Monday, December 22, 2008

A Trip to Xmas Town

There is a kind of melancholy to the sight of a late afternoon vista of broken trees, brush and snow, lots of snow piled on everything. Like that good Russian doctor I heave a heavy sigh and turn away from the window. My toes get cold just looking at it. And yet, I still find myself strapping on the old snowshoes and stomping out to maybe check the suet feeders, or the water in the hen house. I hate the idea of those birds having no water on a day like today. It's so cold the crystal in the air have hit and mixed to form froth and tinkly lights against the flat white of snow. Maybe the tinkly lights are a bit more than my frontal lobe can take. That's why I have no problem with a grey overcast day. That's a simple color palette I can handle. But when the clouds part and the western sun peeks through, shining across the jet black asphalt, the ivory banks, then tumbling down to the stream at the culvert. You keep the colors simple and you have so many options.

Imagine, if you will, a spot of burnt umber, about an inch across. You can lift your head, incline your eyes and see that spot, right over there. It is something you might not have noticed, but the angle of the sun made all the other branches and leaves go a different color. It reminds one of a large fig or something, just balancing on the twig. But then you see it, the bright orange beak. It's a female cardinal. She turns and looks at you even though you think the room you're in is sufficiently dark to hide you, the bird looks at you. Stop breathing, don't move, just stare back.

You blink.

She's gone.

Now imagine that everything you see is a part of a 360 degree mural, roof and floor. It is of a scene from within or just below a huge thunderhead cloud, dark and flashing. Below you is about 4 thousand feet of open air, mostly, and then part of Northumberland fine dairy district, notably the fields apparently beneath your feet. It's hard, isn't it? Not to try to grab a piece of that cloud to avoid falling down to the fields? Just don't move until you understand something about your world. First, it's all around you, not just surrounding you across the landscape, but ALL around you. Secondly, it's massive, without apparent end. Are you breathing out? Are you breathing in? Then you're alive and you are in the proximity of a fine thunderstorm.

Those fields, that grass, those cattle, need this rain. It sustains them. But you are there, above the fields, between them and the storm. You look up, go ahead, don't be afraid, it's far away. You look up, and the clouds are stamped into valleys like the creases in a geniuses brain. You feel like a bacteria inside a Titan's head, and that's why you can't quite take it all in. If it breaks open and feeds and waters those fields, the cattle will thrive, the men tending them will thrive. The soil will be invigorated by the manure. All will be great. Except you will be in between the storm and the cattle, not a happy place to be, maybe.

Do you resent the rain, the lightning, the winds? You wish they'd go somewhere else? yeah, maybe a little, but most likely you were too excited about the coming storm and the tinkly feeling along your spine just before the flash hits. It's a risk you are willing to take. You move along, or it moves around you. Still the earth below, still the storm above.

You must by now be getting apprehensive about the whole thing, about what's keeping you up, when will the rain hit, what are you wearing? The tension is electric. But if you squint your eyes, if you look at it just right you can see that everything you see is formed of tiny, teeny, points of some color or brightness, like an old fashioned television set. But it's more like the way a clump of pampas grass sways, each seed carried along by the plume at the top of the stalk, but each seed looking toward a separate destiny. Each beam of light came from a different place to be bounced, just so, into your eye. Why, in a way the whole damn scene is a cluster of lights in the back of your eye, the impression transmitted to your frontal lobe or eastern seaboard, whatever controls vision. The whole spherical ALL is pointed directly at You, each point or beam of light represents the tip of a thousand light year spear of changing, sparkling, tinkly, light.

You're famous! Or at least the center of attention.

And in your darkening room, with the branches filling up with trembling cardinals and juncos, the tree losing it's tint and going over to the shades, the feeling has not changed. It's still the beginning of the Light, the Lengthening of Days. It may feel cold from time to time, but the days are getting longer and things will someday stir in the soil. It has to make you happy to hear the sound of the rumbling Wheel, toiling over the cold, white fields.

I watch Her, She watches me.
Eye see Her, She seizes me.
That's the Way
the Wagon rolls.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


There's an old Chinese blessing that goes, "Grandfather dies, Father dies, Son dies." This is a blessing that provides that all men should live to be a grandfather, that no father should die before his son. It means a lot to me, especially since Dad died. See Mom with her arms around her Man. He's a happy man, he knows he has a wonderful wife who loves him and will always be there for him. Then there's Cher, my sister and she's behind Mom, smiling and hanging on.

Cher is with Mom tonight and she has been for a few days. Mom's dying. Cher is sitting nearby, sewing a dress and watching TV. When Mom wakes up sometimes she asks for ice and Cher gives her some crushed ice. Mom says a few words and goes back to sleep. Her lungs are like old lace and the ice tires her out.

Dad died from, in good measure, drug addiction. He smoked tobacco most of his life and it ate up his lungs until in the end he couldn't get out of his wheel chair. Mom smoked right alongside of Dad, like she always did things: right alongside Dad. Now she's waiting to see him again. He's out there, I bet, but he was an atheist and I bet he's holding back, a little ashamed that he was SO sure there was nothing after death. Who knows, maybe he took that "til death do us part." thing as gospel. But he was wrong and Mom expects him to be there. So, if you're reading this, Dad, you better get your butt in gear and sit tight until Mom makes her move.

Somewhere there are those who were before us and they wait for our return. A world without Mom will be a world without real smiles, a world with muted music and fewer rainbows. But it all fades, doesn't it? This is not our destiny, this is more like a game of hide and go seek. Now the sun is setting and our Mother calls us in to the warm house. We can always play again, She says, and they go through that door to the light beyond. It is warm and all their friends are there, all their relatives. Everybody's glad to see them. Dad reaches out for Mom and guides her to her seat. He's in his white shirt, white Stetson and bolo tie. He's wearing his boots and his belt with the big silver buckle. Mom looks around at all her family and can't stop smiling. Dad can't keep his hands off her. It's better than their wedding party because they know that their love will last forever. It already has.

I am not yet ready to cross the threshold, but I can look through the windows. As they serve the meal and pour the beers and wines Dad reaches over and taps her on her shoulder. Mom looks at him with bright eyes. He leans in and kisses her and whispers something that nobody else can hear. The music starts and he escorts her to the floor. It's a slow dance and they have forever.

The door closes quietly and I turn into the night and walk my slow way home. The snow sparkles behind me.
This is a picture very similar to what I looked like when Dr. Radcliffe had the various appliances in my mouth so he could perform his happy little root canal. Note this is a simulation, not the real thing. As I explained, I left the camera in the car.
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My First Root Canal

Okay, I didn't take my camera into the dentists office, so later on I arranged a little post-production work. Again, I was working alone and it was a couple hours after the dental work and my face was still numb, but all in all I think I did alright. Now squint your eyes a bit and imagine this nice clean doctor's office in Lake George. There's a big white chair with various things attached to it and a bright light hanging over it. I'm sitting down with my mouth open, a bit scared but not peeing my pants scared. Just nervous, after all, this was my first time getting a root canal. I wasn't even fully informed what the heck a root canal was exactly until a week ago on my first visit to the dentist in Saratoga who was going to be working on my new molar/bridge complex, later. Apparently he didn't like to do the actual root canal so he was sending me to a specialist. So here I am in the chair, the light shining down on me and my mouth open. (see picture above)

I don't mind dentists all that much. They by and large have hurt me much less than other people, like managers, supervisors, friends-of-friends and ex-wives. What I do mind, however, is sitting in a big white chair with a bright white light shining down on me and a pile of strange metal appliances in the tray in front of me thinking about having this drill burrowing down into my root canal, taking out nerves and such and leaving a nice hole for a metal post to be inserted so they can build me a new molar top to which they can attach a new bridge. See, when you say it that way you can see why my eyes are wide and slightly bulging. This line of thought invariably ends with the Novocaine wearing off about halfway through the nerves in my tooth. Then I scream and arch my back, hurting more vertebrae and driving the drill bit into my jaw. The doctor stands on my chest to wrench it out, and as he does there is a snap and the drill bit breaks in half. This requires hours of post root canal surgery to remove the drill bit. During the surgery the anesthetic wears off and I wake up to the exciting feeling of my face spread open to the world and several doctors trying to close it up before I waken fully.

I've read about such things. Waiting for the emails to come down I read the Lancet condensed version and there are times when things go wrong with drugs and the people who inject them.

Dr. Radcliffe is a tall, white haired gentleman with a quiet, grandfatherly demeanor. I tell him about my dreams and fears and most especially that I generally take a shitload of drugs for back pain and so Novocaine sometimes doesn't cut the mustard. He should use a lot and move fast. He is smiling and looking at x-rays and murmering in what I take to be a studious, positive manner. Then he turns with a hypo in his hand and smiles down at me.
"Oh, don't worry. We haven't lost a patient yet." Then he shoves a new appliance in my mouth, a spreader that attaches to another device that seems to be a tiny shower curtain. It circles my mouth, preventing me from seeing down my own throat or something. Part of the structure seems to clip onto my crumbled molar so that it's like a funnel with my tooth at the bottom and plastic shower curtain all around. Did you get that? Now the good doctor begins sticking my jaw with needles from the inside out. I taste something... odd, slightly unpleasant, like lighter fluid. Now it's gone. Apparently the good doctor has shot my lower left jaw with enough Novocaine to drop a bull elephant. I have trouble focussing my left eye. Actually I generally have trouble focussing my left eye, it's the combination of Cymbalta and Lyrica that dry my mouth and eyes and leaves me a bit blurry.

Now I'm hearing the drill(s). Unlike some people I do not mind the sound of a high pitched drill in my mouth. That means the work has started and someday it will be done and I can go home. Dr. Radcliffe seems to be scraping and drilling, grinding and scraping for several minutes. Still numb. In fact I can imagine that saying the word "numb" would take a lot of effort. Probably come out as "nuff-buh". Have you ever seen those African ladies who put the big things in their mouth to make their lips stretch out like a dinner plate? Well, Dr. Radcliffe seems to have acquired one (not the African ladies, the mouth thingy) and he was trying it out on me. The shower curtain thing is stuck over my lower lip which is stuck on my front teeth. I'm guessing this from impressions of pressure on my mouth parts. They're all numb so it's a guess that I'm biting my lip, hard. (Later I find this is not exactly the case, so don't worry about it)

Dr. Radcliffe pulls back, does a final rinse and suction and then takes out the spring steel appliances. He jams a piece of cardboard with a wire attached to it into my mouth and then he grabs my finger and places it in my mouth, holding down the cardboard. The assistant lays a lead apron over my chest and abdomen and they both leave the room. There's a faint "beep" and they come back in, but not to let me go. They both stare at a computer screen on the wall . Dr. R doesn't sound all that happy when he turns around. "Well, looks like we're not quite done after all." and he starts popping those spring steel expanders and little shower curtains into the mouth. He drills some more, grinds a bit, scrapes a bit more. I'm starting to fantasize about the nerves coming back to life. I can sort of feel the scraper somewhere in there. I don't want to panic, but I can feel the panic. My toes are curling and spasming in my boots. Then he's done and it's over. No pain.

He fills the hole with something. I can tell it's a plastic plaster something that quickly becomes hard enough to withstand a curious tongue and most likely soft food. He probably buried a GPS locator as part of the Homeland Security End of Term Project. Even now Google Earth has a label over me: "Voted For Obama" or something. It's all done in a blur and then I'm out at the counter making sure about my co-pay. On the way home a buy a Fosters green label and when I can feel the side of my tongue, some hours later, I pop the top and slurp it down. Keep the nice cold beer over on the right side, please, and no drooling.
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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Circular Logic

It's raining somewhere but around here it's snow. What a strange form of water snow is, I just love the way it tries to find a different path for every flake. For days you smell it coming, like the rains in an Arizona desert. I feel it deep in my bones and I'm walking like a sidekick or comic relief. "Hyar I come, Missus, hyar I come, hee hee hee."

There are so many cardinals outside in the bushes and chestnut that it looks like a Technicolor version of The Birds. There's a half dozen males, so bright and black and red like a Russian workers poster. Two dainty females argue over the wooden feeder, ignoring the other empty feeders. The goldfinches don't seem to care about anything but what is in the sock. Looking at the bright red males suddenly diving down into the lowlands I find myself thinking of kids diving off a low cliff into a pond.

Outside the colors are stuck in a small range of shades: tan, white, red, black,green-grey, and gray. The whole world could be described in those few colors. Even the birds, even the birds have abandoned color...except the jays. Bright blue and bold, diving after the seeds on the ground and tossing piles off from the feeders to the snowy ground below. The red squirrel is burning so many calories running around after sunflowers.
 In the middle of it I see Biddie, the silly Rhode Island Red who just has to believe that anything near my house must be better. But if she keeps it up I have to go out and take her home before her feathers freeze. I put up strips of plastic hanging from the top of the hen house door, the chicken door. It's like they have over the doors to freezers and beverage center refrigerators. I just have to teach the girls they can part the strips and walk into the house. Funny, they'll climb into a potting shed or peck a piece of glass but walk through some strips of plastic? That takes some working up to accomplish. They stall at the ramp to the door and start mumbling and groaning. Soon one takes a peck at one of the strips. They she dives in through the opening. Several others follow, but some hang back, waiting, no doubt, for some kind of signal from the first hen that all is okay.

If snow were time,
If time were snow,
Then we'd watch it pile up
Outside our windows
Building up on the arms of the chairs
And making it difficult to walk up stairs,
Time from the past just piling like dust
and we go on piling it up
For we must.
If you stop you get buried
If you run you get wet
If you die on the way there
You might get there yet.
All those years you might have wasted
Are like glaciers in the heights
Growing larger yet by inches
In the water known as ice.

It's a little like being placed in the middle of your parents' bed and then undressed and covered with a knitted shawl your grandmother wore. You would like to watch it all happen but the shawl, for all it's delicacy, is warm and soft and it seems right to sleep.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Night of the Living Hens

This is a true story, based on facts, more or less, as I remember them. The only witnesses aren't going to correct me because they all have something to hide. I went looking for some tools in the garage, which is where I usually start looking for things. In spite of the fact that the garage is filled to the rafters with tools of all kinds I couldn't find the precise tools I wanted, but as I poked around I noticed a couple of old windows had fallen over in the attached potting shed from where they were blocking the door to the garden. The door and the surrounding door frame were mostly not finished and anything smaller than a pony could get through, but we aren't zoned for ponies and it's never been an issue.

So I had stacked some old windows, glass doors and boxes against the hole and then leaned another door against the whole thing. In spite of all my efforts the wind constantly blew through and knocked things around. Unless, of course, tiny ponies had wandered in during their migration to the south, but that is, I think we can all agree, unlikely. I straightened things out and was turning to go when I heard a faint "cluck". I looked around for the source and discovered Biddie in the corner, trapped by a pile of wire shelving. She was very contrite and concerned but I reassured her and got her out of the mess and tossed her out of the near-pony sized hole in my door barricade. She wasn't happy about this and paced around, swearing the way chickens do. I'm used to this. I get this a lot while gathering eggs so I just went on straightening pots and piles of pots. Suddenly, where the fiberglass roof meets the plywood floor a hen head popped up through what had at first seems to be a patch of rain darkened plywood. Seems it was more than dark, it was decayed. I yelled at her about coming into the shed but she was determined. She squeezed herself through the hole, widening it as she went. Then she hopped to the top of a stack of window frames, swearing and shaking her fist at me. She insisted that "free range" meant she could go any damn where she wanted on the property. Well, that was not the agreement and "free range" simply means they aren't charged for rent. I explained this to her as I escorted her through the hole I had tossed her before. I heard a noise behind me and there was another hen head popping through the hole in the floor. The hens liked to go under the shed to escape the summer sun and to dirt bathe in the unfrozen sand in the winter. I quickly popped a pot into the hole, driving the hen backwards. She began to say the most outrageous things about my parents and relationships while she struggled to get past the pot!

In the end I won and she was expelled, but immediately went to another rain rotted spot in the floor and forced herself through the tattered wood. I used a large pot this time but it went through all the way, making a hole big enough for a couple of chickens or one tiny pony. I found a big basket with tools in it and shoved it over the hole. Then I poked around with my fingers and found several other places where the floor had rotted out. I'm not a very good carpenter. When I made this shed I had a pretty good idea but somehow when it was done the fiberglass panels were not exactly overhanging the floor. They more or less pointed at the floor and when it rained the floor got wet. I had thought the plywood was pressure treated but after nearly 15 years I suppose it was too much even for pressure treated. Well, by now I had a bad case of "Bop-a-Hen" going with heads popping up all over the place. It took me several minutes of shoving baskets and bits of plywood before I felt the floor was fairly secure.

Another task for me to take up in the spring: rebuild the potting shed to be hen and rain proof. As I turned I noticed that the window on the east wall was only mostly done and there was a 4" gap along one side. It's one of those "measure twice, cut once" things I've read about. I'm more of a "slap it together and see what doesn't fall down" kind of builder. I took up a long thin piece of wood and looked around for a hammer and a nail. I'm not sure why I kept hammers and nails in a potting shed but there they were. So I tapped the nail into a random spot on the stick and started to nail it against the slot. Abruptly and rather like Night of the Living Hens Biddie leaped up and attached herself to the frame of the window while she tried to stick her head through the slot next to the window. I beat her back with the stick and was able to hammer it down to block the opening. Now all the hens were hammering with their wings against the blocked doorway and from under the floor. It was a feathered, clucking nightmare with me in the middle.

The blockages seem to be holding and I haven't spotted a hen in the potting shed or the garage lately, except... this morning I noticed a feather on the floor between the garage and the potting shed. It might have blown in, I suppose. It might be left over from my battle with the hens. It might have fallen out of my hat, which sports several nice feathers in the sweat band. But the hens are curiously quiet these days and they pace around the hen yard looking uninterested. So I think they're up to something. There seems to be more sand around the potting shed and the hens are looking dustier than normal. They also put a sign up over the big hen house that says "Stalag 13" and another one outside the potting shed that says "Free range means freedom!". I never should have shown them "Chicken Run" last summer.