Sunday, June 29, 2014

california, saturday night, hummus & wine, my mom

On a plate: sliced apple, half an avocado, smoked Jersey jack cheese, garbanzo beans in the pod. To the side of the plate: a small tub of wasabi ginger hummus and a glass of red wine.

The back door is open, there is no screen, there are no bugs. Well, maybe a few. I see a dark spider across the room making its lazy way down a white wall. I sit on a sofa with legs up, stretched out, looking out the back door. This is my sister’s house. Gentle breezes come in open windows. It is warm and dry, the same temperature inside as out. From outside come soft voices of children, perhaps playing next door or two doors down, and this makes the little white poodle curled up at the opposite end of the sofa bark in soft, questioning bubbles. She soon gives it up, puts her head down, sleeps.

A fruit fly hovers. I make a slight motion with my hand. It disappears.

On the sofa by my side are two used, hardcover books. Each cost two dollars at a store down the street and over a block or two. One is “The Dangerous Summer” by Ernest Hemingway and the other is “Papa Hemingway” by A. E. Hotchner. A couple of days ago I bought other books, including a collection of Hemingway critiques published in 1961.

What is the coincidence of when a writer enters your life?

There is one garbanzo bean per pod. I enjoy popping a pod, eating a bean. It wasn’t long ago I was thinking about garbanzo beans and wondering about their situation. I mean: How are they grown? Where do they grow? Can you eat them raw? I bought a dollar’s worth of beans at the farmers market from the guy who grows the beans and makes the hummus. Buster loved garbanzo beans.

I am minding two small white poodles for the week along with a cat. The poodles and I are tired from our afternoon walk. Plus, earlier I walked through a vintage car show that is also down the block, over about three, maybe four. Some cars were painted bright, Popsicle colors. Vintage music played over some loudspeakers. No one danced. One of the cars reminded me of Josie.

vintage car

Off to the side in a concrete lot was a small craft fair where I found solar-powered hula girls, and there was a flea market a block or two over.

solar-powered hula girls

Also off to the side were a funky motor home and a vintage Airstream Bubble, I think it was called a Bubble, maybe from 1953. Both were for sale. I was particularly interested and tried to imagine Josie, Elliott, and myself in either. If we take off, will it be in a motor home? I wonder: Will we take off?

Earlier in the day I saw my mother. For a few days I had been thinking of writing a piece called “Conversations with my Mother.”

Mom: You brought your computer. What are you working on?
Me: I’m trying to write a piece called “Conversations with my Mother.”
Mom: (A bunch of chuckling.)

I want to write down our conversations verbatim, but I do not have my recorder with me.

Me: Your bruise is looking better.
Mom: Oh, I’m glad. How did I get that?
Me: I don’t know.
Mom: I don’t either.

Talking to her is an exercise in repetition. Many of our conversations over the past few years have gone something like this.

Mom: Michigan. Is that where you live?
Me: Yes.
Mom: Pelkie?
Me: Yes.
Mom: Do you like it there?
Me: Sure. It’s OK.
Mom: What do you like about it?
Me: It’s quiet. Not too many people. Lots of woods, deer, that sort of thing.
Mom: And you like that?
Me: Yes.
Mom: Do you have neighbors?
Me: Yes.
Mom: Are they good neighbors?
Me: Yes.
Mom: Do you know people?
Me: Some.
Mom: Do you have friends?
Me: Yes.
Mom: Are you ever lonely?
Me: Yes.
Mom: But you like it there.
Me: Yes, most of the time.
Mom: You live in Michigan?
Me: Yes.

Today the old saw about truth being stranger than fiction came up, and my mother was asked if she believed it, believed truth to be stranger than fiction. She could not say, she said, for she did not know which was which.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

flight delay, so thinking of rose marie

I guess it was Friday’s all-day, 50-degree rain that canceled my Saturday morning flight out of Hancock. Or maybe it wasn't the rain but the thick cloud of mosquitoes that the plane due to come in Friday night couldn’t get through. Whatever the reason, if the Friday night flight doesn’t make it in, there’s no plane to get you out Saturday morning. You get a midnight call telling you this. You wait for the next flight out, which is the Saturday afternoon flight, hoping, of course, that the midday flight makes it in. Braves the rain. Ignores the mosquitoes. So you have a plane. To get out.

So it is Saturday morning, still raining, 45 degrees, and I’m not going anywhere, yet. I take this time to wonder, once again, at what age Rose Marie was doing The Dick Van Dyke Show, playing Sally Rogers, a multi-talented, successful working woman, a comedy writer, whose big shtick is that she's dying to get married. She just can’t find a fella. For a while, there’s Herman Glimscher, but he comes packaged with his mother, who is a bit large, and Herman is kind of a marshmallow.

With nothing much else to do, I google Rose Marie and find out she was born August 15, 1923. So she would have turned 40 about the second or third season of the show.

After the fourth season, Marie’s husband, Bobby Guy, a trumpeter, died. On, in an interview on a page titled “Rose & the Rat Pack,” Marie talks about how hard his death was, how she did not want to return to Dick Van Dyke for the fifth season, and about a guest spot on The Dean Martin Show that she did not want to do. After her husband died, she said, she felt she could no longer sing. But she did. She returned for the fifth season of Dick Van Dyke and for Dean Martin she sang “Little Girl Blue.”

The Dick Van Dyke Show makes me laugh, over and over again. And it seems to me that Sally Rogers—or is it Rose Marie?—is quite an interesting woman.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

by any other name, he is just josie

Josie has arrived. He settled right in.


Elliott was miffed, perhaps a bit disgusted. But he’s coming around. If only Josie would stop trying to play, trying to chase, trying to have a little undignified fun, then everything would be OK.

The plan is: keep him at arm’s length.

Josie arrived last Saturday and the only trouble was settling on a name. Henry, Oliver, Abner, Ebenezer, Rizzo, Satchmo, Sancho, Floyd … to name a few. Then we latched on to Josie, a name I didn’t much like but which seemed to fit and which, for a brief time, became “Jonesy.” My sister said maybe I was having a brain wrinkle. The first dog I knew was “Joey.” Indeed, this past week has felt warped. The wild columbine and trefoil are blooming. The grass is a foot high. It feels cold, then warm, is dry, then wet; mosquitoes are the talk of the town. And  I say “Goldie” every time I mean to say “Elliott.” Goldie was the cat who a hundred years ago helped me raise Buster. Or was that just yesterday?

The Oliver stage.

My mother said “Josie” sounds like a girl.

Late entrants in the name game were Ernie and Bobby D.

But Josie sticks.

The spelling drove me nuts. Should it be Josie, Josey, or Joesy? How about … Josy? For a while it was Joe Z. And it’s fun to call him “Joisie,” like he’s from Jersey, maybe a cast-off from a Broadway play, but, in the end, officially anyway, I think’s he’s just Josie.

Yes, this is Josie.

Josie is spirited, bright, fun-loving and loving. He is also like Velcro, stuck to my side. If he is awake, there is a 98% chance that his tail is wagging. At times, this makes his whole body move. He prances when he walks and hops when he runs. In a single hop he can leap tall grass and wildflowers. He knows the words “sit” and “outside?” and is learning “stay,” “come,” “go home,” “Moosey,” and “Mr. Racoon,” the latter two being his stuffed squeaky toys. (Mr. Raccoon is, by far, the favorite.) He may know words that I don’t know.

Josie and Mr. Raccoon.

Josie is maybe a year and a half old, maybe 10 or 12 pounds. His coat, for the most part, is short, sleek, the color of rust. Around his neck, muzzle, and midpoint on his tail his coat is long, rough, and somewhat the color of amber. Six or so of these lighter, longer hairs sprout from the top of his head. But they lie flat—he is not Alfalfa. Some of these longer, rougher hairs make a faint jaunt down his spine, ending in a rough patch at the base of his tail. It is fun to stroke his back, and he likes it, too. Josie has triangular flap ears, a black nose, short and sturdy legs, a long body. The folks at the shelter believe him to be a cairn terrier mix. I think maybe with a dash of dachshund. At night, he burrows under the covers, snuggles into my side. Sometimes, he brings Mr. Raccoon along.

All these pictures, you’d think he was the cutest dog
in the world or something.

One afternoon it was warm and sunny and breezy enough that the mosquitoes were cowed so Josie and I went down to the river. The deep frost of winter caused one area of our high bank to lose a lot of ground, and the ground fell in such a way as to make a switchback trail. We zigzagged down and sat by the water. I sat, Josie explored. He stood in the water up to his chest. He would stretch out one front paw or another, tap the water, let the paw sink, draw it back. This stirred up some muck, and bits of debris swirled atop the now murky water. Josie pawed at these bits, snatched at them with his mouth, sunk his muzzle into the murk, drew it back. Once in a while as he moved along the water’s edge a leg would sink into the muck and he would watch it disappear, then pull it out. The sun and breeze felt nice. The water flowed and swirled, up against the bank it was nearly still. Josie did not want to leave—the Velcro loosens just a bit—but then he came along at a quick hop.

Josie finds home.

Officially, Josie is my foster dog. It is the way it must be for the next few weeks. But then we’ll make a lifelong pact and celebrate. We’ll chase butterflies and deer, Moosey and Mr. Raccoon, and we’ll even chase Elliott, with dignity, of course. (Bah!) We’ll run around the yard in circles and hops then flop on our backs, roll in the grass. We’ll explore the river and explore each day and at night we’ll burrow under the covers, dream of the next day, and maybe, even, the day after that.

For a while, I really did want to call him Hank.

The matchmakers who brought Josie and I together are at
Our many thanks.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

a pea picklin’ diary to start off june with billie joe, handwriting, a rooftop memory, and ... who’s this?

Rain falls and I feel protected.
Rain falls and I feel assured.
Rain falls, mosquitoes rejoice.
Rain falls and rainbows occur.

Shall I search for my pot of gold?

Rain falls.

Not a drop in the sky. All green and blue and the yellow of dandelions. A little white and pink as apple trees bloom. Cool and sharp, all squeaky clean. Mosquitoes reign.

I receive a letter in the mail. I went to the post office to post a letter to a friend and found in my box a letter from a friend. Handwriting! I know that handwriting! It has come from another part of the U.P. I wonder what she has sent? Boy, she has the neatest handwriting in the world.

handwriting on envelope

And, now that I think of it, the friend I just sent a letter to also has neat handwriting.

handwriting on envelope

On the other hand, my handwriting is nothing to write home about.

note to mom

But what’s in the envelope? Aha! A newspaper article! Clipped (neatly) from the Mining Journal. Oh, what memories! Both my mother and my father were scissor-happy, article-clipping, “must send this to so-and-so” people. The articles would sit on the corner of a desk until enough had accumulated or it was simply time to mail a letter and then off the articles would go, stuffed into an envelope, the envelope addressed, stamped, eventually delivered through the U.S. mail. I’m sure my sisters received many more of these packets of info and love than I did, living off in California as they did and do, but I received my share during the few years I lived off in Wisconsin or Missouri, and even when I lived close by occasional envelopes stuffed with newspaper clippings would show up in my mailbox. Clippings about dogs, the Cubs, people I might have once known or still knew, often funny, rarely serious, except, oh yes, during those many years I was a smoker and my mother clipped and sent every article about the dangers of smoking, the cost of smoking, the benefits of quitting smoking, and I eventually came to realize that one of the benefits of quitting smoking for me was that I would no longer have to suffer receiving these gobs of articles that were pointing out how stupid I was to be a smoker. As if I didn’t know. Maybe I didn’t.

But other than that, the articles were always about the recipient’s interests, not the sender’s. No doubt the last articles from my father had to do with the U.P., and I’m fairly certain the last article my mom sent had to do with honeybees. Sometimes, of course, our interests overlapped, and many of the articles over the years had to do with that hapless-but-sometimes-great Chicago baseball team: the Cubs.

But what’s in today’s envelope? What’s this clipping from the Mining Journal all about? Ha! The Cubs! It’s an AP article that, with pictures, looks like it took up about half a page. The headline: Non baseball baseball rivalry: Cubs and rooftop owners.

Another old story with another new twist. It seems almost every story that has to do with the Cubs is an old one. Hairy old tales that not only grow a little every year but also shrink until they are like wizened, whiskered, balding, bent, decrepit old men cackling away in a corner. You try to ignore them, but can’t. You try to make light of them, but can’t. They are so absurd, so demanding of attention, so unable to take care of themselves with any shred of dignity, you wonder: How has it come to this? How has it possibly all come to this?

In the article I read something about a dozen or more rooftop venues and millions of dollars and lawsuits and aldermen and tradition and progress and he said / she said and … blah blah blah. (I know you’re wondering: Anything about that goat curse?)

I’m not going to give you the history of this rooftop business vs. Wrigley Field, except for this: I used to live on the 3600 block of Sheffield Avenue in Chicago in one on those apartment buildings across from the right-field bleachers. I think it was 1980. I had two roommates and there were lots of mice. To get to the rooftop you had to go to the third floor back porch (we lived on the second floor), climb up a ladder, push open a heavy hatch door, and then, yikes!, scurry across black tar to get to the front of the building from where, yes, you could peek into Wrigley Field. This activity was strictly forbidden by our landlord, who, by the way, promised one day to do something about the mice. About the rooftop, he made it clear that no one except for himself (and maybe his friends) were allowed.

Bah. Who cares.

My friend and I sneaked up there just once, for just a bit. The roof was this broad, flat expanse of black sticky tar and it was incredibly uncomfortable, hot, and smelly. A game was in progress, of course, but our view was lousy. And we got caught. We figured we had got caught on camera—were on TV—because we were barely off the roof before our landlord, who lived elsewhere, showed up and confronted us. As if we were criminals or something. Yeah, well, what about the mice, fella?

For all you youngsters out there, that’s the way rooftops were back in the good old days. And who needed them? Bleacher tickets cost all of $2 and you could show up at game time and skip the hot tar, skip the hassle, skip confrontation.

In her incredibly neat handwriting, my friend from elsewhere in the U.P. wrote: Go Tigers!! Now, I ask you, was that really necessary?

baseball standings June 2014

My sister sent me a link, which takes the place of a newspaper clipping, which is, in its own way, more fun, because sometimes you get a music video.

The third of June is not only the day that Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge, it’s the day I once got married. A few years later, June 3 was the day my dog Dandy died. It’s all a little creepy. But that’s not why Penny sent the link. While last in California, she and Jim and I got into a dinner table discussion that somehow brought up names like Bobbie Joe and Billie Jean and Jim Bob and Peggy Sue and who knows why and what all, but that led to googling “Ode to Billie Joe.”

By the way, the lyrics to “Fancy,” another Bobbie Gentry song, are also very interesting.

Just another gorgeous, sunny day here in the U.P. The air is rich with the scent of late spring, early summer. Grass, new-mown grass, dandelions, chives, petunias, and the most aromatic of all—chokecherry blossoms.

Dum-de-dum-dum. Decision made.

Just the usual rain and farmers market. But wait … who’s this?

sleeping dog
Welcome, whoever you are.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

at long last, wolves

For several nights I had been falling asleep to the music of barking. The barking was mixed with soft yelps and howls set against a background of yodeling peepers.

In the middle of the night I would wake to the same, though less of the peepers and more of the barks, yelps, and howls. Then, one morning, behind the birdsong, still, there was the barking.

One evening I heard the barking and walked to the river. The barking seemed to come from directly across the river where there are woods and a neighbor I have never met. If you cross the river via the road you’ll see a dirt drive with a thick steel cable strung across it. Also, there is a “For Sale” sign on a post, but not now. It was knocked down by a snowplow this winter. A “No Hunting” sign is tacked to a tree. Several hundred yards farther up the road you come to a dirt road and down it there are a few houses.

I returned to the cabin, got in the van, drove across the river, stopped at the driveway barred by the cable. I heard the barking. It was faint. I drove up to the dirt road and down it a bit, stopped, could not hear the barking. I turned around and drove back to the barred driveway. I pulled off the road, left the van, stepped over the cable, started walking.

Woods grow tall on either side of the drive. It is a thick, tangled woods of mostly maple, birch and poplar, just now leafing out, and cedar, spruce, with a bit of pine. As I walked, the dog continued barking, and the barking grew louder.

I had decided it was a dog because it sounded like a dog. Maybe it was a coyote, but it was different from the crazy howling and yipping I often hear and assume to be coyotes. I have seen coyotes loping through my fields, and people tell me if it’s yipping you hear, it’s coyote. Wolves howl. If you hear a wolf, people tell me, you know it. So I always think: coyotes. But this was sounding more and more like a dog. And dogs have been much in my life lately, on my mind. I walk a few at the shelter each week (and, by the way, “Alfie” has been adopted; I wish her all the best), and the other day Louis sent me an email describing waking up that morning with three dogs in his bed. One had her head on his chest, one lay across his feet, and one was pressed up against his side. I was so envious I forgot to make a crack about it being a three-dog night in Las Vegas. But with dogs on my mind, maybe this is why I was sure this barking in the woods was a dog, not a coyote, certainly not a wolf.

The south edge of the drive was gooey with mud. I noticed a large dog print in the mud, a print maybe four inches across. Big enough to be a wolf, I thought. I continued walking, continued hearing the barking. There were a few mosquitoes, but not enough to bother me. If it had been the following night, I would not have gone out. The mosquitoes the following night were so thick I was nearly catatonic.

I kept walking. I saw a clearing up ahead, a white rail fence, some hay bales in a large, mowed field. Then, on my left, a “For Sale” sign and a clearing. I turned into the clearing and kept walking. The barking seemed to come from the far end of the clearing, about 50 yards away, where there was a large clump of spruce. I kept walking, toward the trees, toward the river, then a large dog ran out from behind the trees, looked at me, ran on, away from me, into the woods. The dog was a wolf, and I think it is true that you know a wolf when you see one.

I have been one of these people intrigued by wolves since I was a teen-ager in the 1970s. Anything that had to do with saving animals was for me. Save the wolves, save the seals, save the whales, save them all. But wolves had more of a hook. They were, in a way, dogs, and they were the ancestors of the dogs I fed and walked and played with and loved. Wolves were wild dogs. Wolves were beautiful. They had strong families, though some were alone. They lived in woods, they lived on mountainsides. They were the stuff of mythology, but they were also just dogs. They lived by instinct and wit. They howled and sang to the moon. They played in the snow. They were elusive, but they could be captured. They could be killed. People seemed to love them or hate them, to label them either holy or evil. They were supposed to be scary, but to me they were not. I never confused the big bad wolf of fairy tales and nursery rhymes with real wolves. Real wolves did not blow down houses to get at cute little pigs, nor did they dress up in my grandmother’s clothing to get at me. Unlike people, wolves never dressed up in anyone else’s clothing for any reason, rather, they were just what they were, wolves. And I remember thinking that to see a wolf would be to see something pretty magnificent.

When the wolf ran out from behind the spruce, I stopped walking. A second wolf appeared. She looked at me, dashed back behind the trees. She reappeared, disappeared. Reappeared, disappeared. I began to realize where I was. I was in the presence of wolves, for the first time in my life. I turned and walked away.

I did not hear the wolves that night, or the next, or any night after. After seeing them, all the night noise stopped. I would lie in bed after turning off a ballgame and just listen to quiet. No peepers. No wolves. No coyotes. No dogs. Just mosquitoes. I would watch thousands of mosquitoes latch onto the screen door, like a quilt, their tiny bodies backlit by the lingering evening light.

One morning after an overnight temperature in the thirties, the mosquitoes were not so bad. I took my camera down to the river. (The camera is not broken after all, it was just a battery problem.) I took some pictures from atop the bank, then walked down a gentle sandy slope where fiddlehead ferns are coming up and took more pictures from the river’s edge. Behind me I heard a splash. I turned, saw a wolf leaping up the opposite bank. I snapped a shot. I walked up the bank, returned to where I had first been standing, across from where the wolf had been, and took a picture of where the wolf had been, and the wolf, who apparently had stopped still at the top of the bank, ran off into the woods. I never saw him, or her, standing still, just moving. It seems to me the wolf should be in these pictures, but he is not.

The first shot after I heard the splash.

The wolf is somewhere there, on the top of the bank.

Last year, amid much protest, Michigan held a wolf hunt. Gray wolves had been protected in the state since 1965. In 1974, they became protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act. All that began to change in the early 2000s, and finally last year in Michigan a wolf hunt eliminated, harvested, killed (choose your own word) 22 wolves, all in the Upper Peninsula, 19 from the western U.P., where I live. In an interesting twist, one of the farmers who had had the most trouble with wolves, thus adding support to the argument for the hunt, was charged with cruelty to animals. It had to do with how he treated the donkeys the state had given him to help protect his cows from wolves.

It seems to me everybody thinks they know all about wolves. They are evil. They are good. They are innocuous. They are a menace. All my neighbors have seen one or more, and most have a story to tell, though it is often a story they have heard from someone else. After seeing the wolves across the river, I was curious about what my Animal Energies book had to say. Among other things:
Wolf medicine can teach you to have a balance between your family’s needs for you and your needs for you. Wolves are totally loyal to the pack, but do not give up their identity to the pack. If Wolf has come into your life in some fashion, you are being asked to look at where you are being too dependent and where you may be too independent. In both family and community, there needs to be a balance between me and us. Wolf can help you learn this.
I took my camera down to the river again the next morning. Temperatures were climbing and the overnight low had done nothing to deter the mosquitoes. I hunkered down, covered in protective clothing, but the little bugs bit through my jeans and socks so I soon gave it up. Back at the cabin, Elliott was waiting on the porch. We went inside, and I got back to making candles.