Sunday, May 22, 2011
The biggest danger on the job most days is forgetting why I gave up a much bigger income to wear a badge. I show up for things one doesn't want to experience, representing something to some people that they don't like. They often don't hesitate to let me know in some fashion. I've been into many places where I felt about as welcome as a fox at a poultry convention. It's a difficult job, and in a lot of ways harder than herding a jet around. But in small ways, it makes a difference. It matters to many, and it matters to me. But like flying, my failures can be horribly real but they are more real life, in thought and emotion than anything you see on TV. Also, not even close to be interesting enough to be on TV, and if I dressed like the women on CSI, I'd never be taken seriously.
But there are times I miss the flying. I'd be lying if I said I don't. Many of those flying stories, when I was in service to our country and not a CEO, are mine alone, to be shared only with trusted friends. The rest come up at odd times, and on the rare and odd occassion will be shared here.
Driving out West this month to meet Dad and my oldest brother near the coast, driving through Spokane and Moses Lake and Yakima, one such memory came back in rush of wind and the echoed perfume of JP4.
So to accompany some photos of vacation, a story. . .
The little turboprop trudged on towards Seattle with the slow but steady efficiency of a tax preparer. Six a.m. and I'd already been up for 3 hours. With the luck of the quick-turn gods at SeaTac we'd be on our way to Moses Lake in time for an 8:30 am "dinner". Moses Lake airport had little scheduled airline activity, yet was a home for training for Japan Airlines and we'd sit in the little terminal restaurant watching the giant aircraft launch into another touch and go with all the grace of a drunken bumblebee. It was a regular run and we'd sweet-talked the breakfast cook into heating up the fryer when we called in to the station so we could have our only meal in our 14 hour day, two cheeseburgers and fries as the rest of the world headed off to the office. My Captain may not have been the most personable guy in the world, but he knew the value of a good cheeseburger after a 3 a.m.wake up call.
It wasn't the first job I'd held as a pilot. But it would give me enough hours to help finish college and college was required to open the door for most cilivian, and pretty much all federal and military flying gigs.
It wasn't easy getting even here. There was one interview I went to, flying copilot on a large radial engine twin hauling cargo. An attorney who was also a private pilot that I'd worked for as a temp knew the owner and sent me off with a glowing written recommendation. I'd just put my initials on the resume and my last name, more to save space than to hide my gender. But as I walked in, the Chief Pilot took one look at me, and with a withering glance said "I prefer men".
I replied. . "So do I. . . but let's talk about the job".
Needless to say the interview was over at that point.
But this little commuter airline was willing to give me a chance, but it was obvious that women weren't the norm in the business. They had no bathroom for women in the hangar. The uniform hat just flat out didn't come in a size that fit me, and after using it for everything else, a repository for my keys and change on the counter, a chip container while watching movies and a shade in the tiny window in my bathroom, I finally told the Chief that my dog ate it, and no one asked about it again.
Though honestly, 99.9% of the pilots were great once they realized I was no different than they, except I smelled better and had big bumps in my uniform shirt. I only had one problem pilot. On an empty leg, he once unzipped his pants, level at 9,000 feet, and whipped out Mr. Happy and asked me what I thought. I replied "oh. . sorry. . didn't realize it was so cold in here. . I'll turn up the packs" ( controls heat and a/c). He left me alone after that. If there were Playboy pictures hidden around the cockpit, I didn't make a fuss, I just got out my pen and draw little outfits on them. If the guys exhibited "guy behavior" that crossed the line, it was dealt with one on one and privately. We were a diverse bunch, poorly paid and worked hard, but we were brothers in the sky and we had to stick together.
It was a grand time, though I barely made enough for a crash pad, and to me, hell would be a small windowless crew room filled with the odor of sandwich-like products wrapped in cellophane and carbon dated for freshness. Yet I wouldn't trade that time for anything, the unheard poetry of the first sunrise from two miles aloft, those moments of understanding that you are truly alive, the world at your feet, your aircraft splitting the air as it passes, dividing it into rivers of wandering thoughts.
There was the flight where we only had two passengers to Pullman, college students, and enroute we suddenly smelled the odor of pot (not that WE knew what pot smelled like growing up in the 70's). Without missing a beat, the captain brought back one power lever just enough to trigger the gear warning horn. "beep beep beep". He then puts the PA microphone up next to the speaker, so the "BEEP BEEP BEEP" was blaring in the back of the plane. Then he gets on the PA with his smooth, authoritative Captain voice and said "Ladies and gentlemen, our marijuana detector has just gone off, please put it out and return your seats to the upright position".
There was the day where over the Cascade Mountains one of our cargo pods on the belly of the plane popped open, through no fault of ours, and the small pieces of luggage that were in it fell out. When we landed in Wenatchee, the ground people said. "uh. . where's the bags" and we were like. "Uh. . gotta go!!!. . bye!" I think there's a special place in heaven for ground service agents that have to work with the public.
There was the time we heard one of our planes coming in on priority sequence, after declaring an emergency after a flight up the Gorge in from GEG. We all waited, hearts in our throats, to see our fellow pilots safely on the ground, only to watch the 19 seat /no flight attendant/no bathroom plane pull up in one piece to the gate, the captain FLING the main door open and RUN to the bathroom. . .victim of another PDX crew cafeteria burrito "du jour". Scary times, fun times, times I will never forget.
Yet of all the benefits that come from those meager years of early flying, which we all have to endure, like childhood, are the moments of camaraderie, of pitting your youth and your skill against a temperamental piece of equipment and a landscape of mountains, sky and ice that has little patience for the uninitiated or unwary. At the end of yet another 14 hour duty day, stomach growling and shoulders clenched with fatigue from fighting the wind, you have a memory, of laughter and accomplishment and pride, a memory of the smell of jet fuel and exhaust, combined with the smell of crisp, high altitude air and clouds. Memories that will forever influence your life as a pilot, inside or outside of the cockpit.
It is only our sheer love of flying that kept us in a job like this, and although we may not have loved the moment, we'd love the memory of the moment, of that particular day, or that particular plane, even if the plane itself has long since been retired to the desert, left behind for something newer and faster. As the philosopher Homer said (though he worded it better), the journey's the thing.
The journey was long hot summers, the rationed coolness of fall, and short severe winters that saw no hope for spring. Yet Spring always came again, on that last conceit of winter, with blossoming wind, wings free of ice, and high above, the roar of a C-130, the deep throated rumble of a DC9, sounds that called to us. It was a journey we all take, no matter what our calling, moving in hot motion that is not the wind; strong young blood chasing after its long journey towards home.
Now - 20 or so years later, my favorite airman in the left seat of a small sporty car and me riding shotgun, we stop near Moses lake and get some lunch at a little ma and pa burger stand. The odor of meat and fries cooking takes me back to a book closed except to one finger, kept upon a page. The smell of cheeseburgers, made just for my Captain and I, trailing behind us, we scurry out of the terminal back to our little aircraft, for that final leg back home. If we were lucky, we could preflight out in some dry warmth. Just as often we'd do so hunched over in the slow , cold and opulent rain, tending to a spent horse with Pratt and Whitney engines.
We have no airplane cleaners, so we tidy up the cabin, I with a little can of air freshener and some mints to leave on the seats that I bought out of my meager paycheck for this regular group of passengers that fly this run with us on Mondays. We polish the windshield and check the gas, catching a quick glimpse of ourselves in the spinner of the prop, noting a smile of pride that even a clapped out Beech 99 and a $400 a month paycheck can't take off our face. We are airmen, and this is our journey.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
THE BUTTON ON MY PANTS . . .
12 jalapeno peppers
6 oz cream cheese, softened
dash of salt
1/2 c flour
1 T cornmeal
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 c whole milk
1 T honey
1 t salt
1 c fine or Panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder (ancho is a smoky, not "hot" heat but you can use less or omit)
Roast peppers in 450°f oven, turning when they begin to brown and the skin blisters. Remove and place in a paper bag, closing the top, and let steam for 10 minutes so that the skin is easily removed. Allow to cool.
Heat 2″ of peanut oil to 325°F. (165 C) Note: 325 degrees is pretty much the minimum temperature required to ensure that food seals quickly enough to prevent oil absorption. You can fry foods at lower temperatures, but the final product will be "greasier". Once the proper oil temperature has been reached, the oil may drop in temperature by as much as 50 degrees when food is added. The "sealing" process in the first batch occurrs almost immediately so the food will cook properly. But after the first batch is removed, allow the tempereature to return to 325 before the next batch is added to the oil. This will keep your final product, crisp, not oily.
Mix together cream cheese salt and a pinch of cumin. To create the "boat shape" in the pepper, pinch a fold and cut around the your fingers from almost the top to almost the bottom (leave the stem). Scrape out seeds with a spoon and fill with cream cheese.
Mix together flour, cornmeal, milk, egg, honey, salt and peppers just until combined without any noticeable lumps to make the batter. Put breadcrumbs and ancho chili powder into small, seperate bowl. Using the stem as a little handle, dunk pepper into batter. Coat thoroughly, let excess drip off and then gently roll in the breadcrumbs.
Deep fry 2-3 minutes until golden brown, turning once. Drain on paper towels. Try and eat just one.
h/t to my gal friend E. for sending the photos (my battery died)
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Many men don't like to buy gifts, thinking of it only when certain occasions arise, like realizing their anniversary was last month. I was in a ground school class at a civilian training center with a bunch of Marines and some other fellows going over the systems of the T-39 when one of the admin people brought in a large bouquet of flowers to the room. For me. It was February 14th. There was a collective "oh shit" whereupon about a dozen strapping young men ran for the break room to get on the phone.
I work with nothing but men, and they often come to me with "what should I get my wife for our anniversary/birthday/etc?
Some women do like lingerie. But lingerie is a minefield. Buy it too small and she'll think she's fat. Buy it too big, she'll think YOU think she's fat.
Gentlemen, not an area you wish to go, either way.
Avoid flannel. Sure it's warm, and great if the power is out. But it's not romantic unless you live in an igloo.
Fragrance? That's a deeply personal gift.
I wear something called Elixir of Love No. 1, which is from a very old American toiletries company, or an Irish perfume called Inis which has a subtle scent of Muguet with a subtle underscore of fresh lemon that I love the smell of. Either that or Hoppe's No. 9. Many women want much more sophisticated scents. Do you remember what fragrance she was wearing when you met her? I guarantee if she loves you, she remembers. Find out. Again, don't just grab something because you are at the drugstore and it's cheap, like this one which appears to come with a free cat toy.
Then there's chocolate.
It's hard to go wrong with chocolate. But the huge red block of chocolates that's as big as an AK47 for $5 may be great little surprise for a road trip snack or a door stop but it doesn't say "romantic gift". Quality and elegant presentation is the key here.
AppliancesBet the carpet in the living room was the only thing that saw any action that Christmas.
Books can be good, but pick a book that is similar to the type of books she has on her shelf. If she's into Bodice Rippers involving pirates and lusty maidens, this probably wouldn't be the book for her
Not just medium ships, or large ships, but HUGE ships. Who knew they were such a menace as you go out and about each day.
Now remember, avoid tools unless your spouse or lover loves to build things as a hobby. Myself, some great gifts I have received involved tools or gadgets but I am not the norm. Avoid buying anything like these things pictured below. Even the most practical woman does not want an extension cord, duct tape or a paintbrush for Christmas or her anniversary.
Men often make the mistake thinking they have to buy a gift that "does something". Blend, dice, chop, (bad) reduce cellulite (really bad). Do not fall for this. Think of something that signals your undying passion. This is NOT a toaster (adding a note, I think you're HOT, doesn't make up for it). If you don't know the hobbies of the woman you are attempting to impress, your safest bet is to buy something that doesn't do anything. If it just lies there in a small box in a coma and sparkles or smells good most women will be happy.
Avoid things you see on TV. If it says thighbuster, thighsmasher or thighrehabilitator, RUN, do not walk away from your TV now (see rule about lingerie). Even if it comes with a free Cap Snaffler. Dad wasn't immune to the TV gift thing. I once got a Car Duster® from him. That might be fine in the city but I lived on a cattle ranch. I promptly took my truck out four wheeling, got it completely covered with two inches of mud then posed, covered with mud myself, holding the Car Duster® in my hand next to it. He got the point. Still, he bought my Mom an ashtray shaped like Mt. St. Helens where the smoke would come out of the top of the little ceramic volcano. NOT a big hit.
Cupid shoots and misses.
Another female blog friend got a shovel for her birthday (wonder if they've found the body yet). And there's my friend from college, whose husband of 15 years bought her brake fluid for Christmas.
Another woman had her husband give her a chain saw. He was lucky it wasn't operational at the time.
You can only guess the reaction to those gifts.
Bad gifts aren't just from men. We ladies can be just as deadly in the art of bad gift giving and here are some real delights that both sexes have bestowed upon their loved ones.
The Maniki Butt Bra for Men.
It lifts, it separates.
It gets you laughed out of the locker room.
The Better Marriage Anti-Flatulence Blanket. Using the latest in chemical warfare technology.
The Banana Guard - there are good places to stick your banana. This is not one of them.
The electric butter warmer - bored watching paint dry?
Camouflage Toilet Seat.
Throw in the cammo Snuggee and you're guaranteed to be sleeping alone.
At last - a gift that sends that message of undying love - "From the back, with your shirt off, you look like a wookie."
The War Hammer is a plastic handle designed to hold a razor so you can shave hard to reach areas. This product comes in various sizes and colors with detailed instructions for use, as well as this safety note: "Wear thick pants, shorts, or a thick towel and eye protection when using this product."
I do NOT want to know why you would need thick pants.
Tired of boring yard gnomes.? How about the Zombie of Montclaire Moors, climbing out of your mulch to munch you. This sort of lawn ornament tells your neighbor you're either a really fun person or are under psychiatric care.
The best part? It's portable. Think of the fun you can have with it, take to a playground, a salad bar, your best friends wedding reception.
Why give a hug when you can give the Hug Me pillow. Shaped like a human arm, complete with hand, and attached to half a chest this looks like something left after a nasty accident with a wood chipper or the Razorba war hammer.
It's just like sleeping with a real loving and caring companion, except it has no head and is missing numerous key body parts.
The fringe visor. Don't hide in the shadows, every day is a risk when at any given moment a bobcat may attack your head.
Seriously though, Pay attention to the things your loved one likes to do to relax (and no, that is not house cleaning). Books, crafts, gardening, computers, photography, shooting, etc., and surprise them with something that would allow them to do more of that. But remember, despite the ads, despite the hype, it's not what you give that matters, it's that you took time to think of something to make them smile.
Don't fall prey to the ads, and don't feel guilty if your budget doesn't support an expensive jewelry store or a new computer. It's not what you buy but what you are the rest of the year. Love is not a lover, it is not a gift or a holiday. It's not not what you buy or what you say, it's what you demonstrate every day. What is important is the friends and family around you; the patient, trusting support of a life. It is those who wait quietly in the wings while you flounder and fall, being there to gently pick you up, not with unrealistic expectations, but with unconditional love and support for just being you.
Look at the photos of those you hold dear in your home. Look to your friends. Whether you have a significant other or not, love is all around you. It is a certain special way of being alive. It is an intensification of life, a completeness, a fullness that seeps into the empty places and makes you whole. That is something no one can buy for you.
Savor it, even with your Mt. St. Helens ashtray.
Monday, May 16, 2011
I loved the city back then, and when I was able to go back there for a night with a friend, it felt good to be back. Seattle is one of the most beautiful cities in the country, the sun skipping off the Olympic Mountains, their serrated edges outlined in gold and white. On rare days it's a jewel of a city, diamond brilliance on blue clarity. But it is also a grey city, grey with the comfort of low clouds that drap over mountains like a shawl, keeping you warm.
My Dad's left Montana and moved out towards the coast where it's a little warmer, and someone asked me if I'd consider moving back. As I gazed out across the Sound, the call of the ferry a soliloquy to a life long ago, I did think about it. I had always thought that area was a part of me I'd bequeath to my past. Could I live here again? Reliving memories of college and friends and family long since dead. What would it be like? As I think of the ferries, I can picture the spray against my face as I dash towards my car, the memory a brief childhood dash through the sprinklers on a hot summer day.
I love the Midwest, and I've been here longer than anywhere. It's not really anything I planned on, it's just been the life I have led. I guess the wandering spirit runs in my blood, passed on my from Air Force father to me. Seems like ever since I got a control yoke in my hand I've been wandering across miles of land . . . across rivers and towns. My Mom would have preferred I marry a hometown boy and stay in the tiny town in which I was raised, but once I tasted adventure, I was born into that gypsy life and have never really known another.
St. Expurey said "he who would travel happily must travel light". And this adventurer did travel light for so many years, my books my biggest possessions and my photos of friends and family around my bed my only company most nights. There have been so many flights, so many moment that shine in my memory, milestones along the uncharted airway that made up my life. In the early years, I remember not just the airplanes themselves as I instructed to pay for college, but the feel of the cotton shirt I wore, the smell of my students aftershave, the song that was playing inside when I ran in to check the weather again. It seems as if all my early years were reflected in the window of those moving airplanes. I see my reflection, my past, through bug sprayed glass that tints the world bright.
The airplane, the destination and the years changed, as did the landscape of my career,but some things never changed. The firm tension of the throttles, the ever varying display of numbers on gauges that ranged from the antique to the technically sublime. My memory just remembers my hands, clasped on the yoke, a testament to their refusal to be separated for long. The voices of the controllers reminding me that I was of the earth, the window reflecting the satisfied smile of being exactly where I wanted to be. It might have been Fall or Spring, morning or night, but the feeling deep within the remembrance always stays the same. My life's journey have have changed and if I didn't have roots, there was that one constant. That of my reflection in that little plane window, still enraptured by a cockpit's illumination of a dream. No one could take that from me.
Certainly, not all the changes I chose, but I found crying about it didn't make it easier, it's easier to pack what remains and look onward. So I looked at each new move, each progression in my career, like a new page, a chance to experience each day, each sky in all its glory Another bag to unpack, full of memories of adventure. Besides, I wouldn't know what to do with a full size bar of soap anyway.
Freedom. For now, at an age when many friends have 2 kids and a huge mortgage, I've downsized, house sold, land leased, and am living out of boxes again, with more money and time to travel and spend times with friends and family. Live simply, love hard. It beats the heck out of stress and 12 rooms one doesn't need. It's freedom, it's time.
Time. To crawl in the cockpit of a little plane once in a while, watching a new day slowly unfold above the clouds. The sun casting a pink haze over the sky, long before I could actually see its rays, as the ridges that rose from the land took on a glow you can't see from the ground. For just a moment there are no sounds but life whispering the reverent hum of a Lycoming engine. It's a moment in space where you can feel the depth and potential of your existence there in a snippet of sky. There's no time for earthly worries, for when the earth turned on its axis one more time and I saw that sun rising over the nose of my airplane, it was universe reminding me of all that I did have. Amongst which was yet another day aloft, breathing deep the freedom of choice.
Choices, like when I moved to a place I had never been, for a chance at a new career. Packing up books and a 12 point deer mount that sat on the front seat of my car, Bambi wearing a baseball cap, I drove two solid days, to arrive in the middle of the night in a place I'd never set foot except for a brief job interview. Miles and hours spent watching the landscape, silver grain elevators, red winged birds, gold winged motorcycles and farm trucks all blending into a bright diorama of my new life. From my view point in that tiny car I was sitting tall, this new land rushing past me, racing at me, then away from me, the bug spattering on the window and the chatter of the DJ in my ear. I watched a dozen cumulus clouds erupt, mass assassination of mayflies and the disappearance of a slice of cherry pie at a tiny diner and the trip was just beginning.
As I sat under the calm grey of that Washington sky, I realize that a journey is not going back, it's going forward. Home is where the heart is, not where you hang your hat or even where you grew up. It's simply home. It's someone that loves you beyond measure. Its faith and strength in the countless days marked with bitter cold and radiating warmth, monotonous wonderful days of work and friends, gunfire and laughter, water and sky. It's countless days of joy now receding like ancient glaciers that once crept down upon the place where my life sits now, leaving the land flat in their wake, leaving an ancient mark upon my heart. A gypsy heart that's finally taking root.
I had a few hours before my flight back so I took public transport down to the waterline and watched the ferries one last time. I simply stood and looked, seeing their wake rippling outwards towards where I watched from a great distance, the movement bringing up a smell of the water that reminds me of so many years ago, so many memories, moving away. The ferry's shadow moved away too, towards the vacant sweep of water, empty of movement, empty of the present. I could see nothing in the distance in the evening mist, it was as if the ferry was going to crash into a wall of smoke, only to fade into it and disappear, as if it had never been. To keep it in my minds eye I had to draw upon memory, the world before me material without being real, memory drifting like lost ghosts breathing the air of forlorn dreams.
That's when I realized, that this land, this city, is composed of memories not likely not to be recreated simply by moving back here. The house where I spent so much time with my Aunt and Uncle here has been razed. The flight school where I got my commercial license has been torn down. The streets are crowded and unfamiliar. I'm not a liberal and I hate traffic. I'm a stranger here only tied to this spot by ghosts on the water. Everything left is spirit and illusion and no matter how hard I try to look out across the Sound, the ferry is gone.
So in those last hours in the city, I stood at the shoreline and looked up. Alone again, having said my goodbyes, already planning the next adventure. Untended under heedless sky, the short broken puffs of smoke that linger on the wake, only a forgotten whisper, I turn from the water towards home.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Monday, May 9, 2011
But someone else wants to go on. You look into those big, beautiful brown eyes and you can't say no.
It's pheasant season and there is someone that is not done hunting yet.
I've watched him skirt and track, making J hook maneuvers that would make a fighter pilot proud even if he was a beginner. I'd watched him point. Yes. point. He did it first at about 6 months of age, pointing at a Baby Ruth wrapper on the ground. Then it was a ball cap dropped by someone, then a pigeon. I called the lady I got him from. She said "lab's don't point, that's just a puppy thing". Tell that to Barkley. He points at birds, bacon and if company is over, to that pair of underwear I accidentally dropped on the floor while putting laundry away (thanks Pal, that's NOT what I had in mind here).He's just gone a few times, not trained from birth like most hunting dogs, just learning as he goes, watching other dogs. Mostly we're out for the hike, and the sky, the birds today are secondary. "What do you think Barkley? A couple more miles?" I'd say. People would probably think me daft, sitting and talking to my dog, but out in the field or just sitting some evening quietly watching the fire, I can talk softly about the things that will matter to me the rest of my life. And he only reacts to the heft of my words or the urgency of tone as I talk about missing people I love, and the nature of death and fate and the way I've had to look deep into my own capacities to become the person I am. He just looks and he listens. At least until there is that sound, the tiny whoosh of air being displaced by winged creatures with the brain the size of a pea and a breast that calls out for succor or bacon. It's time to hunt!
We've walked for what seemed like 10 miles, while the others fan out up ahead with their dogs much more experienced in the field, leaving we junior birdmen to trail behind, watching for brass, looking out for wake turbulence. It's sort of nice, being just a tiny group, the single monotony of our goal, striding forward, chests heaving, moving fast, the world suddenly coming to a stop with a small sign from a retriever.
It's that glorious moment in time where the motion of a wasted world of daily activities, of cell phones, meetings, and doing chores, comes down to that one moment of freedom and decision. That moment when the world accelerates and then just suddenly stops, there on the precipice, there in that space between dog, hunter and bird. A moment in a hunter's life, that evocable quality of living, where the forward motion towards the game stops, but then loops back, towards you. A loop that completes a circle of predator and prey, waiting only for the curl of a dogs body, the curl of your finger, to close that circuit, and release it all with one sharp sound that breaks the lie of containment.
He stands almost motionless, only the subtle tremble in his eyes, a despair of ever being released from the hold that's been placed on him, a responsibility he picked up willingly, if only for you. Yet as much as he's trying, he might well rush forward, caught up in the moment, trying to please, it's a learning curve for both of you, but that free and loving heart is heavenly to see.
Barkley's had enough training to be a good bird dog yet. I started too late, after years of being a spoiled house dog. He'll never win any awards as a rocket scientist. He still sits patiently by the spot next to the counter where once a meatloaf fell on the floor, as if there's a secret beef shrine there and if he waits long enough, another will reappear on its alter. He'll chase the same ball for an hour, convinced he's on some major breakthrough in retrieval tactics. And he's consumed an entire pizza, a sock, a paperback book Tam brought for him (The Perfect Puppy, go figure), a jalapeno pepper and a dead worm, all with the same gusto.
We may not get a bird today, he will make mistakes as will I. But we will forgive one another, help one another learn. For we are family. For me, not a substitute for something lacking in my life, but an outlet for the warmth I harbor in my soul, seeking a place for the waters of my emotion to go when all else is damned up. He's my confidant, he's my fashion critic (jeans and t-shirt again? Well if you insist), he's the soft hearted Kleenex if I cry.
He's given me renewed hope in the capacity of a heart, as his ability to love is boundless. He'll stay on alert, face aching with a grimacing growl, keeping predators at bay while I'm at work. He's been the soft nuzzle of concern on my neck after a coughing fit during a bad winter cold, and he welcomes the friends that I shoot with into the house while keeping those that wish to harm at bay. Now, he is getting. older, grey starting to show up in that black hair. Yet still, when woken by my soft snore from the family room couch he'll move from the fire, to my side as swift, as strong as ever. Looking at me with brown eyes more humorous and honest than anyone I know, a soft paw on my arm, content simply to be by my side because I'm there. Like the rest of my friends, his needs are simple, his demands of me only warmth, faithfulness and time to go out and play.
He's taught me that money doesn't matter, he's as happy with a stick as an expensive toy; satisfied with a sleeping bag in a tent with me more than a luxurious pillow top mattress. Life is simple, someone to love and something cold to drink, well loved toys to play with and a safe place to sleep. I know he will love living further out in the wild, with less bills and more values, going where I go, with an open heart.I think I can give my best friend a little more time outdoors, maybe a bird for dinner if we're lucky. That's all we need, some open sky and something in the distance to seek, a bird or perhaps a dream. Perhaps, that's all any of us really need.I give him one last little pat as we get up and move out towards a fading sun. His muscles rippling like silk under my hands, yet more precious than anything man made. He races ahead, legs leaving the ground all at once, an outstretched leap towards his future, as if he had lost contact with the earth.
From the grass up ahead, a bird, the glint of the sun off the barrel. Life coming back, full circle.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Friday, May 6, 2011
Work days normally start early, no matter what time I got of duty, and I will spring like a bow from that last hazy dream, into the light. Still, it's much better than those mornings that start at night, when I'm sound asleep and the phone rings. For there is a voice on the other end speaking with an impersonal dry cadence I know is more protection than uncaring. On such nights, I must quickly pull myself from bed, gathering my things, limbs wooden with regret.
But this day, I am off, not on call, no obligations. So I just lay there, not wishing to get up, snuggled face down, legs splayed, arms out, laid out on a small pillow top altar to the gods of sleep. I know that eventually I will have to get up, but for now I am not bound by some duty to leap out of bed. I'm simply hung up, trapped under a log in a current of time and environment, that has no direction, beneath a sullen sky that will continue to wane towards yet another evening, toying with me, until maybe I'm shot out into the current that had pulled me into sleep. In the meantime, it doesn't matter. Barkley just barely has an eye open, fighting between the urge to protect me from squirrels and that of more sleep.
Weekends are where I catch up on my sleep, but today there are things to do that I've neglected through the last week. A drive into the city for supplies in the truck, to get milk and bread, wine and cheese, some stuff at the hardware store to mount some shelves, the 50 pound bag of Barkley Chow. I pass through the small towns that make up a Midwest landscape, tenacious clusters of farms strung along a lonely river, old barns, listing and tumbling down, gone the way of the ancestors who built them long go, going West, to dust.
Once home there is food to store, laundry, a Labrador retriever to walk, bills to sort through and a friend or two to talk to. A firearm to be cleaned, a book to be read. Then later a bowl of stew and sleep with a soft goodnight to someone far away, invisible words on my lips. Barkley has gone out one last time, the doors are locked, the computer off. The outside is beyond quiet except for the wind. The neighbors all seem to be in for the night, the earth hanging suspending in space, cooling, wearing only a thin veil of smoke from a grill. Time for bed, the rustle of cotton, the panting whisper of breath, the prelation of the night assuming a hundred avatars of dreams.
The house, still and quiet, as if marooned in space by the dwindling of day. Sounds outside fallen to a low fragmentary pitch. Way off in the fields behind, a coyote's howl at the indignation of clouds that cover the moon, no other sound made; prey gone into hiding, insects silent with the dark, everything else assuming their own mantle of hibernation or predation. There are things I'd rather be doing then hunkering down here, but for tonight sleep is what I need. As Shakespeare said, sleep, perchance to dream.
A dream of a day alone in the woods, outlook and perception all contained within a small stand of trees, emotion and thought amplified within the narrow bench of a small tree blind. Dreaming dreams of a whitetail buck tip-toeing across fresh snow, the moon now peering out from beneath the clouds, that deer and myself in perfect isolation, flirting with each other, a dance of life and death, even as the air of our inhibition signals to the rest of the world what they can not possess.
Even as I dream of a brisk fall hunt, outside another season shifts and with it comes the knowing. Lethal winter storms so white on white, as we count the days and worry of a land soon heavy with thirst. Early summer and the death gray-green skies, new life and heavy blood, the silence before the wind. That wind beyond wind, wrapping its fury around us. Full summer harvest, wheat then corn and milo and sunflower. Growth and rendering, loss and life, trickling through the hands like grain.
The sheet gathers around my sleeping form as the images come unbidden, corn and land and a stand of trees. There in the distance, a whitetail, emerging suddenly from the trees as my thoughts coalesced. The winds wail a hymn of our mortality. Our remoteness stands guard over a vulnerability heightened by solitude.
The deer does not answer to me, nor I him, neither answering to one another and thereby maintaining their own sense of mystery, of self. I pull up my weapon to fire, but in my dream the deer just looks at me with eyes that look vaguely familiar and nods. I lower my weapon and let him pass, an invisible whisper on my lips remaining. This night, for now, he deserves the wilderness of his isolation, as do I, to wander windswept dreams.