Something Lighter

I needed to listen to something light the other day because my thoughts had been immersed for too long in serial killers. I go for the crime drama shows and had just finished the last episode of Mindhunter on Netflix – two seasons about the early days (1970s) of the FBI’s “Behavioral Science Unit,” a department that studied patterns and traits of the baddest of the bad to help find and identify others of their ilk. The second season concerns the Atlanta Child Murders of 1979-81. It’s heavy stuff.

Not yet ready for bed after I turned off the TV, I was curious how much of the show was based on fact so I googled Atlanta Child Murders. Seems the writers of Mindhunter got a lot right.

That led to curiosity about the renamed “Behavioral Analysis Unit” founded in 1972 at Quantico by real-life agents Robert Ressler and John Douglas. That led to a piece on the qualifications for being an FBI agent (what does it take to get that job) which I couldn’t/wouldn’t even consider for various reasons, which then led to an article about the most notorious of the serial killers, the Top Ten, the ones that shaped the initial studies and led to criminal profiling that is still used today.

Ted Bundy, Edmund Kemper, Jeffrey Dahmer and others – these almost alien men committed crimes that have no words strong enough to describe. Ghastly, shocking, horrifying, evil, wicked, despicable, heinous, demonic, atrocious, monstrous, brutal – all these words seem pale to me when examining the crimes. This is not the kind of stuff you should be reading before going to bed if you want good dreams.

So I finally said to myself, Yeah, something lighter maybe.

A gardening podcast perhaps? My gourds had reminded me that the garden was not a complete failure this year.

gourds2mp.jpg

My neighbor Jennifer took some that I offered and had fun with her daughter Anna Lane.

gourds anna lane (2).jpg

But I didn’t find a gardening podcast. Instead I stumbled on something called The Slow Home. No, it’s not about the homeowner’s intellectual deficiencies. And it’s not about how fast we move (or don’t) when we are exhausted from shoveling too much concrete that is masquerading as dirt. It’s about purposefully, mindfully adjusting your pace, your home, your life to make room for the stuff that matters to you.

It was a lovely alternative to serial killers, I must say.  And an intriguing topic.

Taking our time, enjoying the moments, not in a hurry – do we do this as much as we should?  Thinking about such things reminded of some of the scenes I like best in some of the children’s books I like best. (These are for you, Mona!)

Such as when Frog and Toad stare at the garden plot together and Frog gently suggests that the garden will grow in its own good time.

frog and toad (2)2mp

Or when Fern and Avery take turns swinging in the barn door in that famous summer of Charlotte’s Web.

fern swinging (2)2mp

Or when the boy plays in the bracken with The Velveteen Rabbit.

velveteen rabbit (2)2mp

Or during One Morning in Maine when Sal and her sister Jane have to wait just a bit longer for their ice cream cones because of “Mr. Ferd Clifford and Mr. Oscar Staples, who were sitting in the store talking about trapping lobsters and how the fish were biting.”

one morning in Maine (2)2mp

Or in Blueberries for Sal when Little Sal “picked three berries and dropped them in her little tin pail…kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk!” (Oh, may we take the time to hear the kuplinks and the kuplanks and the kuplunks in our lives!)

little sal (2)2mp

Or when, “early every morning, Francois, the keeper’s son, stopped on his way to school to say, ‘Bonjour, Happy Lion.’”

happy lion (2)2mp

Or when Madeleine is not afraid of mice.

madeleine (2)2mp.jpg

Or when Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel are peacefully settled in the humble cellar of the new town hall and Mrs. McGillicuddy brings a hot apple pie 😊

mike mulligan (2)2mp

I was just reading to Ellie and Nelson last week, so I’ve got these lovely, peaceful images fresh in my mind.

 

reading to ellie and nelson.jpg

Frog and Toad and Fern and Avery and the Velveteen Rabbit and Sal and Jane and Francois and the Happy Lion and Madeleine and Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel make me wonder about “the company we keep.” For years I read these books and many others to my kids, over and over again, and now I read them to my grandchildren when they come visit. The pages are soft from many, many turnings. The images are familiar old friends that warm my heart and gentle my day.

We all have something, I hope, Something Lighter, Something Balanced, Joyful, Peaceful, Delightful for those times when Something Gruesome or Tragic or Angry wants to win the day and snag every part of us and paint the world all wrong. What’s your Something Lighter? I know some of your answers: fishing, golf, painting, woodworking, writing poems, cooking, playing games, watching the Patriots (!), playing Wordfeud or Rummikub, walking the dog… What else?

A Mighty Oak Meets the Earth

Imagine being a very big tree, a mighty red oak. You have been standing in your same spot on a Virginia hillside for a very long time, say, at least a hundred years. You are part of a forest, not a national park or anything so grand, just a peaceful forest not terribly far from the Blue Ridge Mountains. You grew strong over the years, pushed your way ever higher toward the sun.

Ah, the sun, the seasons. Bask. Bask.

When you were about 50, some humans came to the site to build a house, but you survived this possible demise because of being just far enough away from the spot they decided was best. They put a utility pole fairly near you, but its inanimate state was uninteresting, and you said Paugh, who cares about that?

When you were about 90 and towering proudly among your adjacent tree-fellows, another risk came along, another building project, a cottage this time, but your majestic canopy and the glorious shade it provided these new humans saved you. You said to the young beech trying to grow right next to you, I’m feeling a mite weak in the joints, little fella, but don’t get any ideas about taking this spot. I’ve been here a long time. No offense, but it’s mine.

Aerial A cottage.2mp_LI.jpg

Wind. It comes, it blows.

The sound of a tree-fellow nearby crashing to the ground during a storm always adds to the drama of the day, always causes you to ponder your own strength and good fortune. You tell yourself that if you were not meant to become the mightiest grandfather in this neck of the woods, you would have fallen already. Some tree has to become the giant among giants – it might as well be you. Then one spring day that blasting wind comes again, and in one super painful stroke, your hugest north-pointing limb lets go at the joint, its weight bringing it instantly to the forest floor below and leaving a massive, open, splintery wound on your side.

Crap.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The humans come and inspect. They bring other humans to come and inspect. They all shake their heads and use words like risky, problem and electrocution. Electrocution? They point to that inanimate pole that’s closer than it used to be… or, oh, maybe you’re just bigger than you used to be. No! you want to say to them. Don’t worry! I am still strong! I can stand another fifty years! You are a little like Mike Mulligan, who used to say about Mary Anne (his steam shovel) that “she could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week.” In this classic children’s book, Mike’s assertion is always followed by “but he had never been quite sure that this was true.”

You are not quite sure that you will not fall one day and hit the cable coming off that pole. You cannot be sure. The humans cannot be sure. As they walk away, you want to believe it will all be okay. You settle into your new life, feeling somewhat off balance, slightly less steady, especially when the wind kicks up, now that you have no huge branch on the north side counterweighting all the other branches. Weeks go by. The humans seem to have lost interest. What a relief.

Then one day some big vehicles arrive. They stare and say, “See how it leans?” They curiously turn their attention to a perfectly nice (younger, smaller) oak that stands between you and the biggest vehicle.

1_LI (2).2mp.jpg

Odd.

You watch. A man sits in the bucket attached to the vehicle, starts at the top, lops off branch after branch, then sections off the main part of the trunk one piece at a time, letting each one crash. Huh. They cut that poor little fellow down to earth-level for no seemingly good reason. Then they move the truck in closer.

Oh.

It’s your turn. They start on the side closest to that damn pole. They work carefully to make sure nothing falls near the cable. The 75’ reach of the bucket is barely high enough to get them to the best position. But they manage. Bit by bit, they buzz their tool and drop your limbs. Parts of you that only ever knew sky meet the earth.

5.2mp_LI.jpg

Then they move on to the side that hangs over the little cottage. Yeah, you knew that lowest one was perhaps your weakest limb. Maybe they had reason to worry about that one. It didn’t take much for it to break. They were careful on that side, using a rope around it to make sure that when it swung down, it would avoid the cottage roof and land where they wanted.

8.2mp.jpg

This is it, you realize. You reached, you grew, you survived. You gave beauty to the forest, shade to the humans, home sites and abundant food to forest creatures for many years. Now you will give warmth by way of firewood. Lots of yourself is already on the ground, the danger of hitting the pole now a thing of the past, but they left some for the next guy to come and fell.

19 (2).2mp.jpg

“Sad,” you hear the lady of the house saying. “Reminds me of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein,” she says, “a book that’s been called ‘a touching interpretation of the gift of giving.’ Maybe that’s what this tree did. It gave. For many years it gave. As with all of us, its days were numbered – even if none of us ever know the number! But chapters do close….”

Since Micah’s death, there have been two more people that I knew for years, two more I talked with, played with, greatly admired, two more who gave to those around them, who added depth, joy, love, fun and substantial contributions to the circle they walked in, two more whose chapters have closed. To the families of C. Wayne Callaway and Ken Brown, I offer my deepest condolences.

New To Me and Unexpected

No matter how old we are, there is something new around every corner. This is especially true if you are traveling to places that are not so familiar. Delightful discoveries keep things so interesting. They make you see the world differently. They keep you young, reminding you that you have not arrived yet, that there is yet something to learn, to puzzle over, to marvel at, to be astonished about and even in some cases to cringe about (see below!). Let us never lose our sense of Are you kidding me?

In San Francisco, a bird looked dead on the street. I felt a moment of sadness. But as in Berkeley, where I questioned why the cooler-on-wheels was moving along the sidewalk on its own and Drew said nonchalantly Oh, that’s a robot delivering smoothies, I was equally taken aback by this bird on the street as we walked to the Embarcadero Ferry Building.bird from afar sleeping int he road.jpg

It sure looked dead to me. But no, Drew said, it’s just sleeping.

Sleeping? Whoever heard of a bird sleeping in a road? What kind of bird sleeps in a road? This kind apparently. Get a little closer. Is this bird sleeping?

bird sleeping in the road.jpg

Doesn’t it know that a road is a bad place to sleep? Didn’t its mother teach it the basics? If you want a long life, stay in high places away from humans and large, fast-moving vehicles. Get close only when you see lots of grass and the humans are tossing food about. Well, I don’t see grass here and no humans are offering food, but something must have clued it in, maybe even the person who then walked close to it, because in the time it took for us to get past, that bird turned around, faced the sidewalk and got out of harm’s way.

bird walking away.jpg

Smart bird? Or dumb bird got lucky?

Approaching the Embarcadero, we encountered a massive polar bear, part of the Salesforce descent upon the city this week. It isn’t every day you see a massive polar bear. There is something both majestic and adorable about polar bears, even when they are fake. You must agree, this is massive.

polar bear at embarcadero.jpg

It also leans toward adorable rather than majestic, as does the one in a fairly new book called There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins that I discovered at Marie’s house. It has joined my all-time-favorite-kids’-books list. I will show you the pages at the end.

cover.jpg

I am a huge fan of children’s books. The good ones are as good for adults as they are for kids. This one has it all: rhyme, cadence, delightful illustrations, originality, silliness, cleverness (the kind kids show you at the most unexpected times), hilarity and subtle yet powerful parallels to the “real” world, though you have to think about it a little to arrive at these.

It is impossible to be around children, as I am here now in Boise, without discovering something new in something old. Another book on my list, one that has been there for decades, is Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. Unsurprisingly, someone thought to make it an audio book. That’s all well and good. What would never have occurred to me is using the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the background with bagpipes, and a narrator with an Irish accent! I never thought of that! Mike Mulligan. Irish. Go figure! Ellie loves listening to Mike Mulligan on the way to school. The music meshes with the story perfectly.

If you have a child in your life – your own or a neighbor having a birthday or a niece or nephew – get both of these books and the philharmonic audiobook to go along with Mike Mulligan. You cannot go wrong.

While on the adorable track, I must mention the three-year-olds at soccer practice, another reality of the world that somehow escaped me before now. I am sure I didn’t do any organized sport myself until I was at least nine or so, but these days they have soccer at three. They do in Boise anyway. Ellie loves it. All those cones are for foot control, by the way. You put your foot in the open end and lift it off the ground and hold it up. Who knew?

soccer1.jpg

This is the same child who loves to wear a paper skirt, by the way.

paper skirt.jpg

Anyway, in case you didn’t know it, soccer for three-year-olds in Boise sometimes involves “making a pizza” on a parachute (after you walk around in circles for a bit to make you hungry enough to eat the pizza),

soccer2.jpg

the last part of which is kicking the “meatballs” on top of the pizza. What’s your guess? Will these children grow up to love soccer or some other active organized sport? I think so!

Not everything that is new is adorable. Not everything is even pleasant. Whether just contemplating it or actually taking a drink from it (I couldn’t!), this exhibit at the Exploratorium in San Francisco challenges your grossness meter. According to the sign, the standard drinking fountain on the right and the one attached to this toilet (which has never been used as a toilet) are identical. Both clean, both usable, both dispensing fresh water. But who can bring themselves to drink out of the fountain attached to the toilet? “A Sip of Conflict,” they call it. I’ll say!

toilet drinking fountain.jpg

I can hardly look at it without cringing, let alone take a drink! So enough of grossness, let’s head back to Boise for something else I did not expect.

Here is a very old tortoise. How do I know he’s old? I have no idea actually. Tortoises are always old, right? This one was at the downtown zoo, active as a sloth, dry as the sand he stands on. Ellie was fascinated with him.

tortoise.jpg

Why did I not expect a tortoise at the zoo? You expect giraffes, llamas, zebras. But a tortoise? Possibly I am overwhelmed with newness and adorableness all around me (save for above toilet, we can all agree) and I didn’t even have time to have expectations. I just know that this amazing animal took me by surprise.

Lastly (you knew there had to be food somewhere in here), we made a stop this morning at a French bakery in Boise called Janjou Pâtisserie. I know: French bakery in Boise, something else you would not expect. But what was even more unexpected, what was totally new to me, was a spiral croissant with olives and manchego cheese. Oh yum! I have never seen or had olives and cheese in a croissant before, let alone in a croissant of award-winning quality. Who thinks of this? Why didn’t I think of this?!

olive and manchego croissant (3).jpg

I cannot describe this adequately. You will just have to imagine the soft/crisp, buttery/flavorful, done-to-absolute-perfection nature of this pastry. Drool if you have to. I won’t tell.

I would like credit for having restrained myself in this post with regard to the many awesome trees and other plants one finds while traveling. I know I covered the eucalyptus trees in Berkeley and the Boise rose garden recently, but Boise has more awesome flora, and it is with serious effort that I hold back the low-lying spikey things, the weird wisteria, the blob tree – I spare you this time!

But I have to show you the pages of the adorable polar bear and mouse book. Thank you, Ross Collins, for your marvelous book!

Take your time now. Read slowly, deliberately and out loud if you can. Get a good rhythm going. Look at how the illustrations coordinate with the text. Pretend you have a child on your lap… Better yet, pretend you are the child.

1.jpg

2.jpg

3 (2).jpg

4.jpg

5.jpg

6.jpg

7.jpg

8.jpg

9.jpg

10.jpg

11.jpg

12.jpg

Yanking My Way Through the Jungle

About three weeks ago my friend Fred came for a visit. I don’t know what you do with your friends but sometimes with mine we end up at Lowe’s. Among other useful things, we bought a three-pack of hot pink garden gloves (for me, not for Fred). The palm side is coated with a waterproof layer of some kind of plastic and the back-of-the-hand side is a stretchy cloth to breathe and flex with your movements. They were shiny and clean, but not for long. This is what they look like today. You can see I used one pair for painting the bench.

gloves.jpg

The same thing happens to me when I get rubber gloves for cleaning with detergent water. I end up blowing through the right fingertips. At this very moment there are at least three perfectly good left-hand rubber gloves in my cleaning supply cabinet.

I need gloves. My hands would be torn to pieces without them. Last week I found myself yanking my way through this jungle in the back corner of my garden. This is how it looked when I just got started.

20180713_084901.jpg

In the very back corner there is a wooden box that my boys built years ago as a compost box. Trust me. Guess what I will find hiding next to it when I get there.

20180713_084906.jpg

When you have a job like this in front of you, there is nothing for it but to Just Do It. Yank, yank, breathe. Yank, yank, breathe. I felt like Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner must have when they hacked their way through the Columbian jungle after (one of the times) they got away from the bad guys in Romancing the Stone. At least I’m fairly certain I will not come upon a downed airplane with a rotting corpse inside!

20180713_090757.jpg

I’m aware it is the middle of July. Had I done this section sooner, it would not be so dense and high. But there was the chicken coop and the viewing deck and the strawberry patch and the bench with my uncle…

20180713_093044.jpg

You just have to keep going. By this point the wheelbarrow was so full it would hardly hold more. But I was like Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel – he had quite forgotten to leave a way out, and I had quite forgotten to make one! There’s a door at the back of the garden. Go through that and you come to Weed Mountain. The size of this mountain stays remarkably the same over time no matter how many weeds you add to it. Rain and decomposition counterbalance the additions.

20180713_090807.jpg

I had to make a path to the door. One side of the door anyway. One side would serve (best to be expedient here). Those are blackberry and raspberry bushes gone crazy on the left. I’ll get to them another day when I have way thicker gloves. The thorns in those off-shoots are nasty.

20180713_095611

I used my (isn’t it beautiful?) newly created path to get to Weed Mountain, emptied my load, then turned my attention toward the compost box in the corner – look at the next picture and you see it now, don’t you? (I didn’t think so.) Surely though, you can see that I do not get every single weed. A few survive my yanking. I return for a second pass later, and will get most of the stragglers then. We all have a style and I have mine, thank you.

20180713_100416.jpg

Yank, yank, breathe. Yank, yank, breathe. As I slowly revealed the box, I found a little fellow.

20180713_103436.jpg

He had had the right idea, and I commend his choice of location along the right side as close to the deer fencing as he could get. No way, he had said to himself, no way is anyone going to find me way back here. Foiled!

20180713_104205.jpg

That’s the box. I told you it was there. Almost done, just keep going…

20180713_105328.jpg

The little fellow had been in the shady weeds before I came along, so I moved him into the shadow to the left of the box:

20180713_105334.jpg

See him back there? It was a good idea I thought, but he didn’t like it. Either that or he was so traumatized by being found and then moved, he had to find a more private place, and of his own choosing. (Damn humans.) I got busy with the next section and didn’t see him again.

Finally the area was decent. I didn’t say perfect. Fred had to tell me several times when he was here that “Perfection is the enemy of good.” I wonder what prompted him to tell me that. It reminds me of a saying I got from Claudia when she was here from Germany in the fall: Zu viel nimmt weg von genug, literally Too much takes away from enough. I.e. leave it alone, it’s enough. When it comes to weeding, you have to know when enough is enough. This is enough, don’t you agree?

20180713_111701.jpg

Someday I might plant something back here, but in the meantime I’m just going to mulch over it and forget about it.

You already knew that my gloves are shot. And for some reason my fingers are sore. But oh, the jungle is tamed! And you see I also pulled those beetle-eaten Brussels sprouts from the last planter box. It all looks much neater now. Almost civilized.

mulched 7.15.jpg

And did I mention the bench is finished?

finished bench 1.jpg