Me and Pooch and Daniel Boone

November 21, 2016

From “Never Met a Stranger,” due out soon-ish

 

Me and Pooch and Daniel Boone

Everybody has a secret soup bone.

Murphy had his Laws, Dr. Peter had his Peter Principle, and Pooch had The Great Soup bone.

Allow me to explain.

Years ago, I had this great dog named Pooch. I have not always been clever in the naming of my animal companions. In my own defense, I can tell you that he already had the name when I got him from a couple who couldn’t keep him anymore.

Pooch was friendly, happy without any good reason, and generally useless in a cheerful sort of way. He was a lot like most of my friends back in the day.

He was about one-third German Shepherd, one-third Weimaraner, and one-third marshmallow.

Like any other dog, Pooch’s ancestry went all the way back to the wolf. I think that’s pretty cool. I haven’t looked too far back on my own family tree for fear of what sort of termites and miscreants I might find.

Down inside, you see, Pooch saw himself as a Fearless Beast, a veritable Call-of-The-Wild wolf creature with fangs that would freeze the blood of a grizzly and a howl that would make a saint sweat.

Never mind that Pooch was a neurotic wreck. Never mind that he could let loose a marrow-curdling roar, but only if he knew the person at whom he was roaring.

I started thinking about Pooch today while talking with a friend about hunters. We were laughing about the not-really-very-funny fact that most of the deer hunters who die pursuing their sport do so from falling out of trees or from heart attacks.

Obviously, a person who spends 362 days of the year watching television or flying a desk is going have problems the other three days of the year when he tries to transform himself into Daniel Boone and go ridge-running after The Big One.

A friend and I were wondering why they do it, and I thought about Pooch.

I used to stop off on my way home from work and pick up a soup bone from a butcher I had befriended. Pooch loved to gnaw on the things and growl, and the cats looked at him with respect.

I guess I forgot to mention the cats. My wife and I had sixteen of them. We could not bear to give the kittens away and the females couldn’t bear to say “no,” and we had no money to have them spayed, so we had a lot. By the time the number got up to 24, I had left, but that’s another story, and it had nothing to do with the cats.

Anyway, Pooch would curl up in front of the fireplace and immediately six or eight kittens would curl up all over him. He would look at me as if to say “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, is it?”

One day, my butcher friend gave me a real treat; most of a cow’s backbone, with one rack of ribs still attached. The doggone thing was about four feet long.

Pooch was cross-eyed with delight.

He carried the gory thing around with him, neck muscles bulging, eyes popping with the effort, now and then uttering fierce little growls. I think he was trying to convince the cats and maybe himself that he’d killed this monstrous, ferocious beast.

The fantasy was pretty easy to put up with for the first few days. But after a while the hapless backbone began to take on a nasty greenish look, and the smell was astounding.

Still, Pooch would pick it up four or five times a day and strut past us, reeking to high heaven, bragging to us in dog-talk about what a fight this thing had put up.

Finally, one day when he was off scaring the wits out of a chipmunk, I took the backbone, which now resembled a prop out of the movie Night of The Living Dead, and dumped it in the Oconee River, which flowed by my back yard.

Pooch searched the woods for that disgusting thing for days. I think he suspected me. He probably thought I was jealous of his hunting prowess.

So, I sit around and shoot the breeze and tell hunting stories, though I can’t even remember the last time I shot a gun. I still like to walk in the woods, but I confess that the hills are steeper than they used to be, and the wind colder.

But sometimes, when the air turns crisp, I find myself staring wistfully at the gun racks in the sporting goods stores, and fight down a desire to go slogging through some of the world’s untamed places. But then I remember Pooch, who carried his fantasy around until it stank, and became a pain in the neck.

Still, I wonder if I could find a coonskin cap in my size.

 

 

I knew right away I was going to like Nate Nicholls when I saw his yard.

I was sightseeing in 2005 on some of the back roads in the area of Maine where I like to vacation, and there it was, inhabited by guys leaning on shovels, giant chickadees, giraffes, assorted frogs, cactus, oversized flowers, and the odd dragon or two.

Everything was made out of junk, scrap metal, propane tanks, rakes, shovels, railroad spikes, nuts, bolts, lengths of rebar, this and that.

I whipped the car onto the shoulder and walked around some, taking photos, hoping the owner would show, but he wasn’t home.

But there was a big, hand-lettered sign. The sign said that the township is telling him that no business in the township can have items for sale unless they are screened from view. So, his sign says, nothing you can see there is for sale. Unless, that is, you look at it through a screen. He provides the screen, of course, a square of framed wire mesh that he made himself.

“Ok,” I said to myself. “I GOTTA meet this guy.”

The next day, I did.

Nate Nicholls was no trained artist. He was a high school dropout, then 43, who eked out a living harvesting and processing wild Maine blueberries, doing odd jobs, and from the occasional sale of a piece of his art.

Turns out, he was born only about 50 miles from where I live, in Lancaster, Pa. He was married and lived with his family in a white wood frame house adjacent to his workshop and his, well, it’s hard to say what it is. Display area, museum, and storage lot. Prop lot for some very strange stage production. Something like that.

Nate, who had collected mostly metal junk for his hobby for years, got serious about welding and bolting odds and ends of stuff together after his mother died about three years before I met him.

“She was artistic. After she passed, I just felt like I had to do something, and this is where it went,” he said.

He also said he got a little ticked off with the local government because they told him he couldn’t keep all that junk in his yard.

“So, I started welding stuff together, and called it art. I said, ‘now it’s art, what are you going to do now?’ “

He said the township didn’t like him very much.

Nate’s prices were arbitrary. He had a steel sheep he made and set the price at $6,000, because he’d seen one made by a famous sculptor priced at that figure.

“And my sheep looks more realistic,” he said with obvious pride.

The sheep, I had to admit, looked pretty darned real. OK, it looked like a sheep in chain mail, but this is art, right? The convention/menagerie in Nicholl’s yard includes people of all shapes and sizes, an elephant, giraffe, one whole red and orange dragon perhaps 10 feet tall hatching babies out of propane tank ‘eggs,’ parts of several other dragons, a self-portrait of the artist, one squid, one octopus, a pair of tiny dogs made from car springs that I would swear were modeled after a pair of miniature poodles I know, any number of birds, lizards…all made from old gears, snowmobile mufflers (great for peacocks and pelican bodies, as it happens,) nuts, bolts, pitchforks, shovels, picks, shears, screwdrivers and chain-link fence.

Nate said he spent a lot of time in scrap yards, and sometimes people just bring stuff for him. One fellow, I believe, provided a couple of tons of railroad spikes, which have evolved into hundreds of tiny figures romping, dancing and marching around Nate’s five-acre property.

Sadly, Nate is not making any more fanciful creatures.

One July day he was welding a small metal frog when his heart failed. He was rushed to the hospital in Damariscotta, but nothing could be done to bring him back. His kids had him cremated and buried his cremains in his sculpture garden, and covered his grave with bouquets of flowers made from gaily-painted flowers fashioned from outdoor spigot handles.

I make a point to stop at Nate’s on every visit to Maine. Sometimes I chat with his son Josh, who lives in the big old house, and sometimes chat with his daughter, Alissa, on Facebook.

Like many artist’s Nate’s life stared back at us from his work. He once had a run-in with the state highway department. They said his stuff was too close to the road. He countered by listing a number of more usual businesses on the same highway who keep their products as close or closer. In honor of the dispute, Nate built a highway department guy leaning on his shovel, a stumpy cigar stuck between his teeth and a woman giving him hell about something.

To celebrate his warm relationship with his township, Nate has a figure carrying a skull around on a platter. He said the head represents a figure from the local government who is sometimes a pain in the butt.

The biggest problem Nate had, aside from his hassles with the local and state government, is that he gets attached to each piece, knows the story behind every part of it, who brought him this spring, that doohickie, and what inspired him to make it. It’s sweet, but it doesn’t help his cash flow.

“I can’t mass produce these things, but if I have only one of a piece, I can’t sell it. And of my very favorite pieces, I can hardly bring myself to sell them at all,” he said.

He did sell stuff, though. He picked up a turtle made of railroad spikes, its shell made from old steel nuts welded together. It was about eight inches across. He said he makes them pretty often, because people walk onto his property and offer him a hundred bucks for one.

He said he figures he could get $10,000 for the 10-foot-tall red-and-orange dragon, babies and eggs included.

At his memorial service Alissa read from a poem Nate left behind:

There really isn’t much difference
between this old man
and a chunk of rusty mooring chain.
I grow weak
from both the weathering of time
and the brine of existence.

Since Nate’s death, his kids have moved some of the sculptures around. Some of the pieces have been stolen, but they are doing the best they can on a limited budget. They want to maintain Nate’s Recycleart Garden Gallery and the garden for as long as they can. The garden is free and open to the public, and they want to keep it that way.
Recycleart sculpture garden and studio
https://www.facebook.com/recyclesculptor

http://recyclesculptor.com/

 May, 1999

I know that when somebody is in a position of power, other folks are always trying to pull them off to the side to give them advice. I do not normally do this, myself, but the more I watch this mess in Kosovo, I want to pull Bill Clinton over and tell him about my old tomcat.

 

Tom could have been the poster-child for stray cats, which is what he was when he found himself adopted into my little family back in Mississippi.

 

After he settled in, he cleaned himself up pretty well, working at his armor-plating of mats until his long fur looked fairly presentable. He was chunky, and looked a little like a mohair cork.

 

Tom was a lot to contend with, about 20 pounds of bad attitude with claws. He as a warlike old cuss who would actually take off across the yard toward any dog he saw coming into his territory.

 

As far as I know, the only thing on this earth he was afraid of was Minsky.

 

Minsky was our little female cat. She was tiny, about half Tom’s size, and excessively cute, with long brindled black and orange fur, and a little three-inch stub of a tail, the result of a close call with a large neighborhood dog.

 

That stub is an important player in our story. It was sharp, and Minsky was in the habit of holding it straight up in the air when she was happy or in heat, which for Minsky usually meant one and the same thing.

 

In an effort to be delicate, let me just say that Minsky suffered from an excess of, er, romance when it came to cats of the opposite sex. In fact, when she went into heat, which seemed to happen every 20 minutes, she became so flirtatious she even embarrassed me.

 

In fact, it was Minsky’s affectionate nature that was Tom’s downfall.

 

One rainy winter night, my wife and I sat reading in bed, enjoying the heat and glow of the industrial-sized open gas heater, which stood against the wall opposite the foot of our brass bed. Minsky, the hussy, was lolling around all over the floor, making odd little cooing noises, and casting steamy glances across the room at Tom.

 

Tom, poor boy, was totally smitten. A passionate creature by nature, he approached matters of the heart with the same verve he used in attacking dogs and small children. Used much of the same technique, too, as I recall.

 

Tensely, he watched Minsky from where he curled on the new bedspread. I watched them both. Minsky was giving an Oscar-grade performance. She lolled. She mewed. She made suggestive remarks.

 

Tom grew more and more…interested.

 

Finally, he dropped to the floor, and crouched into a coiled stance, like a coiled spring ready to let go.

 

A few seconds later, after Minsky uttered one more invitation, that spring exploded into life. Tom launched himself across the little room, to land with all his weight and speed right on top of…that cruel, sharp, rigid little spike of a tail.

 

It was not the sensation he had been expecting.

 

Giving something between a grunt and a yowl, he catapulted himself backwards through the air, performing a lovely parabola from point A, (that would be Minsky,) to point B, (which would be the big gas heater,) which promptly set him on fire.

 

Now a ball of flaming fur, Tom launched himself in the other direction, landing on top of the bed, burning merrily.

 

My wife screamed. I screamed. None of us screamed as much as Tom.

 

Thinking I ought to do something immediately, even if it was wrong, I threw the new bedspread over Tom and wrapped him tight, extinguishing the flames. Tom, not happy with being smothered, proceeded to yowl and shred his way out of the bedspread.

 

My wife, not happy with what was happening to her new bedspread, started to yowl and beat on me with her Bible. Yowling a little myself, I took the whole sorry bundle out the back door and dumped Tom on the ground. He took off, still smoking, into the garden.

 

Minsky, meanwhile, was still looking for companionship. I picked her up and, resisting the urge to drop-kick her, set her down on the ground. She took off after Tom, whose smoke trail was easy to follow, even in the rain.

 

After a few days, things were back to what passed for normal in our household. There was yet another new bedspread on the brass bed. Minsky was calm and, we learned later, pregnant, papa unknown. Tom, however, was a changed cat.

 

Even after his fur grew back out, his lion-like bearing fell away whenever he came into the house. If Minsky came anywhere near him, he slinked around the edges of the room and went to go hide under the couch.

 

This is the cautionary tale I would tell Bill Clinton if I were to advise him about the situation in Kosovo No matter how small and tempting your target, remember there may be sharp and unpleasant surprises lurking in what looked like an easy victory.

 

Now, if he wanted to apply that advice to any other aspect of his life, that is his business.

Max

October 23, 2015

I try my best to be rational, despite a lot of guff I get from less liberal friends.

 

I went through religious phases, even tinkered around in the occult for a while, until I got tired of trying to believe ridiculous things. So, I have self-identified as an atheist and a non-believer in magic for decades now, but I have to make an exception for particular dogs and cats.

 

I remembered that when I met Max.

 

I had a wonderful dog when I was a kid, a Heinz 57 of very democratic ancestry named Gramps. His previous owners called him that because his bark sounded like the griping of a querulous old man.

 

Gramps and I were as inseparable as a boy and his dog could be. We explored the woods and fields in the area where I grew up and were often out till after dark. I had a BB gun and Gramps, and was relatively fearless, except for that time with the Peacock, but that’s ‘whole ‘nother’ story.

 

When I was in Junior High, a brat down the street yanked on Gramps’ tail where it had been slammed in a door before we got him. Gramps yelped, turned and bit the little turd on the face.

 

Without hesitation, Dad took Gramps to the vet and had him put down. He said if he had not, the family of the little monster would have sued us.

 

I was heartbroken. I suggested that we put the kid down too, but that idea gained no traction.

 

I didn’t speak to my dad for a couple of weeks. I think he was really hurt.

 

Four years later I worked as a helper on a beer truck. I was loading the hand-dolly back on the truck in a town 40 miles from home when I turned around and there was Gramps.

 

Of course, that was silly. He was a young dog, and Gramps was pretty old when he died. But he was identical; same short glossy black fur, same white blaze on his chest, same quizzical tilt to his head when I talked to him.

 

I laughed at myself and climbed up in to the passenger seat of the cab.

 

Gramps II took a running leap and sat in my lap.

 

We talked for a long time. Wes the Driver, being a notorious motor-mouth and unable to keep a schedule, stayed in the package store for a long time.

 

I told him how much I missed him and stuff like that. He wagged and licked my face and looked into my eyes. When Wes came out from the package store, Gramps II licked my face again and jumped out of the cap and trotted away.

 

Wes, who had not seen the dog, saw my face and asked what was wrong. Nothing, I said, smiling. Everything’s fine.

 

And it was.

 

During my recent vacation, several of us were out exploring South Bristol, a little fishing village on the Maine coast. The town has a rare swing bridge spanning the gut between a sheltered harbor and Muscongus Bay.

 

A swing bridge serves the same purpose as a draw bridge, but instead of lifting up, it rotates to the side to let boats pass.

 

I am told there are only a few of these in existence, and the one in South Bristol will be gone by the spring of 2016, replaced by a more traditional drawbridge.

 

We had been watching the bridge working and taking photos of it. I finally sat on the steel curb on the span’s walkway to rest.

 

A slender, well-dressed woman with white hair approached with an older white Labrador retriever on a leash.

 

From about 20 feet away, the Lab, 12 years old and named Max, spotted me and nearly tugged his leash out of the woman’s hand. He plowed through my standing friends and threw himself at me.

 

He butted his head against mine. He licked my face and beard, wriggling like a puppy. I rubbed his ears and scratched his chest. He made small vocalizations. We were long-lost friends…who had never seen one another before.

 

“My god, he never does that,” said the woman. “He is normally kind of shy. He never approaches people.”

 

The group of us chatted with the woman for a while. She lived somewhere on the Maryland coast. I don’t remember much of the conversation; I was all about Max.

 

I talked the way I would to any other friend. Max mostly spoke through his eyes and body language. I said I would be happy to take him home, and I meant it. Whatever it was between the two of us, between two members of separate species, it was powerful.

 

Finally, it was time for the woman to leave; he husband was picking her up and two days later they would leave for Boston to visit some family, then home to Maryland.

 

She tugged the leash. Max looked at me, licked my face. He turned and walked away slowly. My throat tightened. If I had been a child I would have made a scene.

 

I do not know how to explain what happened between Max and me. I am not sure that I really want some cut-and-dried psychological explanation. I had felt a spark of something that bridged a gap that some would say cannot be bridged.

 

Max and I know better.

 

On a recent rainy Tuesday, I paid a visit to some fossilized bits of dinosaur and one of the people who discovered the bits.

“Bits” here being used advisedly: These bits were small compared to the critter they came from, but pretty doggone big to the rest of us.

The dinosaur debris belonged to one or more individuals of a species called Alamosaurus sanjuanensis, brought out of the New Mexican desert by Robert Sullivan, senior curator in paleontology and geology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Sullivan has spent his summers for the past 30 years working the dinosaur bone-yards in the blank spots on the map to the northwest of Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It is hot, hard work, and the teams are small, only two or three people from each sponsoring group, in this case, The University of Montana’s Museum of the Rockies, and the State Museum of Pennsylvania. That means that only a small number of fossils per season can be dug out of their surrounding stone, prepared, and carried out in knapsacks or on stretchers. It’s got to be something you believe in.

 I am trying to remember how we ever really believed in dinosaurs until the movie Jurassic Park came out. And yet, we did. Even when all we had to rely on were drawings and paintings in National Geographic, the clunky “claymation” monsters in bad science-fiction films, and, of course, our own fevered imaginations, we believed.

I’m no spring chicken, and dinosaurs thundered around in my imagination as long ago as I can remember, without benefit of full-size, full-color, bellowing digital versions of the creatures. I have to guess that people working in the field today spent time as children looking out over a pasture or into a murky forest and imagined vast shadows moving, shaking the ground with each step.

Maybe they still do, looking up from editing research papers, imagining they just caught a shudder of vibration running through the heating ducts, a furtive rustle in the shrubbery outside.

Computer Generated Imagery in films like Jurassic Park brought dinosaurs to life, starting with the first film in 1993, and several times since in sequels with increasingly lame plots and acting. Well, for the humans, anyway. The acting on the part of the digital dinosaurs seemed top-notch, at least in my book.

With the advent of CGI, the monsters moved with a spontaneity that made one want to sit astride their lumbering backs, or run away squealing. On the other hand, I wonder if seeing them so apparently real has damaged our ability to imagine them. I hope not. We believed, back in those technologically deprived days, because we needed to. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was a need to believe in vast and dramatic lives in a time so distant it implied a hope in a world after our own. Maybe, for those of still children and feeling insignificant and powerless, it was good to populate our spirits with beasts so big as to be undeniable, unstoppable, and inexpressively awesome.

Alamosaurus is a pretty big deal. For one thing, it’s simply just damned BIG. Two of the recovered pieces are vertebrae, one from back around the beastie’s hips, the other from the lower part of its long, long neck.

The remaining piece is a little less than half of an Alamosaurus’ thigh bone. It’s nearly four feet long, meaning that this bone, from knee to hip, was eight feet long and more than a foot thick.

Bob wouldn’t speculate on the animal’s size because this particular type – long-necked and –tailed herbivore that ambled around on four legs – came in a variety of models that might have enough variation to make scientific guesses about its length, weight, etcetera, just that…guesses.

Even so, the University of Montana put out a graphic showing an estimated comparison between a generalized Alamosaurus and a typical full-grown human male. The other silhouette is a representation of one of the vertebrae found at the New Mexico site.

Feel humbled? You should. The Alamosaurus was one of the biggest creatures ever to walk on land, though there was another, similar herbivore, Argentinosaurus, which was slightly larger. Full-grown, Alamosaurus was more-or-less the length of an Amtrak passenger car.

Nobody has yet found the skull of an Alamosaurus, so nobody can say for sure what it looked like. It likely had a brain the size of a tangerine, so if it were around today it could probably run for public office.

There are a lot of reasons we can be grateful that the real dinosaurs are long gone, I suppose. On the one hand, I really do enjoy picturing one lumbering through the field across the road from my house, chomping and belching its way through the soybeans.

On the other hand, I think keeping something the size of a city bus out of my tomato patch would be a major pain.

A REALLY GOOD DAY

June 23, 2011

By T.W. Burger

It is hard to say just what makes one day more perfect than the other.

 

One day can be sunny and clear and in every aspect fine, but only run-of-the-mill fine.

 

The great thing about being a member of a species that lives longer than a mayfly, for example, is that most of us have an opportunity to have enough days and nights that we can compare one to the other, or at least note that one particular day has something that another lacked.

 

Or, maybe I just have too much time on my hands.

 

But, there it was. You just knew, in the way the rolling fields of timothy waved in the breeze on either side of Pumping Station Road, a scenic drive I normally would not normally take except as a detour.

 

The new bridge going up on the main road pushed me to this longer route, and most days I’m glad of it, except when I’m rushed.

 

I drove slowly, waving more impatient, and presumably more important, drivers around me, and ignored their scowls. I drove with the windows down, slowly enough to hear the breeze in the grass, and the rusty-hinge song of the redwing blackbirds.

 

Nearby, a man on a riding mower buzzed his lawn, an flying circus of barn swallows dive-bombing the bugs he stirred up. He seemed oblivious to the acrobatics of the birds, intent on making each row perfectly straight. There’s a parable there, I think; sometimes we pay close attention to all the wrong things.

 

But the day was too perfect for ponderous thoughts. Let the man keep his rows geometrical while a squadron of swallows filigreed the air. His loss.

 

Back home on the deck, a half mug of single malt at hand, I sat with my journal as the trees on both sides of the creek poured out cheeps and chirps, as their populations of songbirds held forth on their thoughts about the day’s proceedings, or on seed futures, or whatever they talk about at twilight, fidgeting from branch to twig, looking for a place to alight and settle as the shadows lengthen.

 

The leafy treetops flared in the setting sun, their green growing deeper closer to the busy ground below. Deer stirred in their thickets, preparing to make their clockwork trek from here to there on ancient paths now intersected with paved roads, and the predators slipped out, stretched, sniffed the air seeking prey that is not quite fast enough.

 

The leaves of the oak, hickory and maple waved coquettishly in the breeze, and I think I may have been a little drunk, but unsure whether it was the scotch or the day. I decided it was a little of both.

 

When it became dark enough that I could no longer see to write, I put away the pen, closed the journal. The trees across the creek had been reduced to jagged outlines against the pewter dusk, the air pestered by a convention of grackles griping about this and that, as they do.

 

Good smells drifted through the screen door from the kitchen, and I gathered up my things and moved indoors. The day wass gone, like thousands of others in my sixty-odd years. A real keeper, too.

           

 

© 2011 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.

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Over dinner with friends tonight, I was asked to post this. So, here it is.

Well, this Thursday is the big day. Turkey day. I used to have the figures handy that told how many turkeys die to make Thanksgiving possible, but I’ve lost them.

It’s a lot.

Not so long ago, things were a lot simpler. A lot of the people I knew forswore their store-bought birds and got a live bird from a farmer.

Trouble is, too many of the folks who gave this “old-fashioned” method a try were young people from the ‘burbs. Their experience with “nature” was getting draft­ ed by their parents to help fight the war on crabgrass.

My neighbors at a little mobile home park in Georgia are a case in point.

The couple, let’s call them Tom and Tif­ fany, were both raised in one of those towns squeezed like putty at the seams where New York and New Jersey are glued together.

They grew up in some development named after the trees that had been cut down to build it.

Tom was a sleepy, even lethargic sort of guy. It was hard to tell if he was awake or sleepwalking.

Tiffany was, well, perky, given to hare­ brained ideas and sudden enthusiasms.

Tom was at the university, studying to be a biologist. Tiffany worked somewhere as a secretary.

The way it was told to me, one Thanks­ giving, Tiffany decided she would surprise Tom with a turkey.

She purchased a big hen from a farmer who swore on a stack of Greenpeace pam­ phlets that he had raised the thing from a poult and had never fed it anything he could not pronounce.

Back at home, Tiffany, raised on painless supermarket turkeys, could not bring her­ self to apply the firewood axe to the bird’s neck. The brief stay of execution ended, however, when Tiffany found Tom’s supply of chloroform.

She put the turkey to sleep.

Triumphant and little nauseated, Tiffany got the big hen plucked after a fashion, but the idea of trimming off the head and feet was beyond her sensibilities, not to men­ tion the idea of moving all the turkey’s in­ side stuff to the outside.

So, into the fridge went the nude bird, awaiting the arrival of Tom. Remember, the turkey was to be a surprise for Tom.

Tiffany’s unflappable husband came home in the late afternoon, tired, burdened by thick books and reeking of formalde­ hyde. Tiffany told him she had a surprise for him in the refrigerator.

Tom opened the door.

The little light came on.

The turkey woke up.

Naked. In pain.

And really, really ticked off.

With a hellish gobble, she exploded out from among the beansprouts and leftover chili, straight at Tom. The now-streamlined and furious bird dug its claws into Tom’s sweater and began pecking and biting him on the face and arms.

Tom, as intended, was surprised. And more lively than usual.

Still screaming, the turkey dropped Tom and charged into Tiffany, knocking her backward, breaking the glass front of her china cabinet.

The bird bashed the portable TV off its stand, knocked a life-size poster of Elvis the King from the walls before it flapped through the still-open trailer door. A strange, pale apparition in the fading light, the turkey fled gobbling fiercely into the depths of the trailer park.

The next day, Thanksgiving, I dined on a properly quiet and immobile turkey with my mother and brother. Tom and Tiffany went out for dinner at a local restaurant that featured a large and placid salad bar.

The attack turkey, I found out later, met its fate at the hands of a little old lady down the street who had never heard of “Mother Earth News,” but who knew a dinner on the run when she saw one.

The Bear

January 10, 2010

Inside this old farmhouse, the wood-burning stove roared like a jet, the heavy glass window casting a warm orange glow into the room. Monty the Springer spaniel laid in a snoring crescent not too far from the fire.

Good smells wafted from the kitchen.

It was Sunday night, the end of a visit to the farm from Sue’s kids who hail from, variously, Baltimore and Brussels.

The old house, well over two centuries old, rollicked with laughter, good food, good times. The kids and Monty explored the outdoors, skated, with assorted success, on the pond, and generally kept the rabbits and the family of red foxes on edge.

A couple of days ago, Sue’s youngest son discovered a bear track on the far side of the pond. He captured an image of it on his digital camera.

Last night I walked Monty along the lane gawking at the blazing stars, and kept telling myself that if the bear were nearby, the dog would surely bring it to my attention.

Monty was noncommittal.

Despite the cracking low temps, I kept Monty out for awhile after his errand was finished, just taking it all in.

It was cold, the coldest winter, so far, in a number of years. Hence the farm pond that will hold the weight of several rambunctious teens and a rollicking dog. And no, I didn’t try, though on last night’s walk, Monty was ready for another scramble on the ice.

Back inside, sexy Caribbean music rocked the old stones, and the smells from the kitchen intensified. It was almost time for supper, and leave-taking.

In the starry dark outside, I thought of the bear, an older citizen of these woods by far than this old farm, pacing the fields, the re-frozen snow crunching underfoot.
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© 2010 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:
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•    I am grateful for the bench.

•    After a year of pavement and office floors, heavily wooded hillsides and mossy paths have been a rude shock.

•    Protests abound. My feet and ankles wave placards and rude signs. My knees brandish pitchforks.

•    I leaned the cane against the bench and take the camera strap from around my neck.

•    The cane is a concession to the knees, etc.

•    The camera is in aid of a fantasy that I might one day take decent photographs.

•    Huckleberry Cove sits, still and dark before me.

•     The tide is almost fully out, exposing the limp strands of greenish bladderwrack on the stony shore. A few gulls and ducks mill about on the far shore.

Huckleberry Cove, low tide

Huckleberry Cove, low tide

•    The gulls mutter like old men, and no and then one will rise into the air for no apparent reason, and come down only a few feet away. One flies to my side of the cove, plops into the water, swims around eyeing me. Then he flies back to the other side. Just nosy.

•    For the most part I ignore the camera. The moment is too perfect to be snapping away like the tourist that I am. Instead, I listen.

•    Back home, I forget what “quiet” means.

•    I remember it here.

•    Quiet is being able to hear a gull mumbling a few hundred feet away, orhearing the breeze sighing through the spruce and fir along the banks. Or the sound the small red squirrels make peeling pine cones to get at the seeds tucked down inside. Winter is coming, and the squirrels are busy with their hoardings.

•    The kitchen gardens uphill from me are full of pumpkins and gourds. The other tourists wear khakis and dark sweaters and talk too much. But down here, away from the graded, mulched paths, few of them come. There are logs to step over, a stream to cross, twice, on flat stones.

•    The trees sway. The gulls arc into the air then dip back into the still, black water. A red squirrel carrying a nut scampers only a few feet away, weaving through the tree trunks and into a jumble of granite boulders and is gone with no more than a faint rustle of leaves. The moment is full of a kind of grace.

•    I retrieve the cane and camera and lunge to my feet. I like to think that at the least I provide a nice contrast to the grace of the setting.

•     My left knee pops, then settles into place and wobble up the slope and the signs that will point me back smoother path, the one with the signs that will keep me from losing my way.

(Note: This is a slightly written version of a column written many years ago.)
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In the King James version of the Bible, the 19th Psalm has it that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shewith His handiwork.”

These deep summer nights, when I watch the spiders harvesting moths snared from their ecstatic loops around the floodlights on the deck, it seems as though He is “shewing” us a dark, fevered Nature unlike the brave, noble version most of us were brought up to believe in.

In an earlier essay I wrote about the praying mantis that lived in a potted plant on the back porch of our apartment in town. I admired her for a number of reasons, not the least of which is her role as a reminder not to become overly sentimental about “nature.”

Most often, when you hear somebody say they love “nature,” what they really mean is they enjoy scenery, the “Nature” that they see in the advertisements for 4X4 vehicles and motor homes.

“Nature,” after all, is the whole package, from the dawn mists around a forest cataract, to the shelled and jointed things humping and dragging their way through the leaf mold. These are what the essayist Loren Eiseley called the “ugly, innocent, necessary” aspects of Nature with a capital “N.”

When I lived in town, I would often say, thoughtlessly, that I missed Nature. It is an absurdity, of course, like standing in a forest and saying I longed to see trees.

French naturalist Henri Fabre (1823-1915) once said his own back yard contained enough nature to keep him busy for a lifetime. I read somewhere else that the typical suburban yard contains some 40,000 spiders of various sizes and species, and a cubic foot of soil from that same yard may contain billions of individual living creatures.

American nature writer Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980), described his early interest in nature starting at his grandparents’ farm in Indiana. In his book “Near Horizons,” Teale described tucking himself away into a burrowed-out hollow in a field of rye, to spend hours observing ants, beetles, snakes, and other creatures in their everyday existence. He wrote that returning home that evening was like returning from a “distant voyage of discovery.”

What all this means, if one lives in town, is that one does not need to look far to find a very busy nature; one need only look more closely. Even in my third-floor apartment, surrounded by asphalt and a few houseplants, I still found plenty of things to watch.

The mantis, for example. She is cousin to grasshoppers, cockroaches, crickets and walking sticks. Like other insects, she has just enough brain to operate her angular body and that’s about it. Insects are hard-wired, operating on instinct, each species mass-produced by nature from a single mold.

Once I watched a spider, trying to salvage her web during a powerful storm, mooring one of the stays on a branch of my night-blooming cereus, near the spot where the mantis poised, all patience and severity. In the morning, the abandoned web fluttered in the light breeze.

The next day the mantis, calligraphy against white boards, watched as I walked past, her strange, triangular head pivoting on its ball-and-socket neck.

The next night I sat again, watching as she ate another mantis. The female mantis usually eats its mate. The unfortunate Romeo usually gets his head eaten off during the mating, possibly to prevent him from changing his mind.

This mantis lay horizontally before “my” mantis, clutched in the spiked front legs, being eaten aft to fore. Horribly, the victim continued to gaze about, only mildly interested in the proceedings, its antennae waving a vague semaphore while the clockwork mouth parts of its destroyer munched away.

These are the things that inhabit my summer dreams. The profligacy of insects is necessary but the stuff of pure nightmare. If predation and sheer accident did not kill most of the young, who wriggle and rattle near the bottom of the food chain, we would be wading through seas of the things in a matter of weeks. The clattering females of the thousands of species must each lay eggs by the tens of thousands in order to keep ahead of the mortality curve.

The same day I watched the little act of mantis cannibalism, I watched two dragonflies trying to lay their eggs in the parking lot behind the apartment. Female dragonflies lay their eggs by dipping their tails into the water of ponds and streams.

The dragonfly in flight is a spectacle worth watching; perhaps nothing else in the insect world is so graceful or so swift. Teale, who called them “winged bullets,” said some species can achieve speeds approaching 60 miles per hour. The largest living species reach wingspans of seven inches. Fossilized dragonflies with wingspans of 30 inches have been found.

The dragonflies are almost wholly creatures of the air. They scoop their prey into their clustered legs and eat literally on the wing, letting the drained bodies fall without missing a wing-beat.

For all their grace, they are not bright. The dragonflies in the parking lot tried to lay their eggs on the shiny roofs of automobiles. The hapless bugs flew from car to car, thudding uselessly against the shimmering surfaces.

I can watch this kind of thing for hours, on walks in the woods or along a pond, until I just cannot watch any more, and my uneasy sleep is haunted by hockey-mask faces and Rube Goldberg movements.

After awhile, though, I go back, ever curious. If I have learned anything in my somewhat spotty education, it is that “nature” like “art” is a process, never a finished thing. More importantly, as in art, one cannot begin to learn from it until one casts aside any expectations that it’s all going to be pretty.
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© 2009 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/