Monday, April 30, 2018

The Zen of a Deer Stand

It rose above me, much higher than I remembered, certainly higher than I'd seen it in the summer. Perhaps it was the light, but I'd bet it had simply grown with the tree, the structure impervious to the laws of metallurgy, but not imagination.  I stood below, unmoving, making no sound, inert on the forest floor, out of some reserve of  the summers idleness, or simply that virtue of caution. All I remember is looking up at it, feeling the weight of what was in my hand, and wondering, for just a moment, if it was too late to go back to bed.

It was my first deer stand.  I'd hunted from the ground but never from a tree. I was surprisingly nervous, not about the cold, as I'm part polar bear, or about the firearm. It was an old Belgium Browning 20 gauge semi auto - we'd spent many mornings together and were comfortable together, hard steel against warm flesh. I was comfortable with the area. I'd walked carefully into the woods, trying to mimic a deer as much as I could in my walking, walk a few steps, listen, and then walking a few more and stopping. I didn't step onto the deer trails or walk down them, taking advantage of some shelter belts and low spots so hopefully the deer didn't see me, setting up where I would hunt prior to the rut.

I'd learned much from my friends, and a few things for myself (don't, repeat, don't breath deeply of that bottle of Tinks wondering "hey I wonder what this smells like"). Safety had been drilled into me, I was in great physical shape (i.e. I had adequate padding built into my frame in case I fell down). They all thought I was ready. I wasn't so sure. I was sure about the darkness, the solitude, the firearm and my fears.  I wasn't so sure about climbing a ladder carrying all of that with me.

Climbing it in the dark, in what would likely be continued snow squalls, holding a fairly hefty firearm, was about as settling to the spirit as riding the Raptor at Cedar Point after a chili dog. We left the house early, the two of us branching off, hunting different areas of the many acres we were on. I got to my stand alone, the moon glinting off the metal of its frame, that part that wasn't coated with shards of ice, and I felt something I hadn't felt in a while. Adrenalin fueled by fear.

If you could see adrenalin you could see it here, trickling down the rosy, soft cheek of a novice hunter.   I stood at the foot of it looking up. It's only a tree blind. I'm not afraid of heights. I'm a pilot, I've hiked high up in the back country. Why does this silly tree stand make me nervous? It has neither teeth or "easy to use instructions", how difficult can it be?

I look up again, calculate the distance. There is bounce potential here. If I fall I could break my neck. Sure I'd fallen before, a  painful spill off of a ladder before fueling  an aircraft. The tarmacs harder than the forest floor but that ladder wasn't near this high.  Get back on the horse.  Plato called it a horse, as he comprehended how blind emotion could overtake reason , and if we are going to conquer our fear we must pull in the reigns on emotion and keep that horse under control. I just never expected the horse to be so, well . . . . tall and, well, frosty.  I looked at the ground near my feet, subconsciously, not sure if I was expecting to see the tracks of a horse or the bones of those the tree stand had slain.

Here I am, the kid that jumped off a garage with a blanket parachute, stopped dead in my tracks by something as simple as a series of steps up into a tree. My Norwegian Grandmother could have climbed this.  She'd be at the top already saying "look I have coffee!" It's just a ladder. Really. It's amazing the things our mind tells us that prompts that hesitation for something we so desperately want.

It's a tree, not a mountain, impassable, and it's not my destiny to climb it, it's simply my desire, it only remains for me to follow. I looked up at it, and up and said "Lord. . ?" But He did not answer, perhaps because He gives men time; time that can be afforded to them, as He has eternity and is eternally unchanging. I took that silence from above as my call to take what was within me and just make up my own mind. For although my Faith is deep, I know as well I'm made up of equal parts of Free Will and Win.

There is a Korean martial art called Kum Do, which involves some very sharp swords and in its original form, a fight to the death. Now, in our kinder and gentler day, bamboo sticks are used, (no really, that's blood, it just looks like chocolaty fingerprints). But many of the moves that survived the ensuing centuries were developed to shake blood off the blade so that the coagulating blood didn't dull the edge. Kum Du teaches students to avoid what is known as the four poisons of the mind "fear, confusion, hesitation and surprise". The constant tendency of men to anticipate and predict an event is a disadvantage, for in Kum Do if you let your natural inclination of prediction run loose, you could get a surprise, leading to confusion and then death (or a really sharp whack with that damn bamboo pole).

So I stood there in the companionable science of the trees, with the answer that bubbled up from inside, an answer born of time and training . My heart beat faster and faster and I knew that with that first step up, when I married that unutterable vision of desire to my perishable breath and mind,  like the first time I picked up a firearm and put a hole through the target where I wanted it to go,  my fear would not  take over and I could do this.

The snow has abated, the sky, for a moment, was clear and there was a short span of calm in the trees as the wind had died down, waiting patiently for the next squall. I'd spent years learning about hunting and tracking and this old Browning. All the acts, conditions and decisions of a lifetime had brought me here to this day, this little spot in time.  It was time to simply get off my butt and climb.

I affixed a temporary orange blaze band on the trunk so others would know I was in this area, this tree, and up I went.  The tingling excitement for me that is the change of summer to fall or the anticipation of a touch, was there, but there was something beneath. Stubbornness, yes, but also a sense of that feeling you have as a kid when you ride your first bike without training wheels. Small moments in life, never forgotten. I'm glad no one was filming the ascent, but I made it.

There, settled in, I could see through breaks in the branches to two open corn fields, set among the forest. Moving shadows stalked the edges, one could well be a big buck, they like the tree lines. A hunter, I am in my element, the smell impending winter brushing my face, the scent of woodsmoke and leaves that I love so much carried on a wind that's as unpredictable as the future. I couldn't  predict how this day would end. I could only breathe deep the incredible view and hold onto this moment, this breath, the only thing I know I have for sure.

My trusty Browning lay across my lap, as my fingers clenched and unclenched, keeping the blood moving through them in the bitter morning cold.  I stayed in the blind all day, the snow coming and going in a brief tango with the sun that tried to add some heat to the dance, seeing a couple of button bucks, with years to their life I was not ready to take, and several chattering squirrels.

I knew there were some nice bucks around, I'd seen the scrapes, but with the wind, they were not to be seen.  For now I could only sit, hand firm on the Browning, to watch and listen, as I imagined unseen deer bounding their shadows into the ground, just beyond the realm of my sight, the limit of my hearing.

I looked around, across the small field.  Not more than a mile or two, a house, soon another house.  In a couple years, there'd be a subdivision, the land was pristine but its doom was its beauty and soon it will be dotted with dwellings as the deer moved further out.

But not for a while yet, the fox and the whitetail and the chattering birds, by measure tranquil and garrulous, sharing this quiet spot. From the darkness behind me, the grunt of a buck, hiding in shadows.The forest was the same as it was a hundred years ago, the scene flat and introspective under the cover of snow, set against a window background of space and November and an afternoon filled with steady search of its corners for the movement of a whitetail.

A sudden sound brought me to the present, a shot ringing out from far away, a sound that even after a hundred years, surprises the forest.   The woods grew silent, birds took to the air as if propelled by a cannon, the whitetail fled, shattering the virgin air with a leap through the brush at that first loud volley of time and doom that was another year of the hunt.

There were  no more deer seen nor heard that day.

As the sun began to drop in the horizon, I was amazed in the lapse of time, the evening approaching, seeming like a mere moment.  I'm likely not alone in thinking that time spent in the woods is not subtracted from our life, but is simply added over and above our usual allowance. The same Oriental philosophers that fueled my study of the martial arts talked about contemplation and the forsaking of work, and I realized out here, what that means.

Out in a tree stand I didn't care how the hours sway, the day advanced as light came into it' it's dawn, and now it's evening and nothing more memorable was done than taking a chance at putting dinner on the table for the winter months. My day was not a day of work, minced into deadlines of a ticking clock.   The morning was still, the afternoon passed in a slow and steady scout of the surrounding area, seeking game, seeking sustenance, and if the day was wasted, as some might say, coming home empty handed to a four legged black dog, as nature sang in my ear, what was the harm?

As the sun wept into the tree line, I walked from the woods, towards the house, waiting, humming with light out into the darkness, small footsteps into damp earth only a small noise under looming stars. Looking back, I could see the tree stand, not seeming nearly as tall as it was this morning. It waited silently, there, where tomorrow, if I was lucky, I could climb it again and breath deep the incomparable liquor of wonder that is the woods from above.

The woods began to fade into darkness.  From above the birds again erupted into song, without wind now but with Pentecostal fire, singing out the remaining moments in a short life between melting and freezing, the souls sap flowing. Breathing, desiring, as the trees of the woods and the liquid tranquility of a rushing stream speak or a mere small red-winged songbird sings. A tiny bird who truly believes that in this moment, we're eternal, and for this instant, may very well be.

I  stopped and sat under a blue spruce where shadows and dreams forever lie,  pulled my Browning close to me and silently sang along.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Whether People or Pets - Why We Adopt

When I was out at Dad's on the last visit we went through some paperwork in his safety deposit box, as he's readying his affairs, realizing he probably won't be with us much longer.  Most of everything is in a trust for my late brother's children, as he just left them a lot of debt when he died.  With Dad's expenses, there's not much remaining, though, just a small house and some memories, those remembrances for which we are so grateful.  One of the items he gave me was the original of my birth certificate, sent to them a year after I was actually born, the names on it, his and Mom's, as they had just adopted me. Their only child deceased, they adopted my brother and me and gave us their name, the four of us joined together in a bond that obliterated a painful past in which we had only been a small, unwilling participant.

There is much history in that piece of paper. For I was born to an unwed mother prior to such generation in which raising a child as single woman, was not something to be ashamed of.  

So, through timing, fate, or circumstance - however you look at it, I am the product of adoption, as is my child.  This is our story, this may be yours.
You're almost Sixteen,  soon to have a license to freedom in your pocket, the chrome polished chariot to your future sitting in the driveway in the form of an ancient Volkswagen Beetle. Sixteen, a mile marker for some, for you anyway, old enough to drive, time stolen through pale fences that line the roads as you rush towards your future. 

There's a boy in the Cello section of the orchestra that you like, but he's always hovering around the delicate, blond flowers of the flute section. You are part of the posse of math and science geeks that occupy the wind and brass section that plays with the orchestra one day a week. But there, you are with friends, armed only with overbites, wit and lung capacity, as you sit outside of the strings and the flutes, moving clumsily around like bespectacled bumblebees among the flowers.

There's a dance coming up, a Sadie Hawkins one, in which the girls ask the boys. Your Dad will have to drive you but it's almost like a real date.  With hopeful eyes, you bumble over and ask him to go with you. The blond next to him looks at you with a withering giggle. He says "uh. . I'll call you later" with an expression that is not so much a smile as a dismissal. But you are too young and naive to see anything but the smile.

You rush home, anticipation lingering around you, waiting to be breathed in and let loose in a sudden exhale as you rush to your room to wait. You will sit there in your room in silence for hours as the family eats without you, as dinner dishes are put away, and the room grows cold, your breath vaporizing in the growing dark.

Waiting for that phone to ring.
You're 18, in college, trying to be grown up, as you took your first summer class there at age 14, when you were still a child. But you are a child who is now carrying a child. The older guy who swept you off your feet and took what can't be replaced was gone with that call from the doctor. Everyone says it's your body, your choice. You may have been naive, but you are grown up enough to know that your choice was when you gave yourself to someone outside of marriage.  THAT was your choice, not the taking of this innocent life.

You remember the night she was born, ten pounds, six ounces, after 34 hours in labor, her head crowning, her body bursting forth onto the sweat and blood soaked sheet. You remember only getting to hold her once, for just a moment before she is handed over, in your pain, to her adoptive parents, incredulous of her soft hair, perfect fingers, smelling of the womb, of warmth, of love. She looked at you with a peripheral glance, while you uttered the name you would give her and the words you were not able to say again for years, for in fear of their utterance, the object of those words would be lost to you. I love you, don't forget me. 

You bring nothing home from the hospital, even as you left something there, not a baby, but something you could have lived your entire life with, without ever having known it was inside of you.
It's an open adoption, you know where she is, and with who, but your word is your honor and you promised not to get close. She has the option to contact you if she wishes when she turns of age, but if she doesn't? That, as they say, is that. You gave your word, you will respect. There is nothing to do now but back to your life and try not and notice that when you stop to think if she is safe from harm, your breath catches as if there is no air, and you are going to have to learn to either not worry about her every moment or live without breathing.

So it is as if she fixed in that moment, forever an infant, the walls of that hospital, the door to that room, fleeing away, leaving just her image, immobilized within a tear, inviolate in innocence, forever safe from harm and alteration.

It's the only way you can sleep at night, as for the next 18 years you wait for that phone to ring.
You get through, as best you can, with family, and a dog. A rescue, a runaway, soon to break your heart, that Husky. He was fiercely independent, living the life that philosophers and knights are known to do. You are pretty certain he was purebred, an incredibly beautiful dog, one that probably set someone back a few dollars. But all that mattered was he was lost, no tag, and you tried your best to give him a home.

But huskies are born to run, and with them, they will take your heart. But you are determined to ensure he wouldn't be lost again; getting him vaccinated and tagged, with good food to eat, and a warm bed to sleep in. He spent the next month trying the escape the prison that he viewed his home and your ministrations. Even with long bike rides, and a big yard, he was determined to escape.  He'd dig under the fence, climb over it.  He was good with the family, he behaved well inside the house but he was forever a compass between the far horizon and your affection, both implacable.

You try the big pet store dog training, you tried pleading and tears, which works neither on men or dogs and for good reason.  You tried walking him morning, noon and night. Finally, one day, he got out past your legs at the front door and ran and ran, not looking back. All you could do was put up fliers and worry.

Waiting for that phone to ring

He was found, and returned safely.  You would have asked him why if you could, were you not a good "Mom"?  Was he searching for the home he was lost from? All you got back was an inarticulate gaze, behind which could be either sadness or yearning, though he never let either show.  You'd give him all the exercise you could, so he wouldn't run away.  But it wasn't as if he was exhausted. He simply surrendered, as if he'd given over and released completely that grip upon the horizon that called, if only for now. It was a relinquishment that in some souls would mean death, but for this dog, was simply a deep, soft sigh and a longing gaze out of a window as he rests his head on your arm.

You do what you can to keep him happy and safe the rest of his life, but tell yourself you're not going to get another rescue dog after he's gone.  Or any dog, you can do all right all by yourself
You're in your late 30's, happily playing kerosene warrior, loading up a transport plane, simply getting ready for your responsibilities that night, the four bars on your shoulders a reminder of your duties. You don't know if it was pain or illusion that drove you to the skies, leaving broken hearth and home for that greed of adventures that flutters out there somewhere beyond. You don't look inward too closely, being more focused on what is outside, for what is there behind the darkness is more final than simply the loss of one's illusions.

You're all aware of it and one night, while waiting for the fuel guy when we get word a plane is down, Isn't that the one that John? . . .

You pause for the rest of the words, there in that moment before the sun plunges into the edge of the earth, the shapes and forms of aircraft fixed by that already fading explosion. But you can't stop what we're doing, each of you has one ear tuned to the task, men moving and working, shadows on the wall, not of flesh and blood, which is so fragile, but shadows of enduring hope and will, quiet as the murmur of  your breath as you work, one ear still listening.

Waiting for that phone to ring.
You're all grown now, still logging those miles on the road, still checking in with your Dad when you arrive at your hotel when you travel, for though you're grown up, he's seen his 90th birthday and he worries, especially now that his days grow short. The phone lays silent on the seat of the car as you head out, the thump of the tires on the pavement tapping out a Morse code that is unheard, the wheels pulling you further away from everything you have counted on and closer towards the unknown.

The thump of the tires takes you back to those days on the back of a motorcycle, riding with your brother. You think of him, his arms strong in command of that bike, his hands calloused but delicate as he tended to your father all these years. You think back to your last night together, sitting out on the deck, birds twittering above as they built nests for their young, their sounds that of the chirp of a clock, counting off each and every second of Spring. You could not imagine him so sick, even as you can't imagine him not being here now, talking to you each night, the cell phone silent in your pocket.
The house is so empty now, with him gone, your furry best friend gone as well, the two of them quitting this earth just a few weeks of each other. No regrets for that dog, that time, for you realized how alone you really were and added a purebred lab puppy to your life. You ponder a puppy again, a clean slate to start with a new friend, fresh starts, no scars, no history. But you also ponder adoption, a rescue animal, one that needs sheltering as much as your heart does, one that will take more work, more trust. You said you never would, but hitting five oh, you realized that life is a risk, never a possession. You fill out all of the paperwork and you wait, there with a picture of a fuzzy older black lab mix saved to your computer, wondering if she was already adopted, praying they would call.

But it was time for other thoughts as you're nearing your destination, the blue and red lights guiding you to where you are called. For now, you can't think of the future, you can only drive through avatars that mark the accumulation of tears

Waiting for that phone to ring.
You are here, this moment, now, laying in bed. You shut your eyes, laying your hands flat against the cool sheets, trying to will yourself to sleep so early, going on call at midnight. You remember what your martial arts instructor told you about breathing, how you enter the true home of your spirit with each intake of breath, each exhalation, actions as old as time, a rhythm that is both life and death.

On the nightstand are two phones, your personal one and the one that tethers you to duty. You never know when that one will ring, a call signaling the exorbitant burden that is nature, fate or someone's personal jihad.  Tonight, you somehow expect it to go off, thinking of swinging out of bed and grabbing the bag, jumping into the truck. Gear in the back, teetering as if to fall, you accelerate too fast, the high beams blinding more than illuminating as they cut through fog that coils in the lows in the road like a snake.

You do this, as the world sleeps, in that state of blessed forgetfulness in which the most fragile of senses can slumber, free from the godless dark intents of man and nature. You go because it is what you do, as much as who you are.
But tonight, the thought of that drive already exhausts you, even as you can't get to sleep. You look to the clock, wondering what time it is where your Partner is at, a mission for him that's as much a part of love of what one does, as duty, something you so understand. You wish he wasn't flying right now, burying the worry under the Kevlar exterior, but it's what he does, as much as who he is.

He'll call when he gets into his hotel, so you know he's safe. You will smile, and you will both laugh, happy to be connected again. Till then, you lay in the embrace of the sheets, all the thoughts of what is going on in the world tickling your senses like electricity, a flicker of current before darkness.
On a shelf are photos, a boy, and a little girl in the lap of the man that chose to be their Dad, having a snack of apples as he reads to them.  There's another picture of those children, in motorcycle leathers, years later, in front of a couple of Valkyries in his driveway. There's an old picture of a group of pilots, all friends, all intact, even after a scare or two.  There's a photo of someone holding a musical instrument, not the silly high school crush, but a person of substance and honor, who, through time and the tears that come from suspect choices, was always there for you, softly touching your scars while bearing your history.

Among the photos on the nightstand is one of a little girl, with eyes the color of a storm-tossed sea, shaped just like yours and just like her mothers.  There's photo after photo of a young redheaded girl, all of those many years that you missed, a dance outfit, a soccer game, a graduation, there in scraps of memory you can now safely hold and breathe in. All you have is the photo to show for those years you simply waited in silence, in stone.
Below that is a photo of a senior black rescue dog, taken by her Foster Mom. Abby is her name and you've completed the paperwork, this Spring day in 2014 to adopt her. You glance at all of the pictures and smile, breathing deep as you drift off to sleep.

Somewhere out there trouble may stir, shadows may rouse themselves from sleep. But somewhere far above and far away, someone slumbers aloft, their breath, in and out, a rhythm which not the mind, but the heart, marks and calls the measure for. Somewhere far away, your child and her children sleep safely in their beds, as safe as a scared teenager, turned protector of those that have no voice, could make them.

The clock ticks off one more notch of breath as you lay in that big bed in a quiet room, a too-long empty dog bed laying in the corner.

Waiting for the phone to ring.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ball Peen Hammer Cooking

 Loose E!   You have some 'Splainin to Do!

 It just going to be one of those weeks.

Key issues with the blogging computer, a lot of squirrels on leave or out with a Spring "bug" that's going around. Plus, by the end of the day I was seriously coming down with it as well.  At least the day started better.  For when everyone is a little down, bring in some goodies for the skeleton crew that is working.

Scooby Snacks.

Butterfinger cake. 

This lower sugar(185 grams less) Range adaption of a very popular "all over the internet recipe", doesn't get much easier.  Bake your favorite devils food cake recipe or mix that will fix a 13 x 9 pan.  Poke holes in the top a couple inches apart with the end of a wooden spoon when still warm and pour a small jar of Smuckers butterscotch ice cream topping (thinned with 1 and 1/2  Tablespoons of cream so it's more pourable) over the top, spreading with a spatula so it fills up the holes. Whip up a pint of real whipped cream with a small box of sugar-free instant French vanilla pudding and 3 to 4 Tablespoons of milk to get the thickness you want and top with 3 regular sized butterfingers which you've whacked in their wrapper with a ball peen hammer, the remains scattered over the frosting.
It didn't last long. 

I think everyone was feeling better afterwards.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The History of Things

In the declining season of the year, I'll make a stop at some of the local thrift and antique shops, looking for various tools and things that might be useful in the coming winter, or just perusing items that people have discarded as part of a big Spring and Summer clean.

There's often some junk, valuable only to the person that originally purchased it, for reasons unknown. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder they say, and for every Popeil Pocket Chainsaw (with Cap Snaffler), there's someone that would buy one. There are also treasures, marked up accordingly, there are small things, that only a certain individual will be drawn to.  There are things that were once worn, things that once graced a home, things in small jars, the buyer peering into them, as if inspecting some curious small life form preserved in alcohol.

In my kitchen are a number of things from such places, a bread box, a scale, glasses and some dishes.  In the shop, even more so, things that previous generations used as they cleared and planted the pitiless earth, crafting what they needed to survive out of the materials at hand, doing so as they endured, the tools, straight, yet nicked and worn, much like the men the held them, twins of the same travail.
So much of what's left in my kitchen, and likely yours, is new, shiny, useful perhaps, but NEW.  It likely will not work as long as the appliances I have, like grandmas stand mixer at Dad's house, still working after 60 years.  When I downsized, I donated a ton of stuff to AmVets but not everyone does.  A lot of people simply "pitch it.  Looking at the many little things that remain, I wonder, fifty years from now, when I'm gone, will it grace another home, or will it be discarded in piles of trash and forgotten?

I came back from a short trip a lifetime ago to find a housecleaning had occurred, during my absence, not of the dust bunny round up, but the purging of "things", of which there really weren't very many in a young couple's home.  But things of value were suddenly missing, or in the process of being hauled away, including a baby grand piano that I bought before we'd even met with a small annuity I got when my Mom died.  It was being hauled off on a farmer's old truck with other things..  Things that would bring money that would pay off the debts of one who gambled, not just  with dice or cards, but with generous nature of man or machine, taking risks that could prove costly, and typically losing.  The $5000 piano sold for $500.
I watched quietly as the doors to the moving truck opened up, filling the air with the smell of cold and impending snow, the piano itself sitting there, as if rooted to the ground, in the grip of some dreadful inertia.  Or maybe that was me. 

I wanted to speak out, knowing I would only be met with the voice that had that quality at once, both dismissal and coldness, as though it had no interest in what you would say, or what the words even meant.  Speaking up meant consequence upon soft flesh, bruises hidden under stiff cloth and within a stiff heart. I kept quiet, breath simply taken in, a small gesture of self-preservation, but a part of me left that day on that truck, next to a garden that filled with darkness.
I don't have much now, by choice, but what I have means a lot to me.  Notes from grad school, the chronicles of the disintegration of the human body, what it can endure and what it reveals, the legacy of flesh, the hardness of bone.  Mom's cookbooks, some of Dad's books, on history, on warfare, this big rock with fossilized shells Big Bro found target shooting with Mom and I as kids, which he kept, kept for 40 years, then gave me not long ago.  It had been hidden in a little spot in Dad's workbench.  He knew I wanted it then, he knows I still was fascinated by such things, and I pretended it was allergies when he gave it to me 30 years later.

There are things I have that others would look at and simply scratch their head.  A Lollipop with a dried scorpion in it, an old beaker, a small stuffed Hedgehog, a blue uniform type shirt that hangs in the closet, a tiny ceramic skunk. An old violin, one that pales in comparison next to Partner's, one he played in a symphony orchestra in Austria when he was a young man.  It's like sitting a 1986 Saturn next to a Lamborghini.

Yet that cheap violin was the first one I played, albeit badly, and in the playing came healing, and I again braved a piano bench, an accompaniment of trust as the notes of a violin rose, crystal sounds of loss and hope that swelled up out of the frozen night.
Then, there is the gun safe, lies pieces of history, protectors of our future, blued and oiled and maintained with slow deliberate pride.  There are revolvers and semi-autos, an old Mauser or two, a Garand perhaps, pieces of the past, things taken up, when an individual rises out of their fear and passivity and takes hold of their future, one that is safer for that possession.

They are important to me, for reasons beyond the value of their form, the appreciation of their worth. Without them I am still strong of spirit, grown that way through time and adversity, yet against the evil of man, there in the dark, outweighed or outnumbered, I'm simply the flame of one small match and as weak, under a unforgiving moon.
Also there in the closet, various uniform pieces including the taupe colored ones known as "pinks",  Dads uniform of the 8th Air Force, as crisp and ready for donning, that the almost 70 years that have passed, are but a single note.  On the collar, the little wings with a propeller, still shiny, golden. How they must have glinted on that day he came home, bruises of body and heart hid underneath stiff cloth, the intake of breath as he saw my Mom for the first time in four and a half years, self-preservation giving way to hope, there in a garden that filled with light.

In your home, as well perhaps, as in mine, uniforms of those that went before, carefully maintained, to be passed down, to along to those who will remember.

Where these things are a hundred years from now is not so important as that their stories remain,  notes on night air as laughter again fills a home, the report of a rifle, cleaving the air with the same testament to freedom as when it was first fired.  It's small trinkets and toys that make a child's eyes light up, things that uphold and repair.
It may be fifty years from now, it may be a hundred or more, the land giving birth to new people, old faiths, the blessings and curses of each passing year, bitter winters and golden days unsullied by rain,  those ever-changing changeless days that look both at the past and the future.  Someone will pick up that object, just as you did, hefting it up to themselves as they quietly whisper,"I will live forever".

Next time you clean out your closet, your garage, that trunk in the attic, look carefully at what you have, what it might mean to someone.  If it has no emotional connection and is functional, there are many organizations that will cherish it, finding it a use among those that need it. There are students that need instruments, museums that would love the artifacts of war for those with no family remaining sheltering organizations that need household goods. But don't just throw it, out there in that moment when the match is lit and before it might be blown out, there is a small moment of history, one that someone may cherish.
 - Brigid

Friday, April 20, 2018

Getting Stunked Stinks

On my drive into work today, a little after 5:30 a.m. there's one stretch I go through that's two lanes each direction that goes through a large park area.

This morning I noted a late model VW bug that was apparently disabled and had pulled onto the grass edge of the road so not to block traffic.  It's quite dark and muddy after the recent snow melt out there, not the best place to break down.

There were two gentlemen bent down over the engine as I approached, working away.

In my headlights I saw two skunks lumbering quickly towards them, to see what the noise was about I guess.

The men would not see them coming, and I was not in a position to stop as I had someone on my bumper doing 40 mph.

Somehow I do NOT think that ended well.

With no disrespect to the dead meant, I'm tempted, if the car is still there in the morning (as it was this evening), to make up two little crosses and tape a can of Febreze to each of them and stick them by the bumper.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Sun is Mirrored in a Coffee Spoon

We shall deal here with humble things, things not usually granted earnest consideration, or at least not valued for their historical import. But no more in history than in painting is it the impressiveness of the subject that matters. The sun is mirrored even in a coffee spoon. . . .modest things of daily life, they accumulate into forces acting upon whoever moves within the orbit of our civilization
.— Sigfried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command (1948)

This winter, and even into spring saw storms that had the city and most of the surrounding small towns come to a grinding halt.  Wind chills in the minus 20's and heavy, drifting and blowing snow resulted in a suspension of travel within parts of the city except for emergency vehicles and those seeking shelter. Out in the small towns, there was little movement, but there are those hardy souls that won't let frostbite and politicians tell them what to do.

We have another round forecast today and I have the blinds and what curtains we have, closed against the cold. Since the house is atop a walkout basement with windows above the ground level,  the huge windows on the south side of the house that look out onto the Spruce trees only have some antique lace, making for a lovely view but not maintaining the home's warmth.  Even with the little heater next to the desk, the chill eddy of cold licks in at my skin, as I go to get a warmer sweater and some thicker wool socks.

One needs to be prepared for such things. A few days ago it was in the upper 50's, before plunging again, another sleight of hand from the greatest of magicians, Mother Nature; Machiavellians stroke on the part of that foe, a new battle towards which it channels ancient wounds, inflicting its grievance upon the land. It will likely arrive to do battle when you least expect it when the prolonged blow of the dark and ice sinks through the skull and lays its claim deep on the bones of the winter landscape. It will not be a day and night safe for man nor beast.
Other than the sound of my husband puttering in the basement as he took a vacation today to do some home repairs, it's intensely quiet. No birds, no clattering of cars starting up. Just the sound of  the incessant wind, a  long, broad hum, as if through wires. There is little noise or movement, but the whine of a piece of shop equipment, maybe a half block away, the sound sticking to the cold air as if snow on a branch. Then the sound of a bell, a wedding that was scheduled this day in the corner church.

It's funny, I'm perfectly fine holing up at home for days with nothing but books, a kitchen, and some tools.  But tell me I can't drive to the store or run to the library, and I suddenly get cabin fever, peering out the window every so often, like a bird from a cage that fidgets with feathered annoyance.
I also noticed something else, something a little nicer.  My knee does not hurt.  After the fall that tore out my meniscus and the resultant surgery and physical therapy, my knee hurt, even years later.  After six months, it was bearable but always there, a twinge,  much worse in cold weather.  Now, six years post-injury, after adopting a serious military-style weight/boxing/cardio program,  I sit here and realize, it doesn't hurt.

It's not the pain that bothered me, I've dealt with pain.  It was being unable to run, to jump, to MOVE, quickly and without effort. It was crutches, then a cane, then just walking with a bit of a limp when the air pressure dropped and it ached.  It was sliding back in time, back to when I wasn't confident in my physical abilities when I was just a skinny, quiet little kid who was picked last for dodgeball, because frankly, I'd rather be inside reading a book that the teacher would think was inappropriate for someone my age.

It wasn't the pain, it wasn't an injury hat in the grand scheme of things, wasn't very serious.  I realized at this point that what is dire profundity to the very young, is usually just "been there done that" to those of us in middle age, which is still preferable to the six-foot deep and eighteen-foot square reality that faces us all eventually.
No,  it wasn't torn and missing cartilaginous tissue and the wobbly feeling I had every time I tried to use that leg.  It was losing a foothold I'd stretched so far and so hard for. It was realizing that we treat our bodies with a sense of entitlement we may eschew in other things as if breath was some plaything given to us just for our own pleasure. I look down on the small scars as if speaking to them. You will let me run, you will let me climb, you will let me explore and make mistakes and play. Now I can't walk up a flight of stairs. When our body fails us, it's like a personal betrayal

It's much as if seeing a beloved old building each and every day, an old church perhaps, the stones so study that time had not displaced it, could not ever displace it, not all of time could have.  Then one day you drive on past and it's simply gone, razed and replaced by a shabbily built storefront that won't withstand a good wind.
I sat here in this spot, six years ago, during another storm, crutches up against the wall, the curtains drawn, as the pain in my body drove for an instant upon me, the thorns of slain flowers.  On that day, I wished to be anywhere but sitting in intense pain. The sky was spilling snow, the only light there was laying low to the ground as if held down by the wind itself, unable to rise and move away. It was a day in which I could only sit immobile as the wind howled, dreaming in an Arctic landscape of a sea that never freezes and a landscape that is forever green.

It's easy to throw a pity party, and I was on the verge on that day I realized I was in a motorized scooter in WalMart, one place I swore I would never be.  But in that same moment, as Partner in Grime smiled down at me, his having been with me without fail since I got hurt, canceling his whole Christmas to get me home and tend to me, I realized all that I had. I also realized that putting the small end of the crutch out in front of me like a knight's lance, I could knock the Billy Bass out of the cart of the guy with no teeth.  Oh, sorry, accident, really. SCORE!
I am who I am through hurt and pain and failures and because of them.

Because of that, I know what is important. And that is all the endurance of which mind is capable, of which the flesh has an appetite for. That has kept me going on nights when all I could do was sit and hold a small faded photo, eyes, tightly shut, as if the light was diminished by its own grief, leaving only a lone huddled shadow upon the wall, pale and fading. That has kept me going when fate swiped a paw at me and I swiped back, harder, EPR's steady, left hand tight on the yoke, planting that aircraft on a piece of hard ground as small as my fear.
I get up from my chair and open the curtains up.  I'll have a higher heat bill, but for now, I want to look out, and up.  I look at the sun I've not seen in two days as the fierce wind hollowed the remaining light out of the sky, the light now holding a quality beyond heat and illumination.   In the distance the sound of a church bell, a deliberate note blowing free, like snow from a winter branch. Somewhere within, a priest lifts the Host in a series of shimmering gleams like warm rain that falls from the sky as vows are spoken, and what is broken is healed.
 - Brigid

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Value of Sparrows

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?
 and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
 Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.
Matthew 10:29

Snow covers the ground, here so early on a late Spring morning.  The neighborhood is quiet, no one leaving for work quite yet, no tracks in the snow, but for an early morning taxi, one of the neighbors likely headed to O'Hare.

You think the snow is done for the year with May halfway here.  Then two weeks later, there it is again.  There's a lot of life like that.  You get through one big adventure, thinking, that will be the best one yet, only to have another, even better down the road.  Or you suffer hardship and loss and think "that's it, Lord, I can't handle any more of this" only to have your words catch in your throat with the tears as life swats at you with its clawed paw yet again. Then there are the moments when danger is all around, and you are pretty sure you are already dead but pretend to be alive for those around you who do not see that you are only a pile of ashes and dust, only to fly past the red line into the rising sun as your co-pilot states "Well Skipper, THAT was hardly "light turbulence" was it?" and you both laugh. I miss the flying, I don't miss the nights in hotels in beds that were never soft enough, or warm enough, yet are always big enough to remind you that you are alone.
Out in the driveway sits an 11-year-old Truck.  A lot of people ask why I don't buy a new one.   I can afford it, yet I don't see the point in making a car payment when I have wheels that get me where I want to go, with just enough rust, that carjackers look on it with derision. But good, gently used trucks are hard to find in Chicago, where the salt takes its toll, on anyone not willing to wait at the car wash every single week and the potholes often have their own potholes.  My truck has been mostly garaged since purchasing from a dealer well south of here, and overall I'd have a hard time finding one as reliable.

Plus nothing says "Yield" like a redhead woman driving a giant black extended cab  4 x 4  with multiple firearm stickers on the back window in Chicagoland traffic.

It's going to get some use this week.  Partner in Grime got in an accident at a notoriously bad corner in our village.  No one was hurt, and no one was cited, it is a blind spot that has claimed more than one fender.  But the local auto repair place is backed up and it will be a week or so until it is done.
I guess I'll be teleworking or taking some leave so he has wheels to go to work.  Best laid plans of mice and men, they say but it beats paying for a rental car.

When bad things happen, how we survive them is really how we look at it  Some people look at every slight, every setback as if looking into a dark forest that is more than gloom but an actual menacing hostility. With the slightest rustle, they are ready to scream, in fear or for help.  I look into the forest and see, sometimes, danger, sometimes challenges, but ultimately a silent journey that will have me leave it for the next clearing, stronger, with a better-defined purpose of what the plan is for my life.  In such moments, you don't look down at the scars, but simply embrace the joy that comes with both reckoning and recognition of finding your path.
The snow is being replaced by sleet now.  If I'm going to go get some more seed and food out for the critters now would be the time.  No matter the weather, when it's winter and the ground is frozen, they know I will come. They don't see me when I'm inside, they don't know from where I came, they just know I am a presence that will tend to them, even if it's burying a still form out in the garden when time catches up with them. For just as sparrows do not worry they also do fall to the ground.

As I went out, the stillness was the first thing I sensed, then the brilliance of the ice that had struck the ground, only to hold on fast for dear life, lest warming come.  It shone with a brilliance that is newly blown glass as if the slightest shift in the air would shatter it to pieces.  Above it the sudden glint of the sun through the clouds, there for that moment as if enchanted into staying by the mysterious spell that is a snow-swept landscape. Some people don't like the cold brightness of snow, seeing it as cold brutality as opposed to a cleansing brightness.  I love the snow, yet I understand how others view it, knowing too well the peace that a warm night can bring to a day weary soul.
From the nearest tree, a squirrel peers from the branches.  I don't get too close, as rabies in the species is common but there are a couple of the older red squirrels that are so used to me, they will come out of the shadows and greet me when they hear the rustle of the peanut bag. They're not pets, they are wild things, even if I've named a few that live among our 100-year-old Spruces, including Bubba the world's fattest Robin, who I can't see, though he is likely nearby. Such is the nature of wild things and wild dreams, which when viewed, summon our wish for constancy, but when out of sight, seems so elusive and illusionary, they appear less like dreams and more like ghosts that now live in another dimension.
I scatter some peanuts and some sunflower seeds, making sure the feeders and suet corral are full and return to the house.  In my wake, small winged forms hop happily into the bounty even as I shut the door to the house as the wind blows the snow into intricate patterns like some ancient hieroglyph that only God can read.

Then, it was time for one last errand, before I handed over my keys for the week.  The sirens were the first things I heard beyond the scrape of a snow plow and the honk of a horn as cars positioned for first place on a street slick with sleet.  Up ahead, a cluster of red and blue lights and an ambulance that was waiting too far away from the actual crash to bring thoughts of comfort.  First responders were tending to the uninjured, standing on the sidewalk, while the roof was cut off from what used to be a small car to extract the soul that had been there.
There was no going forward, there was no turning around, at least yet.  I could only sit and watch the scene thinking of time, of forest creatures and blazing suns, pondering actions and dreams, the sound of tears and the wet warmth of laughter, and the bright red agony that is a loss beyond control. I see the faces of those that for at least for a little while I have outlived, and I touch a coat on the seat that still bears the woodsy scent of that last person who wore it.

As I turned and headed back home, the errand being one I could put off for a couple of days, I realized that I had no reason to grumble that I have to share my vehicle or any costs out of pocket for the repair.  Partner had only a crumbled fender as a result of his lousy morning last week, and fenders can be fixed. I looked up to the sun, now in hiding, and said a quiet thanks to He who watches over, not just the birds of his field, but his fledgling, forgiven children.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Review That Meant a Lot

A big thank-you to any of you who bought any of my books for gifts this Christmas and for supporting the Anthology that Old NFO put together, Calexit, that features my new Novella, "Freedoms Ride", which has had pretty good critical acclaim.

Unfortunately, having to shutter the blog right when my third book was published initially caused a huge "sound of crickets" but NPR (WNIJ, WNIU) picked it up one of four Spring "Must Read" books interviewing me on the air and it took off. Still, getting some reviews from my regular readers, like the one below, meant a lot and still does.

The photo above - the barn I would pass on the way to each Indy blog meet. I always wanted to take photos of it but didn't want to trespass until one day there was someone there I could ask, as they were putting up a sign to sell that piece of land and they welcomed me to take them. The rail spike on the cover from Small Town Roads was part of its door and I loved the photo.

L.B. Johnson's novel is about self-discovery in a small town. What really shines is less the storyline than the psychological exploration of the heroine. That exploration (and her lush writing style) makes the characters come to life. Indeed, it makes us consider our own lives - as someone who has a family member struggling with dementia, this bit about the heroine's mother and her struggle with Alzheimer's jumped at me:

"Initially, she had little moments of forgetfulness, like any person of her age, but she was such a bundle of energy, still active in church and volunteering, taking dance classes, working in the garden. Then one morning, out of the blue, she came into the kitchen and sat down, looking at me and I realized she did not have a clue as to who I was. What struck me was not that but the look on her face as she realized this, realized she should know."

Johnson's ability to make you stop reading and think about your own life is remarkable and is spread throughout the book. This about a rescue dog is one of a million similar gems:

 "On my couch is the form of a little black dog. I do not know why Clyde was a stray. He responds with great plaintiff urgency to the sound of small children laughing, looking around for them as to say "my kids, my kids" only to get this look of pure sadness when he sees they are strangers. The first time I witnessed it, I cried."

Johnson tells you a story not by telling it, but by showing you these scenes, one after another. I found it a slow book to read because I would suddenly snap back from where I had been mentally wandering, remembering a time when I too had had an experience like what was being described.

This book asks big questions: What is it to be human? What is it to live the Good Life? What is it to leave that Good Life?

 I cannot recommend this book more highly

Friday, April 13, 2018

A Chapter from "Waypoints"

I'm putting together some draft chapters of my next book (not yet edited by the talented Ms. Martin) which is going to center on flying, not so much what my career as a pilot was about, but an introspective expression of why people take to the sky and are enthralled by it, from the young first time solo pilot to a senior that's spent a lifetime in the air. It will be my stories, it will be friend's stories told through my words.   I may not publish it until I retire, as I've got a full plate right now, with book marketing both here and in the UK (TBOB and Saving Grace  were both a #1 bestseller in England and Ireland and Small Town Roads won a major literary award which means a lot of radio interviews,  job in DC (yes, I'm officially a "suit"), house in Chicago, 98 year old Dad in Washington state and a husband who is all over the world at any given day. Don't ask me how much time I spend NOT getting to fly the airplane. But I'll put up some excerpts.

Chapter 3 - Passing Landscapes 

People often ask me where I'm going when I take a vacation, or just a few days off. The islands, a spa, or a jaunt to someplace exotic? No, for me, just a few simple days holed up with a kitchen and my dog, books and the sky. The last thing I feel like doing on my days off, is what I do when I work, dashing around airports trying to get somewhere fast, eating bad restaurant food, hurrying here and there to try and pack a few years worth of living in a few days.

On my days off, I'd prefer to do my living, now, quietly in the moment or like today, making a few things from the kitchen to share and then driving into the city to see friends.

We too often pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that we blow right by it. In the adult pursuit of bigger and better, we fail to stop and just look at what we have right here as we pass by it, things hidden by the layers of indifference casually tossed on us by others, dreams gathering dust while we toil to somehow make our world conform to what we are told it's expected to be. And everything in a hurry. Maybe it's the specter of mortality, maybe it's just this new generation of entitlement that's trying to nudge us out of the way, but people seem to want to have everything now. No one seems willing to consider that the time it takes to make it is what makes the final product taste so sweet.

I'm one of the few women I know that cook. Almost everything is available at the store, prepackaged. People have forgotten how good simple, real food is; the chewy tang of sourdough, a pan-seared steak, garlic and deep rose wine, and the snap of a green bean fresh from the garden. The depth of a cheese, the warmth of a swallow of rich liquid, the burst of juice from a single strawberry.

Maybe it's from the days of flying small airplanes that I learned to savor life, perhaps it's just the process of becoming slowly born that is coming into midlife. But flying certainly. You really learn to appreciate the slowness, the stillness of a day in a small taildragger. Moments in such a craft where you literally stand still aloft, sometimes a sense of where your craft is in relation to the earth, sometimes with a stiff enough headwind and a small enough engine, for real. The flight may be minutes or it may be hours, but in a tiny little two-seat aircraft, with the steady drone of the dependable, little Lycoming guiding your way, you simply drift along in the clouds, within yourself. Up ahead is the horizon, and you know it's your destiny to reach it, you've planned the flight and loaded the gas, you've set your heart and soul upon its reaching. What you expect to greet you is up ahead of you in the blue, and it only remains for your little plane to follow.

In a small airplane, the sky will give you time, since the sky, although changing, is still eternal. There's no rush; you keep the horizon in your window but still look down, savoring the journey. The tumbled landscapes of glacier stone, and great pristine rivers, thin as a strand of pearls from up here. It's like the unhurried sense you get on a day-long road trip; the time filled with the immaculate sameness of hours bathed in the sun's warm honey. Anything that really requires your mind, the engine setting, a scan for traffic, occurs in brief, unhurried intervals. Your vehicle continues on to your destination, carrying you with it, carrying your thoughts as you forge ahead, of tears, of laughter you've not known since youth, of love, of mechanical, rhythmic memories of the past that you carried with you as you started this journey.
Those memories are not always happy ones, which is part of the trip you will make. As the miles flow past, you realize that when you are young, no one really tells you the truth about love. About coming into your heart and what it means. And even harder, the memory long ago of the one person you were expected to share those things with, but could no longer. Especially in a vehicle on a rushed trip, you didn't want to make. Talking matter of factly about how life has formed you as you've flown through the years, seemed banal, like proving a right angle or finding the equal distance between two lives. The two-lane highway rose slowly into the foothills of the mountains as you tried to navigate through a silence that carried with it the weight of a dead end. Staring straight ahead, you saw the fields clutching onto the skeletons of flowers that long ago died, of bare, windswept trees, and clusters of burrs that stick to everything with a tiny pinprick of pain. Things were sticking to you. You didn't have a thing to say. Not that it mattered. For you had lost your voice years ago.

All that was left was the lack of words as you opened the window to carry the silence into the wind. The wind would carry that moment to where it would simply bounce off the landscape like a piece of discarded trash, delicate, crumpled tissue best left to be disintegrated by time. Better left behind as the sun began to relax on what would be your renewed journey; the road pulling away from discarded thought, the highway lines breaking up like Morse Code as you moved forward. Moved away from that day, that particular road, til it is long behind you.

Soon nothing is left but the memories that you are making now, that you hold tight to you, moving on into new skies, open roads. Time ticks past as the diorama of your life unfold in the window up ahead, the rush of the world, fast food, fast life, suspended for a few hours. The pace of your travels will drop you into an unhurried state of motion, where you won't get near any speed limits, but you'll feel as if you've lived twice as long and experienced twice as much.

It's been a few months since I've been up in a small airplane, but I remember it well, especially that moment when the day sky matured into dusk. It had been a hectic few months of work and the sameness of schedules, and I just needed to get out and feel the wind on my face and watch the stars come out from their hiding spots. The point was not to get to anyplace fast. The point wasn't even really to get anyplace. I think Heraclitus, of whose writings are only left fragmentary remains, said it better than I, expressing the nature of reality as a flux in words, the way I'd express them in flight tonight.
The rule that makes
its subject weary
is a sentence
of hard labor.
For this reason, change gives rest.

That night, I needed some quiet change, a break from my labors, a journey forward - back into myself. I'd taken off from a small town airport, with no agenda but to see my day translated before me in the small windshield of my plane. Soaring over fields of plenty, the landscape one of infinite calm, shadows deepening, blurring the margin of cornfield and sky, the rising moon popped out from an opening break in the clouds. The space that held the moon widened and I could see the beginnings of stars, close enough to clasp in my hand.

Mark Twain said in Huckleberry Finn "We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them and discuss whether they were made or only just happened". But I know they were made. Made to serve as tiny points of light to guide a distant traveler back home. As the day set behind me, I slowed and turned back towards the strip while some light remained, utter silence now other than the song of the engine. Wind in my face from a little side window I popped ajar, I felt one with the air. It felt like all life, all my past, my future was contained in this sky and I'm not just passing through it but I'm part of it. It's one of the most contented, coherent moments one can experience,

The moon was halfway up the sky, as I got back to the airport, its light and the remaining daylight providing the guidance I needed to land at the little country strip. As the wheels gently kissed the ground, the day changing into the night, my breathing was slowed in true rest. As I secured my little red craft in the hangar for the night, I touched the cowling of the engine. It was warm, as was my soul. I took a big drink of water from the remaining bottle, felt it quench something in me. Realizing I was hungry, I took a small square of darkest chocolate from my pocket and placed it in my mouth, it melted on the heat of my tongue, as I stood still, my hand on the engine cowl, feeling it cool, wondering how I ever thought life was complicated. Wondering why I ever worried that I had to hurry to get where I was going, for where I was headed was within me all of the time. It's Sunday and I have to work early in the morning. Soon, like myself on that night, you too will have to return to work, to the sameness of life, to deadlines, but for tonight, there is no rush. We need those moments alone, those hours in the air, those miles of open road. Those times of solitude, for souls like us, are simple moments of inwardness. In our simple code of life, quietness and remoteness stand guard over courage heightened by a change. This is our own compass north, the self in isolation, resolve, depth, emotion, thought and reason held in until they are amplified within our being, becoming music to life's unhurried journey.