Sunday, September 27, 2015

because in baseball there are pink flamingos

First: Always with the seeing of things that are not there
Lately, Josie spends a lot of time staring down into Elliott’s Creek.

Sure. Because something is there.

Elliott’s Creek is what we call the culvert that runs underneath the drive. Mostly it is a shallow, overgrown ditch separating the front six or so acres from the rest, and after it passes underneath the drive it opens up into a large gully that floods each spring, sometimes even reaching the river, if the river floods, too. But most of the time the gully and the creek—called Elliott’s Creek because all the time Elliott’s disappearing down there—are dry. And lately Josie is standing still, staring into the dry creek.

And Josie is not one to stand still, for long.

I have spent some time staring into the creek, too, but all I see is a tangle of plant stuff. Why would this interest Josie? But while I am mowing or washing windows or chopping wax or stacking wood, there Josie is, staring down into the creek. But, I know what this is like, don’t you? Staring at something that seems like nothing but that is, at least in your reality, something. And, seriously, what other reality is there?

Second: Because I’m falling in love all over again
Being right here right now in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan waiting for the onslaught of fall with its colors and fires and crisp cold air is like being in the lap of luxury, bundled up, held tight, set free.

I did not expect this.

Meanwhile, another sunny evening on the porch,
7:15 already, 75 degrees, and Josie is not standing still.
Herbert, the pumpkin, followed us home from the farmers market.

No, I did not expect this. Not this way. Not this reeling feeling of being in love all over again, in love with autumn, its every dollop of color, its every forty-degree morning, its every low grey sky folded in on itself and its every drop of cool rain. Those slightly ever earlier sunsets allowing for at long last nighttime lamplight and candles. It feels downright personal, as if, maybe, I should not even talk about it. But it is so right, so why not? Autumn and I have known each other a good many years, and I have always said autumn is my favorite, my favorite time of year, though sometimes I think winter, so hard to choose, but autumn … the change from summer into autumn is the best, I think. That change from hyped-up summer to down-to-hearth fall. I realize the change from winter to spring is nice, too, I suppose, but autumn … Well, who knows what it is. And who cares? Not me. I just feel it. That’s enough. I feel this thing between autumn and me. And autumn seems to hold no grudge that once I left—left before the first leaf could fall! And I wonder if autumn knew I’d be back, that I’d be back, after all.

Third: Because there are pink flamingos in baseball
One morning this week I was up early with the cold predawn, starting a fire and turning on a baseball game played the night before. It’s been many a long summer since I’ve had so much baseball to watch, to enjoy. When it came time to spend money on TV, this is what I paid for, and I have spent the past several months with a baseball game almost every day in the background, or maybe I sat down and outright watched, and now the season is nearing its close.

In baseball you play one game at a time, 160 or so over the season, and the outcome, the final score, and how you get there, is unknown until you get there, until the last inning, the last out, the last hit, the last walk, the last error … And you just never know. One of the many weird things about baseball is that a game could, in theory, last forever—and isn’t that how life seems sometimes?—because as long as the score is tied, you keep on playing. This has never happened, as far as I know. But it’s nice to think about. Sometimes I envision eternity as my dad and me sitting in the upper deck at Wrigley Field in Chicago, where the Cubs play, and the game keeps going, on and on, and we sit on and on, keeping score, one batter at a time, inning after inning, eating salted-in-the-shell peanuts, maybe a hot dog or two, maybe a beer, maybe a Pepsi, and that’s all. Because the game is not over. So we stay. The fat lady has not sung. So we stay. Time, weather, and whatever other things you can think of drop away. You may ask: Is the game important? Does it matter in the standings? Are you in the play-offs? Is this the World Series? Well, no, probably not. We are talking about the Cubs, after all, and the Cubs, in case you have not heard, have not been in a World Series since 1945. A few play-off games here and there, sure, but just a few, and anyway, that doesn’t matter. Not a factor. You play until the game is over. You stick with it. You stay and watch and keep score until the damn thing’s over. Then, you catch the el home.

But to say you play one game at a time is a bit misleading: It is one inning at a time, one batter at a time, one pitch at a time. There is simply no way around it. It’s like saying we live one day at a time when you really can’t live even one day without taking a few thousand breaths, so the way it is, is one breath at a time. One pitch at a time. Life does, indeed, for the most part, unfold this slowly.

Still, Josie can barely keep up with it.

So I’m watching this game one morning, the Brewers and the Cubs, and the Brewers are not doing so well this year and the Cubs are doing great, and the game is at Wrigley, and one of the announcers is laying out the numbers and whatnot that make this game a lop-sided match-up and saying how one could ask why even play, but hey, we all know crazy things happen in baseball and so that’s what you do, you play each game, one game at a time, and I’ve spent all summer with these announcers—Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies—and they are kind of like work buddies always chattering in the background while I’m making candles, packing up an order, or cleaning, or reading, or playing with Josie, or doing some chore, and the game is on, and on and on they chatter, and these two have become increasingly happy over the course of the season, because the Cubs are doing so well. And lately, although they know better, they have been doing a lot of projecting. Talking about how things are going to play out, might play out, if this or that happens, or that or this. Talking about who is likely to pitch that all important game that could send the Cubs to the play-offs for the first time since 2008. And figuring out all those “magic” numbers. And who do you think will be the MVP, JD? Well, are we talking play-offs or season? And on and on. And so much they talk about is just stuff that isn’t there. Just isn’t there yet.

(Later in the week I will go looking for some World Series tickets I or my dad once had, the ones we never got to use because, well, just one of those years when the Cubs got far enough that World Series tickets were printed, but not so far that anyone could use those tickets. But we had those tickets. Just in case.)

Then, in this game I’m watching, on comes a short video clip about a small group of animals that had been brought to Wrigley Field earlier that day at the request of the Cubs manager, Joe Maddon. At 3 p.m. the animals—an armadillo, a civet, a sloth, a penguin, a flamingo, and two snow leopard cubs—met with Cubs players and their families in the outfield in what, it would seem to me, could only be described as a fun afternoon at the old ballpark. Seriously. What else is there?

Buddha Cub
Being a fan of a sports team can make one do things that others might
find slightly odd, if not downright nutty. WARNING: The Cubs will be playing
at least through October 7, so come along for the ride, or, go get a sandwich.

Break: Conspiracy
Lately I’ve been noticing an ability to shut things out, just certain things, selectively, and this is new. By shutting some things out, perhaps I am letting other things in, but of that I am not yet sure. What I am sure of is that when I was awakened this morning by 1) Josie nuzzling my neck, 2) Elliott sharpening his claws on the front door jamb, and 3) moonlight casting shadows, I realized there are some things I will never shut out. Even if it is, jeepers, 3:30 a.m.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

pausing for a comma moon and mouse goes free on starry night

On the porch fussing about, who knows what, Josie running around doing his thing and Elliott washing up as if sleeping all day has made him dusty, and I’m thinking dinner dishes yet, some reading to do, and I’m not sure what I’m doing on the porch, probably just waiting for Josie, but then I notice this sky out there. It is the sunless color of ash with this low border of dark grey clouds, but kind of almost midnight blue clouds, stacked up anyway on the horizon behind the dark meandering treetops, due west, and above the clouds the sky just so pale, as if non-existent. Then through some cracks in the clouds the softest colors, vague pinks and violets, but I think no, these colors are too vague for names, and then the moon appears, a Comma Moon, emerging from this colorless sky, emerging low down in the western sky, just above the clouds, and it is no more than a slight, suggestive curve of light. It drifts down, toward the clouds, toward the horizon, becoming, it seems, ever so slightly larger, longer, before it is gone.

There is a comma in this picture.

The next night there is a Beeswax Moon. Once again, on the porch, but it is darker than last night and the moon is already there, in the sky, the same place, but no longer a comma, well, maybe a comma that has been dipped over and over in molten beeswax so it is thick and heavy and golden, shining like a golden sling, and the Beeswax Moon sinks slowly, but also I am sure more quickly than did the Comma Moon the night before.

The Beeswax Moon.

The following night a skyful of clouds, a broad bold painting done in sweeps of grey, strokes of grey, dabs of grey, dribbles of grey, swirls of grey, rainy grey. And the next morning—a moonless morning—stars. There is Orion the Hunter posing like a god just above the trees on the southern horizon, and I think I should readily see all the patterns of the stars out there and know the names of those patterns, but then I am distracted by that fuzzy band of milk-white arching overhead.

Neither north, south, east, nor west. Just straight up.

That night is overcast, as is the following morning, but throughout the day, a farmers market day, the sky clears and that evening I watch once again for the moon, and the moon appears early and much higher up, now in the southwest sky, just a shy, ashy, quarter moon in a blue sky. It appears without a name, but dusk emboldens this moon and soon I will see it as the Wonderful Wedge of Melon Moon.

The Wonderful Wedge of Melon Moon.

That night I am awakened by the noise of a mouse. Where it is and what it is doing I don’t know, but scrabble scrabble scrabble. I get up, go downstairs, find a mouse caught in a trap, the trap I leave atop the back door frame. I catch many mice in that spot—it seems a favorite high road for the mousey set—and when the mousetrap snaps it usually falls to the floor, sometimes with the mouse, sometimes without. Now the trap is on the floor with a mouse caught just by a hind foot, and the mouse is, well, I guess the mouse is trying to figure out how to get this dang thing off my foot. And what’s with all the light? And this huge creature standing over me?

So yes, I agree. Now what?

How lucky I am that this is not the first time that a mouse has fallen from the top of the back door with one little foot caught in a mousetrap. It takes only a second or two of muddling around in my old sleepy brain to recall I need to get a bucket, pick up the trap with mouse attached, put it in the bucket, take it outside, release.

The first time this happened I was not so sure what to do, was not so sure what the mouse would do when I reached for and picked up the trap it was attached to—I imagined it flailing about wildly, freaking me out, and I imagined it lunging and sinking its fangs into the tender tip of my finger. It did neither. It froze, stared at me wide-eyed and cute, so endearingly cute with its little grey face, dark beady eyes, quivering whiskers, big pink ears, soft grey fur. I moved ever so slowly but eventually did pick up the trap by its edges and dropped it in the bucket. The mouse stayed quiet, bared no fangs, made no attempt to escape. At the far edge of the yard I shook the mouse and trap out of the bucket, expecting the mouse to high tail it clump clump clump into the field, but again, no movement. Rather, it seemed to give me a look that said Hey lady, you see this thing stuck to my foot, right? Hello? Help me. So I knelt down, took hold of the trap, pulled the metal bar away from the mouse’s foot, and the little guy scampered free.

So now I’ve set another mouse free and I look up and there are so many stars, visible stars, and I wonder what tonight’s moon will be.

Never fear, the trap is reset.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

mysterious objects that jump

Another Joe Beans Mystery

By Elliott Crackersby

Part One
First thing in the morning I was out on the gravel patio and suddenly one of the pieces of gravel jumped. Whoa. Stop me. In my tracks. I'd been studying the relationship between rocks, stones, and pebbles – all things that do not jump, skip sometimes, maybe, but not jump – and now this rock, stone, pebble, piece of gravel, whatever you want to call it, jumped. In my face. It jumped again. I hopped. It jumped again. I hopped. It jumped, and there we were, this gravel and I, jumping and hopping, jumping and hopping. Then hands on my back and my investigative assistant, Rita Pie, picked me up, said, "Leave the toad alone."

Part Two
The heat is over, for now, and oh how I hope the heat is over for good, for this year. Bring on autumn, bring on fall, bring on red and gold leaves tumbling in the wind. Bring on cool evenings and cozy fires and bring on cold nights that bring on deep sleep. And bring on that October baseball!

During the heat, for a few nights, sleep was off, erratic, too warm. I read in the breeze of a fan, one night reading pages and pages of Oliver Sacks' "On the Move: A Life," realizing, oh boy, I'm not getting this, this part where there are words that don't roll easily off the tongue let alone roll easily around in the head, my mind, which does indeed struggle with certain topics even when there is great interest in those topics.

"Neural Darwinism."

That's what I remember, and there's this book somebody wrote with that title and that's what Sacks is writing about, and it's like the words are on one level, and my level is almost there, almost there, well, maybe a few floors below, like I'm in the basement and they (the ones who can converse and write and truly think about this thing neural Darwinism) are on the rooftop, in a rooftop garden, I imagine, at tables with umbrellas, in comfortable chairs that rock and sway, sipping cocktails of amber with blocks of ice, cocktails that make you smart and brilliant. Then there is something about a cow in a field and I think, laying in the heat so tired but can't sleep in the breeze of an oscillating fan, that I do get it. After all. Our brains evolve with each perception received, processed, cataloged, and perceptions come by happenstance, by accident or by intent, by thought or by thoughtlessness. Still, in a way, by happenstance.

This might come in handy in an investigation, so I'd like to discuss it with Chief Investigator Joe Beans, but I see that his eyes are closed, his legs twitching.

Perhaps I've got it all wrong, anyway.

I'm not saying I understood any of this.

I'm just saying, this is what I got from it.

 ... neural Darwinism implies that we are destined, whether we like it or not, to a life of particularity and self-development, to make our own individual paths through life.
- Oliver Sacks

Part Three
I followed them to the river, and now I watch from the top of the bank. Beans is all over the place, of course, following his nose and that jumbled thing he calls a brain. Interesting how he doesn't mind the water; I would expect him to mind the water. He seems to want to get to the other side of it, but those pokey legs of his hold him up, or don't hold him up, as the case may be. How I'd like to see him bobbing on the current. That would be interesting. I don't know why he wants to get to the other side. Over there, those wolves, they'd eat him up.

Pie is sitting on a log lodged in the river, and she's tilting her head first one way then another. As if she sees something and is trying to see all sides. I turn my head, first one way, then another, following Pie's movements. It is nice to sit and stare, I think, turn one's head slightly, ever so slightly, one way then another, perhaps squint one eye, then another, then both, see things differently. The glint on the water.

"Hello, Elliott."

An interruption.

"Oh. Hello, Buster Brown."

Buster Brown is a ghost, used to be a dog, a floppy-eared terrier, blond and white, kind of small, but taller and leaner than Beans. I knew him when he was alive, old and demented, and I could sit one place or another and he would stumble over me. I'd get a grin out of that. Dogs amuse me. But now B. Brown sees just fine, and he could walk right through me, if he wanted, anyway, not so much fun. But interesting. I tend to sit on his grave so we visit.

"How're things?" Brown asks.


"Pie doing OK?"

"Yes. She and Beans, you know."

"I know." For a moment, silence. "He's quite squat, isn't he. And red."

"Yes. Yes he is. Squat. And red."

Part Four
Several evenings now with this pop, pop, pop from across the river and I don't like it. Something is going on and I cannot get over there. Pie goes out with me and I holler but still, pop, pop, pop. One night then, late, almost asleep, a lone howl. Again. Again. One voice, three times. Low, rising, low again. I think about those pebbles that jumped, and my legs twitch.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

the mysterious bones


Just one thing.



The Mysterious Bones
A Joe Beans Mystery

By Elliott Crackersby

Part One
A sultry late summer morning with a cool fog rising in the fields, hanging in the air like a wet blanket, the sun a dull blot of orange seeping and spreading like blood through the thin fabric, the fabric that in a few hours will be more like Army-issue woolen underwear, suffocating, scratchy; too late in the year for this, I think. But never mind, on the day's agenda is a morning nap followed by an afternoon along the river to continue the Wolf investigation. If only I could get Rita Pie, my investigative assistant, to see the need to explore the opposite bank. She can be, at times, so very slow. Sweet, but slow. And she goes off on tangents. From the river, she has collected a number of rocks, stones, and pebbles. (Note: Must investigate difference between rocks, stones, and pebbles.) Patiently I await the clarity that will tell me the importance of these rocks, stones, and pebbles to our investigation, and meanwhile, there are paw prints, quite large, on a sand bar near the island. (Note: Must remind her to bring along the print-o-meter today.)

"I'm thinking about them bones," Rita Pie says.

I roll my eyes. Thump my tail. She thinks this is cute, but, unfortunately, she is not diverted.

"First, there was that big bone, right in the middle of the trail, and then a couple of days later it was gone, replaced by this smaller bone. No other bones anywhere. At least, not nearby, where we looked."

Where she had looked, I think but don't say. This bone does not interest me. Not a bit. It's an old bone, dry and picked clean. But she seems to have a great interest in this bone, and she brought it -- the so-called second bone, which I knew to be the only bone, a deer femur, to be exact, approximately two years old, lightly gnawed by mice and vole -- back to the office, where she washed off some loose dirt, put it in the sun to dry. Now she's like a dog with a bone. Will not let it go.

"Well, as I said, I believe the bones to be one and the same bone," I tell her. "No mystery there. Just one old bone. One. Old. Bone."

"But the first bone was so much bigger ... "

"Well, you know how that goes. Memory plays up some things, plays down others. You remember that bone, the first bone, as bigger than it was because it surprised you, sparked your imagination. Happens all the time. Look at the photo of it again, then go look at the bone you dragged home. You'll see. One and the same." This might keep her busy for a bit, so I yawn, thump my tail, settle down for that nap.

Part Two
Chief Investigator Joe Beans is right, of course. There is only one bone, I know that, one bone that looked big at first sight, puny a few days later. And I was so sure there were two bones of such different size! I even went searching about for the first bone. It seemed so odd, the bones similar, yet so different. One day, a big bone. Another day, a small bone. Joe Beans ignored me, went off snuffling nearby, something for the Wolf investigation, I suppose, and I know he wants to get across the river, explore leads on the other side, but it's dangerous over there, and I won't go.

Curious now, I measure the bone, which is a femur from a deer, probably, lightly gnawed by mice and vole, mottled with dirt, very dry, some hairline cracks along its length. If you had asked me a few days ago how big that bone was that I saw in the woods, I would have said two, maybe three feet long. But it is one foot long. I am somewhat deflated.

Part Three
There's something odd about those two. And why anyone would drag home an old bone without a scrap of meat on it ... There's the mystery. The other morning I left a nice little blood-red liver on the mat. Know what happened? Beans skipped around it and Pie made a noise that sounded like "erp." Then she bagged the liver and tossed it. All this fuss about bones. And Beans with the wolves. I've seen wolves. Big hairy dogs. They howl, I hide, end of story.

Big bone.

Little bone.

All the same bone.