Sunday, April 26, 2015

opie & the dark side of mayberry, canyon falls, soviet hockey: a peek at my brain when it’s feeling good

I am feeling good these days. Surely the mere act of it, the audacity of it, not to mention the public stating of it, tempts fate. Next week, later today, maybe tomorrow, I will be taken down a peg or two, brought back to Earth, given my comeuppance, reminded: Don’t be so cocky.

On the trail to Canyon Falls.

Who do you think you are?

A little dog heading off into the woods?

But meanwhile.

Last week was a lot like summer, this week a lot like winter. So, next week, spring? But this is spring. Yes, this is spring. Daffodils and snow. Baseball and snow balls. Ticks in the hair. Fires in the stove. Waterfalls.


Always when I am feeling good I have these epiphanies. These revelations. Grand thoughts. Ah, yes. Now I see. From here on out, smooth sailing. Yippee!

Rough waters ahead.

This week it had something to do with realizing the great divide between what one wants and what is, and how that relates to a disconnect (and perhaps discontent?) with reality and the proverbial spinning of the wheels and how not getting what you think you want can lead to feeling bad, and that led me to mulling over an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show,” which eventually led to … well, the question now is, I think: Have you ever wondered at what point that which you imagine becomes more important than reality? Becomes, in a way, a greater and more urgent reality. Because whenever we want something, at first, usually, we can only imagine it, and then if you spend too much time imagining it, thinking about it, maybe dreaming or fantasizing about it (the terms blur, don’t they), aren’t you soon lost in a world that is not real?

Wait a minute …  what’s not real? In my head it’s real!

And what a lot of time we spend on these things that are only in our heads! At least, I do. Or did. Because then I thought, What if, instead, I simply spend time on reality?

It seemed to clear up so many things, and I feel good about it.

Because reality can be so interesting.

But I’m sure you’re wondering about that episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.” It’s the one where young Opie befriends a kid who has just moved to Mayberry. This kid may be from The Big City or The Future or Something Like That because he’s somewhat belligerent and he wants what he wants and he wants what he wants now. (In Mayberry, most folks are willing to sit on the front porch, let things be, and wait for the good stuff, like going down to the drugstore for a soda and later watching a little TV over at Thelma Lou’s … ). But, this kid, in order to get what he wants, ignores others, whines, pouts, throws wild tantrums, and, specifically, what he wants right now is his bike. He wants it back. It’s been taken away. The thing is, if he had been happy with his bike in the first place, he would still have it, because The Mayberry Sheriff’s Office would not have taken it away. Yes, Andy (or was it Barney?) took away this kid’s bike not only because he was riding it on the sidewalk causing Aunt Bee (or was it Thelma Lou?) to go “OH!” and spin and drop her groceries, but he had been warned not to do this or else … or else the bike would be taken away.

A beautiful spot.

Of course, what this kid really wants is to ride his bike on the sidewalk. If he just wanted his bike, well, he had that, didn’t he? (The whole episode could also be interpreted as this kid wanting attention, or discipline, or something, especially from his father, and of course one can also see that this kid works within a different reality from the one he has been plopped into, the so-called Mayberry reality. In one, NOBODY EVER TAKES AWAY MY BIKE. In the other, well, people do take away your bike and furthermore there are consequences, which we will get to in a bit.)

This kid—whose name I will not bother to remember—is a pain in the neck. He thinks he has it all figured out, and he shares his wisdom with Opie. Naturally, Opie soaks it up, takes it out for a test ride. Opie wants something—is it a nickel? his allowance? some other pittance? for no reason other than Hey, I am kid, your son, so HEY! let somebody else take out the garbage and empty the ash can for a nickel! I deserve a nickel just for being a kid!—and when Andy, his father, and you know, the Sheriff of Mayberry, looks at Opie like he’s losing his marbles, Opie throws a tantrum right there in the courthouse. He lies down and kicks and screams and holds his breath. Andy ignores him. Eventually Opie, perhaps tired from all the bawling and kicking and lack of oxygen, realizes Oh yeah, I’ve got it pretty good. What a sweet deal. A nickel for a bit of work. Aunt Bee cooking up all that apple pie and fried chicken. Fishing on Myers Lake with Pa and Barney. A teacher like Miss Crump (though at this point she may still be in Kansas City, getting into trouble with the law, remember that episode?). In the end, all is right with the world. The world of Mayberry, that is.

But what about that whiny kid? When his story ends, we are left with the strong feeling that his father is going to take him out behind the woodshed and finally, at last, spank him. Mayberry did, after all, have a dark side.

Near the trailhead to the falls.

You know, I’ve been that whiny kid. But I think I’m over it. Beat it out of me, ignore me, or just let time roll along with its revelations and epiphanies. Oh my. I’ve got a bike and all this space to ride it in. Right now I can’t even see where I can’t ride. I know it’s there, some verboten place, but for the moment that place is as unreal as, well, anything I can imagine. Sometimes, of course, those places are real and sometimes, of course, it is unfair and you have to push; you have to push against injustice. But me? My only prohibitions are the ones in my head.

So kind of a cold week, yes, and one snowy day I drive to Marquette for an appointment with my eye doctor. Between Negaunee and Marquette, a whiteout. Even though without my glasses the world is a blur, my eyes are healthy, or so the doctor says. He shows me an x-ray-like picture of each eye, explaining that the bright spot is where my brain comes in to connect to the optic nerve (or something like that). Wow.

“So that’s my brain?”


One hour and 13 minutes into “Of Miracles and Men,” a documentary about Soviet hockey, I see these sub-titles:
You have to understand the following: Revolutions give birth to romantics. The Soviet regime first appeared as a romantic notion. Then it transformed into fanaticism … Later, after the fanaticism, society became cynical. …
I know little about hockey, even less about Soviet hockey (though I confess more now than before), and what have I ever known about Russia and revolutions? But, I do know about romantic notions. And fanaticism. And, I believe, cynicism. Interesting how they all come together.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

home again, home again: a pea picklin’ diary

Morning clouds move swiftly across the sky. “Swiftly” being relative, swift only in relation to no movement at all. The tree branches, the beech and maple I see through the window, move not at all. How can that be? It is a light grey sky with masses of dark grey clouds moving swiftly west to east shedding rain. But the branches of the trees, clearly visible, only slightly nubby with buds, don’t move. Ah, there they go. Swaying slightly, back and forth.

Monday, later
The river has risen considerably over the past two or three days as temperatures stay above freezing. The snow in the woods is melting, running toward the river, joining the flow. By Sunday the small sandy beach we enjoyed on Saturday was gone, and this afternoon the water seems halfway up the bank or more.

“Halfway,” of course, being relative to where you are on the bank.

Watching the river from atop the bank, I see a large, dead tree pass by, caught in the flow. Its trunk is nearly black. Sparse, spiky branches stick up all around. It looks like a dragon, some archaic mythic creature, lying on its back, dead, swirling down the muddy river, legs sticking up, rigor mortis. Eventually it will reach the big still lake, settle along the marshy shore. A kingfisher will perch atop a branch, sing, watch for fish.

The dead tree catches for a moment on another tree lying prone in the water but rooted to the bank. The tangle loosens; the dragon moves on.

I notice Josie has gamboled down the bank. He is wading in a calm muddy pool alongside the swirling snowmelt. He is watching the dragon.

In other news, fresh catnip emerges.

I spent the morning writing, garbled prose, to be sure, but it was a pleasure and I know the point is simply to do it.
What has hit me overwhelmingly since arriving home is a sense of freedom.
It is part of my new schedule, a routine I hope to develop and maintain, because I am now convinced that if one wants a good life, one must keep a good routine. Josie concurs.

Josie’s routine includes rolling in the grass.
Before leaving in September to spend time in California, many things had become overwhelming. Solitude had become loneliness. Hard work had become just more hard work. What I saw as lack of diversion and limited options had become oppressive. I was remembering another life I used to lead and missing it, convinced it was an easier life, a better life for me, what fool throws it away? …

But the luck I have had. To drive here and there, to and fro, back and forth. To be able to return home this time, to come home, to see the frost on the ground and watch it sparkle as the sun rises.

… Time and again the quiet, the woods, the night sky, the song of the peepers, the flowing water, the hummingbirds, the deer, even crazy long-legged bugs, have consoled me. This very landscape consoles me. …
Josie went with me to the post office, and in my box I found a letter from a friend. I read the letter while sitting on the porch, drinking tea, and for those few moments I was transported to the streets of New York City, the shops, the cafes, even a few of his old dusty memories and one shiny future moment, a fantasy, the likes of which I think we all cook up once in a while, a vision that in a moment encapsulates a lifetime, the life we think we will wish we had led. I wonder if that’s where déjà vu comes from. You have been here before, in a thought you once created. Scents and sounds and tastes and a light, chilly mist and my own memories and futures welled up as I sat in the sun on the porch feeling warm, reading. I reached the end of the letter, looked up, saw hundreds of geese flying northeast in several jagged vees, honking all the way.

Yes, them peepers are back a’peepin’ up a storm.

I woke thinking how nice it would be if I were waking up in a nice suburban home—my suburban home—with no question of what to do today but to get up, go to work, do my job, go home, walk the dog, watch TV, forget about it. Then, every two weeks, regular as daybreak, money arrives in the bank account.

Josie by the riverside.

Diffused inspiration. All week I have been working on something that I now sense is going nowhere. Was that the point? Maybe. But no. I don’t think so.

Tick season has started.

This evening I see two deer outside the window. They stare at me as I stare at them. Are they thinking: Uh oh, is that little dog coming out here … ? But Josie is sleeping solidly in the chair. The deer go back to grazing. I get on with blending together a banana, a spoonful of peanut butter, a glob of honey, and a cup of vanilla soy milk.

Josie is pooped because we went visiting today, traveled to Sand River where I lived before here. I have not been back since I moved that last load of stuff in October 2011. It is just a two-hour drive, a half hour beyond Marquette, along Lake Superior, and I do not know why I have not been back. Today, for sure, it was good to sit on my friend’s deck in the sun overlooking the river, and then the afternoon lingered pleasantly, like the aroma of freshly baked blueberry muffins arranged on a plate set on a table in a woodsy kitchen.

Eventually, Josie and I got over to where my house used to be. It burned down a couple of years ago, after it was no longer mine. Now, where the house once stood, sand and old leaves. Poking up from the duff a few of the red cement paving blocks that edged the patio.

Josie and I walked through the yard to the trail along the river that my dogs Queenie and Buster and I walked so often, every morning and most afternoons, for several years. It’s a short trail ending at a neighboring camp, and at the end I would always stop at the base of a tall red pine that looked out over the river, and so I did today. It’s a spot that anchored me long ago when things seemed scary or just so terribly uncertain, lacking focus; or, maybe, really, not so long ago.

Sand River.

We walked farther on, on the dirt road, a dead-end road, just a bit, then turned back to the van, headed home.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

ode to a wagging tail

All I can think is that those sixteen, seventeen months between Buster and Josie, those mornings and nights and afternoons without a dog, must have been bleak and dark.

Have I told you that Josie wakes up every morning tail wagging? Thump thump thump. The first thing I hear. Thump thump thump. The first sensation. Thump thump thump. It doesn’t matter where we are, desert or seaside, mountain or valley, hot, cold, in the thick of somewhere or the thin of nowhere.

How else to greet the day?

Thump thump thump.

How else but with the wild expectations of movement, stillness, food, water, play, work, camaraderie, agency, surprises, remembrances, shut-eye—what more?

Thump thump thump.

What more?

So start—stretch, yawn, wag wag wag. Drag your belly along the ground.

Shall we go outside? wag wag wag.

Ah. Relief. wag wag wag What more? Cold and damp, snow falls. Pause, listen. Sniff. Hmmm. Different. New. Smells new. Fresh. wag wag wag Feels good. Oh! Inside! Warm! Feels good.


wag wag wag

When later the snow melts and the sun weakly shines wag wag wag we sit on the porch crossing one leg over the other so the flip-flop with shearling dangles and the creek gurgles and the creek bubbles and the creek wags its tail. Out in the fields Josie finds such good stuff wag wag wag and he sniffs at stuff wag wag wag and he picks and paws at stuff and eats some stuff wag wag wag (Josie! Stop that!) and he almost rolls in some stuff (JoSIE! No!) and he looks at me wag wag wag and then away he trots here and there and wag wag wag and does it even need to be mentioned

wag wag wag
that life is good.

Another day, warm and sunny, basking on the porch early evening. The porch chair comes out of the shed, unfolds, welcomes, accepts.
Blue sky, dog and cat, sun.


wag wag wag

Go for a run, a trot over here, a leap over there, wherever, the grass lies flat and the sun feels warm and a breeze whispers moving through,

Nibble this, nibble that. Run, leap, pause, doze.

What’s that?

Oh, nothing.
Over there?


wag wag wag


wag wag wag

So every day ends, every morning begins.
Like a heartbeat.
Thump thump thump.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

two thousand four hundred and thirty two miles later

And so now early, a Wednesday morning, the day’s light coming up with a light snow coming down, the flakes big and wet, falling straight, covering the brown, beaten down grass in the yard and the fields, the layers of broken-down stalks of wildflowers dead yet still alive underground, and as the light switches from charcoal to ash the snowflakes grow smaller, almost disappearing, almost turning to rain, just as the forecaster said.

Looking down at the ground.

If I had been here all winter long watching, hauling wood, driving, walking, trying to get from here to there, all the while musing about the whereabouts of the sun, I might not be interested in this morning’s snowfall. Except to sneer at it, to bear it, perhaps to dream of being elsewhere. But this morning I feel thankful for the snow and this touch of winter, this touch of spring, all wrapped up in one lingering dawn.

I left this cabin for six and a half months and no harm came to it. Nobody looked after it, no one was here but for the plumber who came in October to turn off the water and clear the pipes and the plumber who came in April to turn the water back on. There is much evidence of deer frequenting the yard, and now Josie feels a need to correct that situation. Every evening when the deer come by to pick at the dry grass and to stare at us through the kitchen window, Josie whines and runs between the window and the door until I open the door. He flies out, flies off the porch, and the deer stop chewing, look up as if caught by surprise, weeds dangling from their lips. They turn quickly on spindly legs, raise their tails in alarm, show their white flags, leap far and wide and away through the fields. Josie follows. Streaks low to the ground. But he senses a border and once the deer cross it he turns back, becomes border patrol, very officious, very stern. Eventually he returns to the porch, but not before stopping at that one little spot in the yard that smells pretty good, good enough to roll in. His six-inch-long legs kick high in the air.

Hey Josie! Nyah nyah!

And so we are home. Two thousand, four hundred and thirty two miles later, we are home. Six and a half months, and five days later, we are home.

First, we needed a fire.

We left California March 31 before sunrise, and by sunrise we were somewhere beyond the L.A. Conglomerate of Highways at a sad, dirty gas station on I-15 in a dry, dusty town sopping up cat pee from various things and surfaces in the van as somehow Elliott had become so freaked out he behaved unlike himself and peed in a terribly inappropriate place at an equally inappropriate time. To use the bathroom in this sad, dirty place I needed a coin of some sort and rather than investigate further I simply turned away in disgust. We found another equally sad and decrepit gas station about 30 minutes up the road and at least I did not have to pay—but perhaps if I had they could have afforded soap and towels, but now, what does it matter? Farther up the road again we stopped in Las Vegas at The Farm and Josie caused a stir among the peacocks. We unloaded an order of candles and collected some cash. End of Day One.

Later, there were hijinks at the motel.

The next morning, in St. George, Utah, I found a tick on Josie’s neck. Barely awake, I tried to grab it, pick it off, something which, due to experience, I am pretty good at, but this little sucker would have none of it. He seemed to be burrowing into Josie’s neck at an incredible speed, and I can still see this fat little tickie rear end sticking straight up and out of Josie’s neck with four little tickie legs waggling frantically in the air. I rushed to find the tweezers—and isn’t it amazing I knew right where they were?—but alas, by the time I returned the tick had disappeared. I searched Josie’s neck and shoulders laboriously and then somewhat deliriously, but could not find that tick. We had to move on.

Driving through Utah is pretty amazing.

That night, in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, I found where the tick had been, or maybe still was. It was a scabby looking place on Josie’s neck, a scabby bump surrounded by a little redness. Had the tick burrowed all the way in? Or … ? End of Day Two.

The next morning we walked over to a vet’s office. We waylaid the receptionist as she was about to open up but dawdling, as she had a cigarette to finish. We launched into our disappearing-tick-and-travel story. She listened. She relayed the story (or some version of it) to the vet. The vet agreed to see Josie. She commented on his good behavior and then, after weighing him, his weight, which apparently was four pounds over “ideal.” Perhaps, we concurred, it was avocado weight, picked up in California, easily shed back in Michigan. Anyway, ticks do not burrow into dogs’ necks, she said. This just looks like a scab. But, to be on the safe side, and just in case the tick’s mouth is in there (sometimes the mouth does fall off, or, more accurately, the body falls off while the mouth hangs on), she swabbed the scab with antiseptic. And we left with a vial of antibiotics.

If you need a place to stay in Glenwood Springs, try the Red Mountain Inn.
If you need a meal, go next door to Vicco’s Drive-In. If your pet needs a vet,

try Gentle Friends Veterinary Hospital. And if you just want to take a nice walk,
go over to Two Rivers Park, alongside the Colorado River.

Going through the Rockies, Elliott freaked out. Apparently, for this cat, four cross-country trips is just one too many. As we crossed the summit at Vail, he stood at the van’s passenger window and screamed: “I’m mad as hell! I can’t take this anymore! Yikes! What the heck was that flying by! What’s that noise! Is that snow?!? Mountains? Where are we? Where are we going? Arg!!! I gotta pee! Get me outta here!”


But, once through the treacherous Rockies and after a stop for a fresh roll of paper towels, we sailed along without incident arriving safely in Cozad, Nebraska, where we hunkered down for the night. End of Day Three.

Meanwhile, this is how Josie traveled..

In the morning, Elliott and I had a short, serious discussion, and all through Nebraska and Iowa and the stop at the bee farm to pick up 200 pounds of wax and then on to Skid Row Motel in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Elliott was his old self. He stayed by my feet, tucked back up, just a little bit, under the seat. End of Day Four.

The Windmill of Cozad.

Driving from Cedar Rapids on home was easier than I thought it would be. We were off the interstate and that proved an improvement. Less traffic, fewer trucks. We cut a diagonal through northeastern Iowa into southwestern Wisconsin crossing the great Mississippi at Dubuque. Wisconsin’s bluffs and crags reminded me briefly of Utah, but all in all, the difference between here and there is vast. Once east of Colorado, every few miles it seems there is a farm, a ranch, a small town; people and what passes for civilization; a clean restroom, a diner, gas. There is earth, dirt, grass, stubbled fields, and windmills. Cattle and cows, goats and sheep, horses and hogs. That stretch of driving between Nevada and the Rockies is probably my favorite due to the scenery, and there are two stretches of road where one is warned: No Services for 100 miles (or so), and a bit later No Services for 60 miles (or so). In other words, there is nothing there. Nothing. NO SERVICES. Nothing. But such fantastic rock. And a fairly empty road.


There is much more traffic in Nebraska and Iowa and even in Wisconsin, on a Saturday, heading straight north from Madison.

The last stop was to be a Walmart in Rhinelander to pick up food and supplies for our first few days home. But I never saw it, never saw that big blue and white sign, and that could be because as we passed through Rhinelander Elliott started shifting around, creeping forward, encroaching on the gas and brake pedals. Elliot’s no lightweight, and I had not only to speak sternly to him but to shove him (gently) with a foot, then two, then a hand. So I was preoccupied. Is there actually a Walmart in Rhinelander? And did you know that past Rhinelander, as you continue north into Michigan, there is not much opportunity for shopping? Like nothing. Fortunately, though, Nordine has a grocery in Watersmeet, and perhaps that worked out better than Walmart. I was a bit punchy, after all, and the cashier at Nordine’s was kind.

So, finally, next stop home, until, that is, we had to stop in Nisula for a rafter of turkeys crossing the road. A veritable gang of gobblers.

Did I mention there is still snow in Michigan?

End of Day Five.

Usually these past few months on a Wednesday I would be visiting my mother. It feels a little strange not to. Not to be sitting next to her by the koi pond saying nothing about something or something about nothing. Or just sitting. In the sun. I am happy to be home, but I miss time with her. She is yet in California, enjoying the sunshine.