Tristan, Eagle and Fawn

August 24, 2008

When Tristan learned that, somewhere in the tangled recesses of his grandmother’s farm was a 21-foot motorboat, badly damaged in an accident decades ago and still sitting on its trailer, he couldn’t settle until he’d seen it.

He is 12, after all, and the world beckons, and what better place for a city boy to answer that call than at his Gramma’s farm?

So, armed with his pellet gun and a hunting knife he had found in my desk and “borrowed” sometime earlier (he and I will speak of that later,) off he went, a long, skinny figure dressed in the wrong kinds of clothes for clambering around in the scrub, but moving in that quick, silent way he has that makes him able to vanish right in front of your eyes while he’s supposed to be doing homework.

Nobody is really sure where on the 28 acres the boat sits. Just “back there” in the woods. Perfect, for a boy intent on discovery. He had already found a set of crawfish claws down by the dam at our house, and what he thought was a complicated bone half-buried in a bank. It turned out to have been a glob of melted and burned plastic, but the excitement of finding it is what counted at the time.

And while mowing the grass at the farm, had seen a bald eagle fly right over him, and made the acquaintance of the garden groundhog. It had been one adventure after another.

And it was going to get better still.

T stopped in his search for the boat and looked around; probably around the time he realized he was lost. He looked down at his feet and punched up his Gramma’s number on his cell phone.

“Gramma, I found a little baby deer!”

It was curled up asleep…right at his feet.

When T spoke, the little fella awoke, jumped up, and froze. He related that to his Gramma. And then, the “daddy deer, with really big, you know, antlers,” showed up.

I suspect the antlers, at this time of year, were more panicked imagination on T’s part, that, but the fact was, there was a grownup deer and there was Tristan standing next a fawn, perhaps its fawn.

As he told me the story, I felt this little rush of panic. I’m no expert on deer, but plenty of animals get violent if they think their young are threatened. I imagined finding T in some clearing, stomped and gored. I’ve since been told that deer are not so protective, but even so…

Then I snapped out of it. T was right in front of me, unscathed, eyes wide, telling his story. He got away unscathed, perhaps out of pure dumb luck, but then I’ve had my own escapes thanks to the same agency.

He said the big deer made a snorting noise – he reproduced it as well as he could – and both deer scampered away.

A little later, he spotted the bald eagle perched in a tree. He called Gramma. She said if the eagle is in a tree, perhaps there is a nest nearby. He looked around and, sure enough, there it was.

“It’s so big! Like a tabletop!”

He never found the boat, but he worked his way out of the woods, finally, finding himself at the neighboring farm, where he got to know the resident grandson of the owners, who, Tristan said, gets to drive an ATV, a motorbike and, miraculously, the farm’s tractors.

I confess to a little envy. It’s been a long time since I went wandering, mostly lost, in the woods, open to anything. I’ve had my own moments, the Cooper’s hawk that landed next to me when I sat on a deadfall, or finding the abandoned barn miles out in the woods, and inside, a vintage car, in brand-new condition except for the half-dozen bullet holes in the trunk, the fight I and my dog Gramps had with an old boar possum who wasn’t as good at playing dead as he might have been.

All the sorts of things that give parents gray hair, I suppose, and all part of the forays one begins to make out into the world as one’s childhood begins to slip its moorings.

T was with us for a week and we’re both recovering. It’s been a long time since Sue had children underfoot, and I never have, so it was….an experience. We have found most of the miniature metal cars that adorn a shelf in the living room, and the cats are a little less edgy. A few things keep turning up in places where they don’t belong, or, conversely, turning up not to be in the places where they do. It may be a week or two before our old-fogey lives get back to normal.
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© 2008 Marsh Creek Media,
Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

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This is a “flashback” to a column I wrote four years ago, re-presented for my friend Tristan, 12, who is now friends with the cat in question:

Sept. 23, 2004: Camping in a primitive cottage on the Maine coast can have its challenges. Take, for example, the art and science of preparing breakfast in the presence of Scooter.

I found her late one rainy night this summer, sitting in the center of the road, drenched and shivering. I stopped the car and got out. She looked up at me with these big kitten eyes and let out the most plaintive wail, and that was pretty much it for me.

She is deaf. Because she can’t hear, she does not speak the typical cat language, and seems to make things up as she goes along.

She is otherwise a fairly ordinary, yellow cat, with eyes the color of butterscotch. She is of mixed parentage, being made of equal part cat, skunk, (she has obtained a confounding mastery of the art of breaking wind) and lightning. She is at once sweet and a total hellion, spending most of her time either sleeping or tearing around the rooms chasing anything that’s loose.

That having been said, this is roughly the 16 steps involved in making breakfast this morning:

1.    Open refrigerator door. Remove ingredients for breakfast. Place on counter. Close refrigerator door.

2.    Open refrigerator door. Remove Scooter. Yes, I know its dark in there.

3.    Return to counter to prepare breakfast. Remove Scooter.

3.    Place sausages in small skillet, place on back burner on Low. Remove Scooter from butter dish.

4.    Break eggs and add pre-shredded cheese into metal pan. Remove Scooter from pan of sausages.

5.    Turn back to eggs. Remove Scooter. Scramble egg and cheese mix. Add slab of butter to large frying pan and turn burner to low for butter to melt. Get Scooter away from the butter dish and replace lid. Get Scooter out of the eggs and pour into pan with melted butter. The eggs, not Scooter.

6.    Stir eggs, turn sausages, get the damned cat out of the sink.

7.    Trip over cat on the way for my first cup of coffee. Curse. Cat complains of ill treatment, threatens to file grievance.

8.    Apologize when suddenly opened refrigerator door whacks cat on head as she is tearing around in the kitchen. Snicker wickedly. Remove cat from refrigerator.

9.    Stop cat from stealing sausage.

10.    Drink half a mug of coffee in one gulp, wondering if caffeine is really a good idea at this point in time.

11.    See lobster boat chugging past kitchen window. Wonder if cats make good bait in lobster traps.

12.    Portion out breakfast. After a short inner debate about what to do with the sausage bearing tiny teeth marks, relent and give to cat.

13.    Eat breakfast with only minor incursions from the cat. She gets the scraps, and then tips over my cup of coffee. I can’t hear anything other than the grinding of my teeth.

14.    I sit in the living room to recover. Scooter curls up in the sun, goes immediately to sleep, and manages somehow to look completely angelic.

15.    “Isn’t she cute,” I say.

Postscript: Four years later, lithe, active Scooter looks rather like a furbearing watermelon, and we typically call her “Tubby.”

Truck

August 18, 2008

My truck gets used for chores on the weekends, and not much else. It’s getting a little long in the drive-train for my daily 100-mile commute.

It’s not pretty, but it’s always helping me to discover things. In its own funky way, it reminds me to pay attention to things I’m usually too busy – and going too fast – to notice.

During the week, the truck sits in a sunny spot by the garage. I have a window screen laid between the dash and seatbacks and dry peppers and tomatoes in it. They’re great seasonings in the depth of winter. As a bonus, the inside of the truck smells great. (see note below.)

The Dakota is more than 20 years old, and shows it, with maybe more than its share of dings, rust, and rattles. It has a v-shaped dent in the top of the tailgate a time when I was showing off my skill at driving in reverse.

When I was younger, I used to name my vehicles. My old Desoto was Hernando, of course. A ‘53 Chevy was Fat Albert, a lima-bean-green ‘54 Plymouth wagon was The Tank, and a Chrysler wagon was Walter, after Walter Cronkite (it’s a long story.) I had a ’63 Chevy wagon for awhile, but one day, both back wheels broke off when I hit the brakes. Never mind what I called it then.

I don’t name them anymore, but at the urging of my friend Tristan, who is 12, The Truck is now Dakota.

When he’s been sitting for awhile, Dakota blows oil smoke like a mosquito fogger for a mile or so before he settles down, so a valve job would be a good idea, but it will have to wait.

Dakota has two-wheel drive, nothing fancy, even when it was new. Manual shift, no A/C., a little chrome trim, but not much.

About the only nod to the silly modern habit of sissyfying trucks into odd hybrids of utility and luxury is blue velour upholstery, which now smells of an amalgam of dried peppers, spilled coffee, mildew, and god knows what else.

My neighbors used to kid me about how much manure I hauled in when I started my garden. I explained that I was a newspaper reporter, and so had an endless supply of it, usually supplied during elections.

Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without Dakota.

Never mind the utility…Dakota brought me back in touch with some things I had not realized I was missing.

I noticed it the first summer. I had the windows open as I chugged along a back road on my way somewhere, keeping my speed down to 35 or 40, simply because it was the weekend and I wasn’t going to hurry anywhere.

I drove past a cluster of Sweet Olive shrubs in full bloom and was hit by that knock-you-to-your-knees sweetness, like honeysuckle on steroids. It made me realize that as fine as A/C is, it does tend to seal us away from the world as it is.

Like most other things, driving with the windows open in the country can be a mixed blessing. Sure, there are flowers and new-mown hay, burning leaves, somebody grilling steak, rain on the road. But there is also the sinus-slapping odor of aged manure being spread over a field, or a week-dead deer, a furbearing zeppelin, buggy and bloated, hooves heavenward in the gutter.

And the sounds…the high chirp and trill of a redwing, crunch of tires on gravel, peeping of peepers in the spring and buzz saw singing of cicadas in the summer, the faraway stutter of a John Deere tractor, the sticky hiss of my tires on hot tar, rusty chirr of crickets, whirr of grasshoppers, cries of hawks, and the inelegant gronk of the graceful heron, all punctuated by thunder, the lowing of cattle, and snatches of bird song and squirrels scolding the world.

Sometimes, I’ll even pull over and shut down the engine, and just listen. Listening is something Dakota reminded me to do.

I’ve used it to haul furniture, field stone, gravel, sand, soil, mulch and manure. While hauling manure, I learned that it is good practice to close the truck’s back window, as the air currents tend to blow whatever is being hauled into the cab. Flying manure was not something I would stand in line to experience again.

And you thought education had to be expensive.
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Note: Drying veggies in the truck was an idea I got from Val Webb of Mobile, Alabama. She writes The Illustrated Garden blogsite normally at http://www.ghostrabbitgarden.blogspot.com, which is temporarily on hiatus. Check it out.
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© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,
Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

Random

August 9, 2008

The woman died at about the same time I noticed the rain.

I sat at the table overlooking the creek, peacefully listening to the combined sounds of birdsong and my teeth crunching away at Cinnamon Puffins cereal. Music played softly on the kitchen radio. Sue worked on a crossword puzzle. I thought about checking my work email, and then thought better of it.

It began to rain on the creek, thousands of circles spreading from each drop, intersecting, and setting off secondary waves. The entire pattern was dependent on each drop. Take one away, add one, and the pattern changes. I suppose a mathematician could calculate where each ring would go, what consequences each intersection would have. But on the surface, literally and figuratively, it seemed totally random.

But the rain only fell on one side of the house, I noted with interest. Obviously, when it rains or snows, there is a line where either ends. If I believed in portents, I would have thought it portended something. A random event with delusions of omen.

Downstream about three-quarters of a mile as the heron flies, and at about that moment, a 12-passenger van filled with three vacationing families heading for Niagara Falls on the four-lane, bounced off a guardrail at the bridge over my creek, hit another guardrail, and crossed the median and slammed into a third.

One of the passengers, Eun Ju Lee, 36, of Oklahoma City a young mother of two, was thrown from the van and died as I crunched away at my Puffins upstream.

That same day, 63 years earlier, Sumiko Koide, 17, was carrying her baby sister in the alley between her parents’ home and a neighbor’s, when the sun came to Earth.

The Koide family lived about 20 minutes by car outside of downtown Hiroshima.

It was not, of course, a random act in any sense of the word, but to the tens of thousands killed and injured, it probably seemed so, on that tranquil summer morning. It was 8:15 a.m., local time. I can easily imagine people sitting at breakfast, looking out their windows.

Sumiko told me she remembers a silent flash, then chaos.

“I saw so many dead people. So many walking with the skin dropping off of their faces and hands, so many with their faces terribly bloated,” she said.

A few days later, the sun came to Earth over Nagasaki.

Another raindrop, another circle spreading, hitting other circles. Thousands upon thousands of random circles removed, altering the paths of those remaining. Predictable? Maybe. But it still feels random. I asked Sumiko if she thought dropping the two bombs helped to shorten the war, or in the long run, saved lives.

“I don’t know. I guess there would have been more people die in an invasion. But not all in one place,” she said. “It is hard to say that it should have been bombed.”

She was quiet for a bit, then added: “We would not have given up, I think, if not for the bombing,” adding that each home bamboo spears beside the front door in the event of an American invasion. Everyone, children included, had strict instructions from the government what to do if and when the Americans came.

“We were each to kill one and then ourselves. We were not to surrender,” she said.

A few months before his death, I interviewed physicist and biologist Ray Crist about the Manhattan Project, which led to the creation of the two bombs. Crist was 105, and had only recently retired from teaching.

“…There was really no morality (about it). There was a real chance of the Germans getting it and we knew they were working on it. It was a question of war. It had gone beyond morality. Everybody was terrified of the Germans finding this first. It was a matter of life and death,” he said.

After the war, Crist was one of a group of scientists invited to travel to the Far East and witness a demonstration of an atomic bomb blast. He declined.

“I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to get a personal sense of what the bomb would do,” he said.

Indeed. Who would?

On the way home from work last night, I stopped briefly at the scene of the accident. As it happened, I was listening to some somber classical music on the car stereo. Purely random, as I had selected the music for reasons that had nothing to do with the crash. But it seemed to fit.

The van and other wreckage were gone, of course. But the story was written clearly in the bent guardrails, the deep grooves in the median, the spray-painting to mark for the investigators where the van came to rest. I thought about three families, surely good friends, perhaps talking and laughing, sleeping, reading, and then moments of chaos, followed by darkness, pain and panic.

That night I watched the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. I watched the faces of the Japanese team as they marched in the stadium, standing tall and strong and waving at the nearly 100,000 people in the stands. Nearly three-quarters of a century ago their grandfathers had swarmed through China, murdering and raping in the name of their emperor.

I wondered who else might be among the Japanese athletes if the two A-bombs had not been dropped, what additional grandfathers might be watching proudly from the stands, or on a TV back home. I wondered if, in those powerful physiques might lurk some genetic fluke, arising from radiation, that might someday lead to some unknown tweak in the human genome, whether for good or ill.

I blinked and looked back to something I had been reading. Just too random to think about, too complex. No easy answers here.

The creek had been low for the past couple of weeks, but the millions of random drops have brought it back up by a couple of feet. The carp are poking around over bottom that had for awhile been dry ground, looking for manna. Heron stand, newly attentive. None ponders the randomness of their fortune. I, however, do, but without much result.
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© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,
Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

A Diner in America

August 1, 2008

It probably doesn’t look it, but it’s really a sort of magical place.

Well, it is to me, anyway.

The Lincoln Diner stands just a block north of Lincoln Square in downtown Gettysburg. I think it a pretty lucky thing that right at a nexus of all things American, past and present, some kindly fates decreed that there ought to be a place at that crossroads to sit down over some eggs and coffee and think about it all.

I used to live just a block away, in an apartment overlooking the square. From my desk, I could look out the window at the house where Abraham Lincoln stayed on the night of Nov. 18, 1863. The window of the room he slept in faced mine.

No, I never saw his ghost looking out the window. Gettysburg has turned haunting into a cottage industry, and turns out spooks as though it were an ectoplasm cannery, as though the entire nation’s past residents had existed mostly to scare the bejesus out of the rest of us in the present.

I hadn’t been to the diner much since I moved out of town some years ago. Finding myself in temporary bachelor circumstances, I climbed into the truck and chugged into town and wandered into the Lincoln Diner.

Nothing had changed, of course. Actually, the owners remodeled it a year or so back, but what they did is make it look more like itself, if you know what I mean.

The Lincoln is from the era when stainless steel was king. It looks like an eatery designed by NASA, or something from Meet the Jetsons, square and streamlined at the same time, in a style that never looks new, but never really old, either.

I found a booth in the back and started with coffee, and ordered breakfast. Probably the same breakfast I ordered the first time I ate there, nearly a quarter century earlier. Some of the same wait staff is still there, as are some of the same customers, along with students from the college, and here and there a tourist smart enough to stay away from the clown-themed food factories on the strip.

The first or second winter after I moved up here I sat, maybe in that same booth, and watched a whiteout obliterate the world. It was an hour or so after midnight and a late shift at the newspaper. So heavy fell the snow that I could not see past the railroad tracks beyond the sidewalk, and the white blur flared with flashes of lightning.

For a Georgia boy, it was exotic, a real adventure.

But the real magic of the Lincoln Diner, to me, is its position in a hub, if you will, of what the country is, a continuing dialogue between its past and present.

One of the routes that pass through the square is U.S. 30, the nation’s first transcontinental highway. I stood on it once in Nebraska, with the Pony Express route to my south, and a branch of the Oregon Trail still visible to my north.

Across the street from the Lincoln Diner is the old Western Maryland depot, where Lincoln arrived to give his famous address, and from which he departed to return to Washington, D.C. In 16 months he would be dead.

Across the side-street on the other side of the tracks is one of those franchise eateries. It used to be a new and used bookstore, one of two in the downtown area. It’s gone now, and the other one focuses more on original artworks. It is an irony that in the first nation with compulsory public education our illiteracy rate is higher than it was half a century ago, and even most of those who can read think they don’t have time.

West of the former bookshop stands the derelict remains of one of those off-brand gas stations. The lot is surrounded by a fence, and inhabited by construction vehicles. I don’t remember what’s planned for the spot.

Next to the diner is a bar. In fact, within a block of Lincoln Square are at least three bars. It may explain the general belief in spirits around here.

My breakfast comes. A local attorney at the next table finds a cell phone on the floor. It rings. It is the tourist who lost it, wondering where it might be. The attorney tells him, and walks to the front of the restaurant so he can hand the man his phone when he swings by.

The attorney sits back down, and tells his story to a couple of the long-time waitresses. It’s been so long since I’ve eaten there that only one of the old-timers says hello. I dig into my eggs, a little saddened. It’s like not being recognized at Cheers.

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© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,

Gettysburg, Pa.

“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/