Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Day at the Beach

Summer means happy times and good sunshine. 
It means going to the beach...
Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys
The four of us have quite wonderful memories of our camping vacations when we were children. We camped in the mountains, we camped at the state beach parks at San Clemente and Carpinteria.

We camped the old-fashioned way: we slept in tents in sleeping bags on cots or on air mattresses, mom and dad cooked on a white gas Coleman stove, and at night we had a white-gas Coleman lantern with a brightly glowing mantel to light the campsite and flashlights to guide the way to the rest rooms. If you had to “go” after the last trip, then there was a bucket in the tent.

Dad always made “campin’ cocoa” with canned milk diluted with water, sugar, and cocoa powder. And lurking in that last swallow were usually small balls of cocoa that did not dissolve.

Last Saturday the oldest brother decided he wanted to make some “campin’ cocoa” that we were going to take with us to the pier at Hermosa Beach and drink with our pinky fingers in the air. And so we did.

The beach was a hive of activity. That Saturday was a Beach Cleanup Day on the California beaches, and at Hermosa Beach people of all ages were scouring the beach for trash. They were staging and setting up on one side of the pier.

Something very different was happening on the other side of the pier. The Best Day Foundation also had an event. A large group of volunteers were helping children with special needs have an experience that some of them had never had before: a day at the beach.

Children who couldn’t walk were pushed to the shore line in special chairs with wide balloon tires to join those who could walk and they waited while men on large surfboards, some of them with rigid seats, helped the children on the boards and took them out to the end of the pier.

On the return trip they waited for the right wave and surfed in to the shore.

Something about this touched my heart, and I found myself crying as I took picture after picture. That afternoon I cried as I tried to tell Richard about it, and I started crying yesterday when I told my friend Judy about it at lunch.

Unfortunately, I lost all of those pictures because of a glitch on the memory card in my camera.

But the Best Day Foundation kindly let me borrow some of their photographs.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Paying Attention

I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they're like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day... fifty the day after that... and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it's—GASP!!—too late.” Stephen King

I would tend to agree with Mr King, but sometimes when you need 1000 words to describe something because you don’t have a picture then you do need those pesky adverbs – and adjectives – to paint the picture.

Now that breeding season is over and the Common Grackles have finished raising this year’s brood, they have begun to gather in large flocks. One such flock roosts at night in a wooded area near the house. On days when it is likely going to be too hot to walk later in the morning, I usually begin walking in that brief period while the sky is still pearly gray, just before the sun breaks the horizon, and by the time I turn around and head back the sun is up, and they birds have roused and have left the roost, making quite a racket as they discuss things among themselves, and are heading off in a group to wherever they spend their days.

They don’t fly in a nice formation like geese would but string out across the sky without much organization, like a black ribbon that seems to go on for a while before the last bird disappears over the trees.

But the other morning as I watched, the black ribbon of birds began to twist and coil and turn back on itself and swirl vertically and horizontally before it straightened out and headed off again. I stopped and watched this amazing spectacle, probably with my mouth gaping.

True, the display of this small flock of Grackles did not rival the amazing film I have seen in nature programs of a murmmeration of starlings, but I never thought I would see anything even close to that in person.

I am so glad I kept watching them instead of just glancing as they took to the air (ho hum, it’s a large flock Grackles and I've seen them just about every day for several weeks, so what?) and then looked at something else.

One morning in early winter when I was walking in the park, a bald eagle came from the woods at the edge of town and flew directly overhead toward the residential area. They do winter in the area, but are usually not that common near the town, so seeing one is sort of a big deal. It flew right over two women who had finished their walk and had cut through the car lot of the dealership that is next to the park. They were looking in the window of a new car and never saw the eagle it because they weren’t looking up.

I realize people can’t pay attention to everything – because after all, if you are paying attention to one thing you can’t be paying attention to something else, but…

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Farewell, Mollywog

Some months ago I started to write a post, and then it petered out and never got finished:

I have returned from the groomer with Molly, and she is stretched out on the couch next to me while I read. Her coarse fur has been shaved, and her warm body feels like velvet as I stroke her. The arch of her ribs is like a knobby fan under my hand, and which rises and falls as she breathes…

We noticed several days ago that something was wrong with her breathing. We took her to the vet yesterday, it looked to him on the x-ray that she had a tumor in her chest that had ruptured and her chest was filled with fluid and blood -- from one area he got pure blood when he tried to draw it off so he stopped. It didn’t look good, he said. He wanted to keep her overnight, but we decided to bring her home.

She was still very groggy from being tranquilized, and we had put her on the floor in her bed, but by the time I went to bed she had recovered enough to to hop up on the couch and stretch out in her spot.

This morning I sat down next to her on the couch, coffee in my right hand, Bible on my lap open to this morning’s reading, and my left hand stroking her fur. And again, her ribs felt like a knobby fan under my hand. Only this morning, there was no rise and fall, because she wasn’t breathing. She had died in the night.

And appropriately enough, this morning’s reading from the Old Testament was the first three chapters of Ecclesiastics

For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven…
A time to be born and a time to die….
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.

Today there won’t be much laughing or dancing. But it will come.

 I am going to miss this dog so much.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Going to Plan B and C

Judy and I get our hair cut by the same beautician, Amy. Back in January Amy relocated her beauty salon out in the country—way out in the country—and so Judy and I began to schedule our appointments on the same day and within 30 minutes of each other so we could drive out there together. Judy gets her hair cut every 4 weeks on Wednesday. In the past, I would often wait 6 months to get my hair cut. I am not ready to get my hair cut every 4 weeks, but every 8 weeks works out well, so every other month Judy and I go together.

The original plan was finely crafted. I would get my next hair cut on September 13. On September 14, I would go to Springfield and fly to Los Angeles to see my family and attend my 50th high school reunion. My brother-in-law’s birthday is on September 20, so I would be there for the party and come home the next day. So far so good…. except the plan fell apart.

I was rather dismayed when I went in to stand next to Richard at his computer while he went online to the Web site we always use to arrange airplane flights and discovered the airline is no longer offering morning flights from Springfield to Dallas-Ft. Worth at a reasonable time—the only morning flight now leaves at 6 a.m. (think: get up at 2:30, leave here at 3 a.m., drive 2 hours to Springfield to get there at 5 a.m. to go through the check-in process). And the next flight was at noon. There were no tickets left for that flight on September 14 or on September 13, so I had to schedule the flight on September 12. And instead of arriving in Los Angeles at about 2 p.m., that flight puts me in Los Angeles at 4 pm. Traffic is commonly congested and slow moving on the Los Angeles freeways at any given time, but at 4 pm? Have mercy!! Hardly bears thinking about.

But, breathing a sigh of relief that I was actually able to arrange flights too and from Los Angeles, even if not on the days I wanted or at the time I wanted, I came in and sat back down at my computer and lifted August on the calendar to see September and suddenly realized that I would not be able to get my hair cut on the 13th

Without dragging this out any more, Judy had an appointment today to get her hair cut, and Amy (who was on vacation) when I called last week, returned my call on Monday and told me she could cut my hair after she did Judy’s hair, so that was going to work out, but…

What we've got here is failure to communicate
The Captain (Strother Martin) to Luke (Paul Newman) in Cool Hand Luke

We began meeting at McDonalds so Judy would not have to drive down my driveway, which was a disaster until our neighbor did some work on it, and so we could have coffee after our hair cuts. When I told Judy that Amy would be able to cut my hair as well she said, “I will pick you up then at 9:30…”

So I sat and waited for her to come and pick me up. In the meantime, she was at McDonalds waiting for me to drive in, and then she finally called to find out where I was.
She came and got me, and as I got in I insisted that it was her fault—she should have said “I will meet you at McDonalds.” And we laughed about it. It is so lovely to have a good friend to tease and laugh with.

My hair looks great now, and it should still look good 4 weeks from now when I see these folk, most of whom I haven’t seen for 50 years.

Monday, June 19, 2017

In a precarious place

The place where I walk with the dog in the early morning or in the afternoon when the weather is not quite so hot is a long paved loop that connects at both ends of a church parking lot and wraps around a large pond in front of the building. It is a safe place for us to walk – no cars to dodge. For me, I am not afraid of falling because the road is clean -- there is no gravel or rocks or debris to stumble over. The asphalt is sort of dicey in some spots but easily negotiated. There are plenty of things to keep the dog entertained, from hunting small mammals that scurry around under the tall grass to barking at those big things in the pastures. Ah yes. Barking.

Behind the church is a large pasture that curves around to the east and then comes down the hill and stops at the pavement. Living there are 20 young heifers and steers of various breeds of beef cattle: Black and Red Angus, Herefords, black ones with white faces, and some white and cream colored ones that may be Charolais or Simmental.

I love looking at these cattle. They are on open pasture, so when they lay down to chew their cud in that mesmerizing circular grinding motion, they are not laying in a slurry of excrement and mud as they would if confined in stockyard pens. They are clean. Their hides are glossy and beautiful, especially the Black Angus.

Molly loves to bark at them.

Mostly they ignore her, but occasionally they become curious about this small gray thing bouncing around and making noise at them, so they will come up to the fence and stand in a line watching her.

And then on the opposite side of the loop is the back pasture of a small farm where a herd of goats lives, guarded by 3 big Great Pyrenees dogs.

The dogs know we are there as soon as I slam the car door, and they come trotting up to the woven wire fence, letting us know in their low big-dog voices that they are on the job. They and Molly bark at each other, trading insults, issuing challenges, and explaining how tough they are. She doesn’t seem to care that they could easily be 60 pounds heavier than she is. She lets them “have it.”

And then there are the Killdeer. As soon as we start to walk past the area where I think they have their nests, one will begin running in front us on its twiggy stilt legs, piping continuously as it goes. If the dog stops to sniff something, the bird stops and waits for us and then resumes leading us away from where its eggs are.

Killdeer prefer to nest on bare rocky ground and there is no real nest as such, just a small cleared area. The eggs look like gray stones. They have a habit of choosing very unsafe places to make their nest.

This one sits inches from the asphalt on the frontage road we drive to get to the main road into town.

She has been sitting there for a while. When cars pass next to her she will get up and spread her wings, but I fear one of these times the jerk who deliberately swerved off the road to smash the turtle 2 weeks ago will try to do the same thing to her. Pretending to have a broken wing is not going to stop him. I hope her eggs will hatch soon and she will be able to move her little ones to a safer place.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Deliberate cruelty

Yesterday a report came in on the scanner that someone in a car was seen throwing a kitten out the window while they were speeding down the highway. The car got off at the convenience store, and the local police looked for it but didn't find it, and turned the license plate over to the state patrol.

And this morning when I was driving home, I noticed a a dead turtle in the gravel right of way on the frontage road by our house. The turtle wasn't there when I left the house an hour earlier. I could see from the tire tracks in the gravel that the driver of the car had deliberately swerved off the road to smash it. I stopped to look, and it was a large female full of eggs. So not only did this horrible person go out of his or her way to kill the turtle, he or she wiped out another generation of turtles in doing so.

I get it that people run over animals. I have run over a squirrel in the road, and on our driveway a chipmunk, frogs, and in fact, I ran over a turtle once myself that I did not see because it looked too much like other rocks on the road. They were accidents, and I felt terrible when I saw what had happened.

But to do it deliberately? We are so cruel to each other--killing, maiming, and destroying--that I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that it trickles down to all creatures great and small. But at the moment I am having trouble figuring out what to do with all of this anger.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Repeat and rerepeat: The same old story

I have been taking the dog to the vet about three times a week since May 12. Last Tuesday when I made the trip I saw a dragon, a whale, a pig, and a hag, complete with hooked nose and jutting chin, chasing each other across the sky. It was lovely. And then up ahead I saw something that wasn't quite so lovely -- a turkey vulture in the middle of the road picking at the remains of a very large snake that had tried to cross and was almost certainly run over on purpose. I slowed way down and crept along to give the vulture time to think things over and launch itself into the air.

And this was because some years ago when I still worked at the post office, one of the women who delivered the mail on a rural route came up on some vultures having lunch and frightened them badly. At least one of them threw up all over the front of her car. She said it was horrific. I never forgot that story.

From that point on I have always approached vultures on the road very cautiously.

When I got home, I told Richard all about the vulture I saw and about the woman at the post office. She had driven to a house nearby to wash her car off, and the children who lived there later gave her a card with a drawing of a vulture puking on her car. I told him about that too.

He hesitated a minute, and he said…

Don’t you remember you told me very same story about two weeks ago when we went to vet together and there was the group of vultures at the side of the road….

 No. I did not remember until he mentioned it.

I guess I am now at the age where this sort of thing starts happening. It is scary though. Very scary. Hard to know what is “normal” for a geezer and what is not. I have always hoped that my mind would remain "sharp as a tack" as I approach old age and if I live long enough to become an "elderly elder." Now I am not so sure that is going to happen.
I will be making another trip to the vet tomorrow for the dog’s last treatment. No telling what I might see between here and there, but I will think carefully about it before I say anything to him…