Oddments

In search of story


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Musings on wild life: February 1.18

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit!

That, as you may remember, was my mother’s incantation on the first of every month. I’m not sure why except for the twelve rabbits’ feet involved.

I am not enamored of rabbits, as you know if you’ve read my blog for a while. They are the garden’s Visigoths and nothing can withstand their onslaught. Here, in the wee hours of one winter morning, by the light of the lamppost, I spotted one of their kind. It was huge. And obviously reconnoitering. Duly noted, you furry pig!

I am equally not enamored of Canadian geese, as you also know from my blog. They, however, are enamored of this retention pond. Why Mother Nature, who came up with the song of the lark and the wren, invented the honk of the goose is explainable only in terms of her caustic sense of humor.

Then, of course, the ants. Oh, they keep on a-comin’. At first in my desk. Now along the baseboard and up through the furnace vent in the dining room. Yesterday I was out in the cold mud dousing the side of my new house with Home Defense. In January? Really?

Having lived in California, I know about ants, which there put earthquakes to shame in terms of intimidation. They come like an undertow and pull you to your knees.

But this is Indiana, which, though definitely ant-ridden, usually doesn’t let the little rotters out mid-winter.

And have you ever noticed how observing ants can make you itch?

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, dear reader!

 


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Postcard from the doldrums

It is mid-July and there is no cloud of lavender-blue over the lavender. It struggles to grow, let alone bloom. The geranium, though bravely deep ruby, teeters on rickety stem. The bright white vinca remains modestly single-bloomed and close to the earth. They want sun.

There is only rain.

Leaves and flowers sag under waterweight, stoop-shouldered, hollow-backed. People bowed now too, eyes listlessly downward with no horizon to look toward, neither sunset nor sunrise.

There is only rain.

Gardening feeds my spirit, and, just as surely as the squirrels, I store acorns of sunlit troweled moments to sustain me in the winter ahead. But not this year. How is a gardener to make sense of life without a gardening season? Gardeners need sun.

There is only rain.

Fields turned to swamps, the corn, beggarlike, stands suppliant in murk and muck, helpless, roots melting into slime. It wants light.

There is only rain.

We know Indiana weather is imperfect. We know tornadoes dwell in our skies. We know that the writer of Genesis was describing certain months in Indiana when he wrote “darkness covered the earth.” We don’t expect much here, but this sunless summer would send even Job into a grumbly opprobrium.

Ponds of clay soup, downspout gushers, rushing curbside streams, pooling in tire prints, rot in our fences, knots in our lungs,

there is only rain.

 

Noon, 13 July

Noon, 13 July


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Hare pollution

Look — there! The monster maw! The original daily beast!

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What do you mean you can’t see him? He’s there just right of center. Surely you can’t miss those in-your-face ears sticking up in the middle of the clover patch. Again and again he starts my day taunting me with those ears. “Here I am!” he advertises, knowing full well his four feet can move a lot faster than my two.

Still can’t see him? How about a close-up?

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No, not the c-word! Cute does not apply! Voracious, yes. Destructive, yes. Pestilent, yes. Not cute.

Despite my bipedal disadvantage, I go out every morning, staggering under the weight of my coffee mug, bleary-eyed and bed-headed, determined to win possession of my own garden. My victories are transient.

This year there are three of them, one smaller than the other two. Papa, Mama and Junior? Chilling thought.

One was digging ferociously in the middle of the yard the other morning, stopping occasionally to shake the rain from his fur. Yes, digging in the gooey soaked Indiana clay. In the middle of my yard. Is Mama in a family way? Does she need a cozy nursery? NIMBY, rabbit!

I think I hear you, dear reader: You’re obsessing, Maureen! Get a grip! Of course I’m obsessing! Do you know how expensive plants are? Do you know that these four-legged bottomless pits eat their weight in ANYTHING every five minutes? Obsession is the only rational approach.

Aside from the expense, however, is the value of a garden. It means something. As my friend Will S. would say, he who steals my purse steals trash, but he who destroys my garden makes me poor indeed.

Farmer McGregor was not the villain.


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Eighteen

He died.

You met David in my blog last March. I’d just received word that he was losing his years-long battle with cancer, and I did the only thing I could: I wrote. I cried, too.

There are some people in our lives who are — in our hearts — always eighteen, and David was one of those. It’s a self-congratulatory thing, I know: if he’s still eighteen then I am too, right? I’m filled with vigor instead of disease. I have hormones and bones, collagen and memory!

But it isn’t so, as David’s death attests.

I am not young any more; I had my turn and it’s long over. So it’s delusional to feel those hormones. But the fact is that friends from our growing-up years awaken the eighteen-year-old that was, and that’s a real bliss point. Being eighteen was imperfect, but it had a lot going for it. People who were eighteen with us have their roots in the same imperfections and in the soil of that time, which for us was searingly eroded by the lava flow called The Sixties.

David went to college and to Viet Nam. He left eighteen behind rapidly. But whenever I saw him over the years eighteen was still there. It was unmistakable though maddeningly elusive. It was fun and melancholy at the same time: that matchbox of eighteen and the freight train of age.

David loved trains. He even knew “Up and Down the Monon,” one of several neglected classics of Indiana railroad lore. So trains bring David to mind in a very colorful, gritty, nostalgic way. We grew up in a spaghetti bowl of railroad tracks and heard the same midnight trainsongs.

May the angels lead you, David. Save a place.


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Stop sign

I moved from Indiana to southern California, where people would ask me, with a certain air that suggested they knew the answer, if I missed snow. My yes stunted the conversation. Lest they think I was dangerous, I amended with how I didn’t miss driving in it. But, yes, I missed snow. Those poor deprived people in California could visit snow, but that was not the same as seeing their home and neighborhood transformed by it, not the same as watching from a snug childhood bed, peeking through the Venetian blinds, as snow meandered — or streaked — in the beam of a streetlight, not the same as poking their fingers through the stormwindow slot into the drift on the windowsill by way of morning ablution. And it isn’t the same as arguing with their siblings 50 years later about who shoveled it.

Now I am back in Indiana and this morning I awoke to the first snow of the season. A mere dusting, transient as breath, but there it was. I wonder how many others looked at it and were still for a moment.

Doesn’t the first snow always make us stop?

Yes, we stop partly because of sudden visions of heating bills. But there is also, in that first white, a stirring of childhood awe, a memory: footprints, leafprints, windprints, all left for us to read in a sparkling, velvety silence; a landscape other-worldly, confectionary, phantasmal. There is a blink in which we revisit that, and we stop. First Snow allows it, requires it.

Then the blink is over. Time resumes.

Now the day has turned to night, the snow to mud. First Snow will come again next year. And I will stop again.