pokey and that seems to work, but whatever that last thing was, well, I don’t know, I didn’t do it. I didn’t shake it about. It just wasn’t worth it. I canceled HuluPlus and resumed watching movies and shows on Netflix. (I highly recommend “The Dalton Girls” and am stunned that “A Gun is My True Love” didn’t win the Oscar that year for best song.)

The thing is, I grew up in the Chicago area during a time when TV was free. We had CBS, NBC, ABC, a local PBS station, and WGN, which broadcast every Cub game, home and away, no matter where it was played, even on the moon, which I’ve heard is the locale for next year’s Opening Day. On top of that we had 26, 32, and 44, and indeed, at one time you needed a little aerial gizmo thing on top of the television set to get these UHF stations, and how my dad loved monkeying with those antennas! About as much as he loved monkeying with the other controls on the TV, those little knobs that adjusted the horizontal and vertical holds, the color, the brightness … Dad! It’s fine! Leave it alone! we would shout as suddenly “Bonanza” or “I Spy” or “My Favorite Martian” went all zig-zag and Hoss and Little Joe caromed from too red to too green. Of course there was that one episode with the leprechauns … 

I suppose by today’s standards eight channels seems paltry, but hey, they were free.

Of course, I remember a few years back I did have satellite TV. I would sit down many a night to watch, just clicking through channels, mumbling something about there being nothing on.

Ai yi yi. There is not one free station I can pick up here in Pelkie, Michigan.

This picture has nothing to do with anything, but it has a pretty flower in it,
and right now we are in need of flowers up here in the U.P.

On my travels, I learned not only of wondrous things like magic boxes and DVR, I heard complaints about cable companies and costs and mix-ups and screw-ups and all that should have led me to research the television world of today before walking into Walmart and plunking down cash for a new TV plucked off the shelf merely for its pixels and supposed smartness. But then again, it hooked up to Netflix and YouTube without a hitch, and that was good. So much of what I watch is old anyway. I’ve been re-enjoying “The Twilight Zone”series (see post from a couple of weeks ago), and on YouTube I found a classic from 1957: “The James Dean Story.”

But I want baseball, and I know I’m going to have to pay for it—no more idyllic afternoons watching for free—and I know I’m going to have to spend time figuring out the options. But … hey, hey. Wait a minute. I’ve got myself a smart-ass TV, right? So. Well. Why not? I think I’ll go watch that Sandberg Game again. It’s got Harry and Lou on the radio dubbed in, making it even better than the original NBC Game of the Week broadcast, though I’ve got nothing against Bob Costas.

We pick it up in the 7th inning, and soon … This crowd is going bananas! 

And I am thankful that Harry, below, in a Crackerjack mood, has been preserved, because so often that which truly matters simply vanishes.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

sheep and coyotes, which is code for weather and weather and more weather and keeping track of coyotes and sheep

Monday morning was cold.

My favorite thermometer is from a place in Missouri where
I worked for a while when I should have been going to school
earning a diploma so I could get a job.
All I got was this thermometer.

By Tuesday afternoon, things were better.

A near 50-degree difference: worthy of contemplation.

Wednesday morning we slid back, and I thanked God—or whoever is in charge of these things—for a furry little heater named Elliott.

At the National Suffolk Sheep Association I entered registration
data on Suffolk sheep. I was an office temp working for Kelly Girl.
They are the ones who got me involved with the sheep.
I should have been going to journalism school.

But still, all week I have been walking on the river. I am not the only one.

How many coyotes are there?

Going down the riverbank in snowshoes and snowsuit in snow anywhere from one to three feet deep is pretty easy and kind of fun. Coming back up is a different story.

But coyotes seem to have no problem; they leave such a neat trail.

There are so many stories. Or maybe it is just one with variations. Going down, coming up, going up, coming down.

What I see here is two coyotes
bounding side by side
down the river.

I have yet to see open water, though I hear it gurgling here and there underneath the ice and the snow. It sounds like a bathtub draining behind closed doors.

Sometimes I sit, lean back, look at the sky.

There are tracks there, too.

Thursday the water line froze, the tricky part that runs snuggled up against the cold west wall of the crawlspace, and while I coaxed it to warmth with a heat gun I lightly cursed the plumbers who had put it there rather than, well, maybe somewhere else? Away from the coldest wall? Elliott was delighted that the big hole in the cabin floor was open, and after it closed, he pawed at the rug covering where it had been.

All week, I have been watching the moon waxing halfway to full. On starry nights it sits in the upper left corner of the window as I drift off to sleep and later slips down across the window falling into trees. Starry nights let the cold in; snowy nights keep it out. But then sunny days are warmer than snowy days. Or so it seems.

This can’t be my thermometer. Must be that sister sheep,
somewheres out there in California.
Hmmm. Just 50 degrees warmer than here.
Worthy of contemplation.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

deedlie bum bum: in the twilight zone in search of pearls

Wednesday night I went out on the porch to get the ash bucket and heard coyotes howling. I stopped to listen, thought it might be wolves, hoping, I suppose, that it was wolves, but then the noise became an undulating music, a somewhat maniacal medley that can only be coyotes letting loose, coyotes talking and yakking and howling and cracking up all at once. It came from the river, all up and down it. It was softened slightly by a veil of snow.

Here’s a pile of snow.

Thursday the high temperature was zero, and it was sunny. I walked to the river and saw the coyotes’ prints trailing up and down its middle. There was one place where separate paths converged like threads coming together in a knot, and I wondered if the dogs had all come together, pawing at the ice, searching for water. I saw no open spots of water from any of the various vantage points along my 500 feet or so of river, and usually there are a few open spots, particularly at the bend where the river swirls around a sometimes island and a mass of trees that have slid down the bank.

I took pictures until the camera froze.

Here’s my front walk.

Thursday night I awoke at one-thirty and got up at three. It was 25 below zero. The cabin was cold. It was still and clear; when I went out on the porch to bring in another armload of wood the stars were brilliant. Elliott and I sat by the fire huddled under blankets. He had had a spell of craziness, running in circles up in the loft, but now he was settled. Occasionally a loud pop from outside startled us both as wood contracted or expanded, I don’t know which, nor why it makes such a crack like a shotgun. Each loud crack unsettled Elliott, sent him off to a hidden spot, but only for ten minutes or so.

I watched an episode of The Twilight Zone, and there was Ron Howard. From 1959, Season One, Episode Five.

Here are leftover ’shoe prints from Wednesday.

I worked on the orphan train story, which has gone off to places I did not expect, and the mass of words becomes a tangle, the knot I paw at. Over the years I have fretted so much over whose story is this? and now writing through it, it is just my story. Perhaps as a writer this is my failure, or maybe it’s my strength.

I wrote some emails, mostly about it being 25 below. This kind of weather always get a good reaction from my sisters, and Friday (which Thursday night eventually became) was no different. It was good to hear from them that there is rain in southern California.

Here’s my driveway.

Friday the temperature climbed above zero, went from -25 to almost 10 in just a few hours, and without sun that seems no small feat. Yes, it was cloudy. Grey. I tried to sleep, but could not. Late in the day it snowed, a drizzly looking, sifting snow. I opened a can of chicken noodle soup for dinner—a hearty variety—and watched another episode of The Twilight Zone.

“You are about to meet a hypochondriac. … ”

Not to mention the devil.

“About my soul. You say I won’t miss it?”

Now why would a hypochondriac seek immortality? And once he’s got it, why would he go around throwing himself under trains and buses and then drink poison, trying to kill himself. For this he sold his soul? The episode has that twilight-zoney underlay of humor but overall, for me, the episode fell flat.

“A little man with such a yen to live.
Beaten by the devil, by his own boredom,
and by the scheme of things, in this,
The Twilight Zone.”

The chicken soup heated on the woodstove and let loose a delicious aroma. I tossed in some croutons and ate. Another episode began, about man and loneliness. It was filmed at Desolation Canyon in Death Valley, because the desert, I guess, looks a lot like an asteroid.

Outside the snowflakes grew large. They swirled, they danced.

Here’s a little picture made by snow and wind.

Earlier in the week I’d been reminded of a guitar hanging in a nursery somewhere out there in the desert, and it brought to mind a favorite lullaby my mother used to sing. I searched for it on YouTube, found it, was surprised. My mother had sung a simple little ditty with just a few words bordering on the nonsensical. What I found was a full-fledged song, sung by Nick Lucas, who, it turns out, was the man who inspired Tiny Tim. In the mid-1990s, I saw Tiny Tim perform in Chicago at a North Side bar. I still have a CD recorded at the event. My ex-mother-in-law loved Tiny Tim, and I remember she got one of those CDs, maybe for her birthday, or Christmas. But Tiny Tim didn’t sing the deedlie-bum-bum song, this favorite lullaby of mine that had also been remembered in January, on my mother’s birthday, as my sisters and I sat at a table with her having lunch. (Tiny Tim did, however, sing “Highway to Hell.” It is on the CD.) Someone asked my mother if she had any pearls of wisdom to share, her being 94 and all, and she said no, she had dropped all her pearls long ago. So we picked our brains in search of those pearls and I thought of this lullaby and how she would sing, “Open your heart, let the music in.”

Twenty-three below this morning; same predicted for tonight. Yikes. Is this really March? Or is this just the scheme of things, in this, The Twilight Zone.