Friday, March 29, 2013

You Can Fly

Here is a little bit of magic that was just quietly happening in my front yard yesterday afternoon.
You can fly.

As you go about your days, remember the way it feels to do this.
To get carried away in your imagination,
to believe in the power of good over evil,
to do whatever strikes you as fun without fear of judgement or self-consciousness.

Look upward and outward and see the magic that surrounds us.
Find the bright spot of a dull landscape and focus on that.

Remember how it feels to fly. Really fly.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Falling Stars

It's the law here, I think.

Written into the by-laws and codes and codicils and heretofore and whatnot, I'm sure of it.

Every other yard must contain at least one forsythia. Every yard is preferable, but if allowed to grow wild and rangy enough, they can suffice for two yards. Some yards have more than one. Those are the ones that make you stop and look.

So it is. Every other yard: one forsythia.

It's because of March.

There were probably some pioneer founding father-type people who bought the city and named it after the chief they stole it from and set it on fire and then Jack Kerouac came for a visit and nearly killed himself from the depression here and then They made a law.*

So, here's the shake down:

January is fun. Just fun. That's usually when it snows if it's gonna. It's cold and there are such short days and long nights and scarves and pink noses and woolly sweaters and nice non-holiday related winter enjoyment.

February is a fever dream. Warm enough to make you sweat in your jacket, mid-afternoon; cold enough to keep your fingers and toes always a little bit numb. Wet and a little bit gray. But there are all the chocolates and pink things mid-month and usually lots to do at school. **

And then comes March. She marches in all lifting her skirts and huffing around and sheds copious tears until you plead with her to stop and then she smiles her dazzling smile like what? what did I do? and then back to the huffing and stomping and throwing things. I'm pretty sure Jack Kerouac visited us in March. Hence the suicidal thoughts. Because you know, it's kind of like being handcuffed to a psychotic bipolar off her meds.***

So the Forsythia Act was enacted and we all took it down a few notches and dear old Jack took himself off to Mexico or some such.****

Because here's the truth of it. The spring is so exciting with its daffodils and its crocus buds and worms and all that, but a bit of it is homesick, too. Homesick for the nights of hibernation and all this talk of regeneration, rebirth and all the lambs and chicks and chocolate bunnies and what if we aren't ready for all that new stuff? What if we want a few more days, weeks - surely no more than weeks! - of the hibernation, curled inside wet and feral, with a prehensile grip on the past. What if I didn't do it right and now it's time to burst into bloom with all the world and wear my new dress and white shoes and I don't want to. And the days get longer and you can feel it. We wind our clocks forward to feel it more and there we are in the mud with new green things unfurling and a part of you still feels furled. So March comes and slaps you around a bit and she sobs and huffs and smiles and strokes and really you just want to hide and cry because the sun comes out and it's glorious and you really feel the yard and the neighbors walking dogs and March giggles and pats your cheek and then pelts you with hail that looks like bits of Styrofoam and feels like teeth and then she sits down in a puddle with her big wet cloudy skirts and just snows enough to freeze your fingers and get the kids in their boots and she watches until just the moment they run outside and turns it to rain in big fat heavy drops that drill straight through hats and down the necks of coats and we all cry with March. I'm not ready for the long and lean days of summer and I had some more woolly-headed warm inside glow muddling to do before the muddy outside all day and such long days all of a sudden. Sudden, sodden, long days.

And the forsythia blooms. It's a shrub grown to epic tree-size, unkempt and waggly. They have such long and slender arms and look like ugly, ugly ducklings all winter long; like fingers with knobbled joints, too thin to hold a pen. They might be useless and then March. They bloom like stalwart standing rays of sun that shoot suddenly from the ground one night. And the morning is gray and they stand there and raise their fingers to the clouds covered in little stars the color of sunshine and promise and new paint. Thousands of tiny sunbursts blaze along the branches from floor to ceiling and they stand undaunted, in every other yard, a homely homage to what a bunch of small and brightly colored things can do. You drive the streets that slish and swick under your tires and you tire of the washed out grays and greens and olive drab and these crazy sentinels wave and sprinkle their buttery stars at you. It's the law.

March continues her drama and bluster and the forsythia outside my kitchen window stands taller than two tall men, one atop another, and it shines like the sun and startles me out of my slump. It sprinkles its golden stars around my deck, I collect them like stones and follow the random trail they make amid the brown wet mess of things. I'm Gretel and the way out of this foggy forest is marked by silky stars if I only follow them. Each one whispers me a little greeting and a story of what's to come. I'm weeks away from the cherries and their whipped cream sundae splendor; months from the rhododendrons and their pert mountains of impossible brightness; more months from the daisies and the peonies, the roses and the other things that thrive in the hot light of summer. For now I'll collect these brave gold stars, the good student that I am, and remember to walk one petal at a time and take them as they come. March might try to blow me to greener pastures and to frolic with the lambs, but I have more than enough left of the sodden plodding to gain my legs for the strength of summer. The forsythia told me so. It's the law.

Here's what Jack said about this: I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion. I can't be sure he had forsythias in mind when he wrote this. In fact I'm quite sure he didn't. But he might have if he had come and looked out my kitchen window on such a day as this and wished the spring would wait. He might have. He might have run outside and gathered all the falling stars on my deck and run about the yard exclaiming. He definitely would have drunk the half a bottle of red wine on my counter that I opened months ago to make beef stew. I think sometimes he might have been a bit of a spaz and maybe not the best house guest.

But we might have had some things to discuss in the confusion of March with the forsythia blooming its falling stars.
Forsythia from my kitchen window. Look closely for the falling stars.

*Some of this sentence is true.

**Like catch every blessed virus that goes through the place and alternate vomiting and coughing by the week. It's like they line them up in the lunch room: "OK people! We want all respiratory ailments on the right. Dysentery and gastroenteritis - get in your line over there! Novelty viruses, rare Asian strains of things go stand on the blue square. The blue square!")

***I'm allowed to joke about such things. Ask me why.

****Actually, it's probably because he was here visiting Allen Ginsberg while A.G. was doing his whole skid row lumberjack stint up here and I read a 900 page biography of Allen Ginsberg while my Hooligan was a baby (all those newborn nights!) and believe you me, it contained more than enough detailed information to convince me that Allen Ginsberg was annoying as all hockey sticks and that might be why Jack left, too.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Keeper of Corpses: The Revenge

The stench of death is at my doorstep. Again.

You may recall I wrote about an undisclosed corpse and the olfactory havoc it wreaked last year. I know about corpses now.

Yesterday, as I was letting myself in the back door with my hands full of a new toilet paper holder, two gallons of paint and a bag of groceries, I was blindsided by the all too familiar smell of something rotting. And not a nice "Ooh! I forgot I had that one lime!" kind of rotting. Not even a "The lettuce has liquefied in the crisper" kind of smell. Worse even than "Oh crap. I forgot I put these chicken thighs in the fridge to thaw two weeks ago." It was definitely eau du vagrant varmint who didn't survive the winter in my crawlspace.

The nerve.

Right beside my back door.

My back door that leads into my kitchen.

Where I eat.

As you may recall, my previous dealings with corpses occurred on the eve of my mother-in-law's arrival for a short stay at our house.

Because small rodenty things know how to time their demise and putrefaction to coincide with maximum mortification for me.

We're having company for dinner this week. (Which is, of course, why I decided that this week I must - I must! - test out three different paint colors on the living room walls which are subsequently horrible and need to be revised strenuously. "Oh this? We're going for a kind of a patchwork look. Do you like it? I call it 'A Study in Dishwater.' Just step past these camping chairs that we've set up to approximate the couch we plan to purchase and I'll show you to the room that reeks of corpse so we can eat.")

There may have been some rapid messaging and bargaining with the Chief Lou.

"If you go under the crawlspace tonight and get out the corpse, I'll go to that Pump-It-Up birthday party with the jBird." This is how we keep our marriage harmonious - the give and take and the equal shouldering of loathsome duties.

A deal was struck. A deal to find the devil under our house. (Speaking of devils, jBird impressed us the other night at dinner with her exhaustive knowledge of Tasmanian Devils. I had to admit to her that the only thing I knew about them was what I had learned from Looney Tunes. "What's Looney Tunes? Is it a science show?" she asked. I digress.)

After work, the Chief Lou donned his work gloves and grubby jeans and a miner's head lamp that my mother sent to the monkeys after a trip through the Rockies in the fall and headed under the house. He would not allow me to photograph him. He was so cute in his get-up and he refused. (He also wouldn't let me photograph him while he was installing a light fixture in our bathroom over the weekend. How will I know that these adorable feats of strength and manliness were even real if I can't photograph them and post them on Facebook?!)

There was nothing there.

He crawled all over the place. The smell dissipated the farther he got from the back door. In fact, the only place the smell seems to exist is literally right on our back doorstep. And now I'm frightened. (I am also annoyed, because I still have to go to the birthday party even though there were no actual remains for the Chief Lou to clean up. That's hardly fair.)

I have a theory and it frightens me.

I think the old dead varmint's posse (the one from last year in the old house) are trying to send me a message. "Don't mess with us," they're snarling, "We've got more where that came from." Can't you just see them? With their bandannas and boleros and evil mustaches? They think I killed their comrade and they have followed me. They have a hit out on me. This is the only thing that can explain the timing, the specific location of the odor, the absence of remains. They always spread their jellied corpse smell around right when I'm having company and then it mysteriously disappears after their little nasty embarrassment of me is accomplished.

Now, instead of finishing the laundry and visiting a friend of mine who desperately needs company today, I'm going to have to attend a rodent summit to try and sort this all out.

"I didn't kill him, I swear! It was the Feral Cats! You know how they are - no respect for lettuces or anyone's territory! Go talk to them! Listen, I'll make it up to you anyway. Please, please don't chew through the power lines. Hey, look! We're getting chickens soon! You know how you love the chicken bedding! Please, please, please... just let me get the coop together and you can expand your territory out there. I promise. Just leave the house alone. That's all I ask! I have company coming! I'm begging you. I don't want to turn this into a war. Don't make me get out the traps."

Monday, March 11, 2013

Listening to the Worms

There is a list of things to do as long as my arm and the scent of resplendence in the air.
I have taken on too many projects again and I just laugh because I know my own rhythms by now.
Last night I stood in my garage, safe and dry from the pattering of rain, and listened to the worms.

We are tucked in a bizarrely quiet pocket of the city and if you catch the moon just right and hold your breath, you can hear the worms.

My beleaguered and patient hydrangea made another move last week from its careless winter pot into a new, more permanent home just outside my kitchen window. I can stand there and pretend to work and silently monitor its growth, mentally catalog each new brave little leaf bud and watch what looked like a pile of forsaken sticks come to life again. Later, when it is much warmer, I am hoping it will reward me with its unparalleled blue hillocks of blooms. Some might say I am unhealthily attached to my hydrangea, but they are not true believers, I believe. The contractors at the old house laughed and took pity on me while I fruitlessly poked around the clay soil that held it captive and in a few swift thrusts, unceremoniously dumped it in a pot for me. They went back to cruelly pruning the camellia and I let them, because that bush wasn't mine to keep. The Niko Blue is mine. All mine. I ordered it specially as a housewarming gift to myself six years ago and have tended it faithfully and fearfully since. I thought it had perished in the move and now, it has proven me wrong. And it has proven me right. I kept the bundle of sticks in its pot all winter long and worried over its demise. Let's see what happens in the spring, I kept saying, refusing to let it go.

There are few things more gratifying than a hope fulfilled.

Last night I stood in my garage and tuned to the frequency of the worms. You can hear their little clicking, struggling sounds as they pop their heads and tails above the soil to catch a sip of rain. All but a few weary stragglers are gone in the morning, safe back in the moist confines of their homes. I gather the wayfarers and bury them around the roots of my hydrangea, offering it treats like the favored child it is, bidding it to grow big and strong for Mama.

It would seem that this is my life, these days, these several years. This is my current calling - to be made ridiculous in my care of small and struggling things. To stand on my head and collect worms and find myself muddied and prostrate only to laugh at the lengths I will leap to in order to nurture. It seems I am constantly uncomfortable, and still yet content. In turns I neglect and nurture near to strangling and it all seems to come out in the wash.

The spring comes again and the sticks start to bud and I can stand in my garage and listen to the worms.

It is the sound of regeneration. It is the scent of resplendence. It is the list as long as my arm that never ends, never grows shorter. It is the unique rhythm of this life. It is the sound of what happens in the spring.

There are few things more gratifying than hope fulfilled.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why Are The Trees So Tall?

Yesterday the sky was clear and bristling with a sunny, frosty hint of spring. I had quite a bit of driving to do and the mountains kept me company. Standing in attendance to my right and my left with their starched white shirtfronts, not yet thawed into their casual open collars of summer. To the south, straight ahead of me from certain vantage points and always looming somewhere in the periphery of things no matter which direction you face, stood Rainier. It looks for all the world like a giant trying to push its impossibly enormous head up through a blanket of earth and snow. A friend spent the night in a snow cave there a few weekends ago and I imagined him secretly while he described it, bedding down for the night in a nostril. His wife is thankful the giant didn't sneeze.

We muddle around here, I muddle more than most. I drive down a glittering, tottery ribbon of asphalt and steel and listen to songs I almost recognize while the mechanical heat blows on my face. I am small among this landscape as it never ceases to remind me. Even when the clouds and the fog obscure the giants and my craggy butlers, the cedars rise to heights that frighten all but the most intrepid of birds and the salty Sound laps against the city, calling to its sister lake on the other side of all this glitter and glass.

My Hooligan leaned over during church and whispered solemnly: "What happens when the time stops?" I explained as best I could in hushed tones on the front row that I didn't know for sure. It's unsettling to a boy of six that his mother who seems to know his every action before he does it, the cure to whatever ails him, and all of her multiplication tables, would just casually admit to ignorance of such things. "But why are the trees so tall?" he pressed on. These were somehow connected in the recesses of his brain. "Because they keep growing," was all I could tell him.

We struggle and muddle. We ponder the trees of time and rush on our rubber wheels to destinations farther than we could walk in a day. We burden ourselves with our petty quarrels, our slights and mishaps and we raise tiny fists into the faces of these mountains and declare our might. We squeak with helium voices and snort and root like babies, seeking a teat of comfort, biting and toothless, whimpering and powerless.

We have lost jobs, lost income, lost loved ones, lost dignity, lost health, lost home, lost faith, lost interest, lost our ways. We are eroded by time and circumstance and stand minuscule in the absence of the things that have washed away from us in this current of acid rain. We turn on each other like cannibals, each seeking our own dominance, our own scrap of illusory power - an argument won, a superior method, a more enlightened perspective, a better diet, a more cynical discontent. When the moles speak of enlightenment, it amuses the sun. We crawl like ants over the face of things and consume and console ourselves that it was organic, all-natural, sustainable, packaged neatly and brightly somewhere near Berkeley. We shore ourselves up with all the right books and the proper articles forwarded to friends where safely agreeable heads can nod along with us at our cleverness. We pad ourselves with what's at hand, with what we've deemed fit - desperately grasping to patch the evidence of inevitable erosion and we grasp and preen in each our own ways and deny that we do. We never stop to ask the Grand Canyon what she thinks of loss - her views on the forces of time, of the bearing down of life for days and years unending. We only stare speechless with the magnitude and beauty of a massive hole in the ground and then turn in search of a commemorative postcard. Our proof that we were somewhere once.

These are the things I think while I drive. I traverse to and fro, making my tiny marks in disappearing ink in the journals of other souls. I drive miles, escorted by mountains, to build my tiny empires of human connection. I laugh at my own overestimation of myself - a seed, a stunted sapling. My Hooligan asks the right question, perhaps: "But why are the trees so tall?" The unrelenting enormity of them darkens his eyes and his chin gains an extra dimple or two in his concentration near tears. These towering monoliths with arms uplifted, stretching ever skyward. Taller than even his dad. The unrelenting enormity of this small boy's spirit unfurls in these questions and darkens my own face. I want him to be as tall as these trees, to reach the collars of the mountain giants and whisper in their ears. I fear my ignorance and smallness will erode him until he becomes a mole or an ant or a muddler like me.

"Because they keep growing, my love," is all I can say.