Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Gift of Paddling a Canoe

I wanted to tell you that Mike and I did something right. Nick was lying in bed tonight and we were talking about the summertime and everything he wanted to do.  Oh, he is going to be busy, very busy.

Crap. I'm too tired to write. The television is on and it keeps dragging my train of thought away from what I was going to tell you. Then, when I tried to remember what drew up to Nick telling me what he told me, I couldn't remember. Was it the book he was reading, 'Brian's Return' by Gary Paulsen?

Nick started reading 'Hatchet' in class a couple of years ago and has run through at least six of Paulsen's other books since then. My favorite was 'Guts' the true stories that led to the stories of a fictional Brian. Yes, I admit that I have read a lot of them too. I loved them. They make me feel the way I felt in Alaska when I caught the trout with my bare hands and ran yelling through camp for Mike to see. I told you about that, didn't I?

Or maybe it all came up when I told Nick that he needed to brave the weeds that had grown up in the past month and put the canoe away. I told him that there could be small animals living in it by now and that he wouldn't like all the bugs he'll encounter having left it in what were small weeds at the time. Things here in the Pacific Northwest grow extraordinarily fast in the spring. My mustard green leaves in the little pot on the deck have grown from the size of lentils to the size of large peas in just one day. But no matter how the subject came up, it did come up.

Nick was talking about the canoe. See, I love that canoe since we have had so many adventures in it. I even imagine that we were in that canoe when we were in Alaska and Minnesota and Upstate New York and Maine, though I know we rented and can tell you about the people we rented from. Crazy Eddie chased a young moose with his van on a dirt road in Maine, the bastard. But the mind does tricky things and somehow in every story that happened in a canoe, we paddle in our own canoe, a green Camper Old Town Canoe with skid plates on each end and saggy cane seats. I bought it for Mike for our first Christmas in 1987 and now it is scored from dodging stones in many rivers.

And when Nick was born, Mike and I tried to figure out how we could get a baby safely into a canoe for a trip. When Nick was safe to float in a life jacket by himself, we took a three day trip out in the Boundary Waters. Despite thunder storms, he loved it, but we stopped early when he started having an uncontrolled allergic reaction to mosquito bites. We wouldn't risk taking him on whitewater when he was young, not even our home Snoqualmie river, until three years ago when he turned eleven. Oh, we took him on day trips to small local lakes. We bought him a tiny wooden paddle. He caught his first fish in that canoe. We even paddled Lake Diablo for four days a couple of summers ago. The winds on Lake Diablo blew waves over the bow and the temperature of the lake hovered at 48 degrees, cold enough to make a person gasp involuntarily when they submerged in its waters. On that trip, Nick asked us to take him home every night after dark even though he had had a grin on his face in the crazy wind and even braved a swim at one of the most beautiful campsites I ever experienced.

We were worried that our love of canoeing would make him hate it. You know how it is. A man loves hiking and subjects his children to hours of grueling hikes and they grow to hate it. Or it could have been bowling or curling or karaoke. For us, it was canoeing, yet tonight, in the dark of his room, Nick told me for the second time in a week, "Mom, I love that canoe. I love it."

Of all the unimportant things, it really doesn't matter in the scheme of his life if he paddles a canoe or not, not like getting an education or falling in love or staying healthy or being able to get along with people around him. Of all the unimportant things he could say, that one thing brought tears to my eyes. I love that canoe. I can't think of any joy in life that I would rather have given him than the ache of paddling in your shoulders, the feel of the breeze in your hair, the smell of the water with a touch of algae, and the glint of sun in your eyes. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Elmer's Glue, A Tooth, and Kryptonite for a Competitive Talker

I know, I know. I haven't visited in a while. Sorry about that. I may not have much of a story to tell this morning. I'm not awake yet. It's Monday. I don't appear to be able to get my full measure of sleep because I drove to the high school this morning to return a book and then back home to walk dogs with a friend.

Can I ask you about competitive talking? Have you ever spent time with a competitive talker? That's my walking partner, but in all fairness, I've been a competitive talker myself. Still, she wins every time. She is a prime competitive talker. I'm only an amateur.

I think it's good for me, though, to feel what all these people around me have been feeling from the beginning. When I give up and let her words wash over me, it works the best. I can actually look up into the trees and daydream, sometimes with a tenuous hold of the subject at hand. I try to keep breathing deeply. I try to shut up. I really do.

It's good for me to think about why a person needs this. I have competitive talkers in my family. My brother complains that if we aren't eating, he never gets a word in edgewise. We've gotten used to him not saying much anyway. The rest of us fill in all of the spaces. We jam those spaces full. We talk fast to get things said. We interrupt each other.

My mom, my sister, and I are all competitive talkers. My grandma used to be and my grandpa used to find ways to get people to shut up and listen to him. Though his methods were slick and painless, he too was a competitive talker. Now there are nieces and nephews who are also competitive talkers. My brother doesn't have a prayer.

Is it just a way of being, a family habit like the yelling that happens in an Italian family or the reserve that happens in a Norwegian one? Or does this talking spring from some unfulfilled need?

I think I struggle to be heard. When I was a kid, I didn't feel that anyone took me seriously, that anyone listened to my struggles. But I get the feeling that my friend has other reasons for her ramblings.

I think she might have something more in common with Jay Leno than with me. She may not have been listened to properly as a girl, but I think it's more likely that she has a yen for stand-up comedy with long monologues.

I found her kryptonite though. The other day, I popped a temporary crown just before I was scheduled to meet with her. I had driven half way up the hill, mindless flossing my teeth in the car, when I realized that I had done exactly what the dental technician had told me not to do. I flossed around my new and very temporary crown. Just as she said it would, that tooth popped right off.

Oh, it didn't hurt at first, but after I texted my friend that I was good to go anyway and she showed up for our walk, dogs dancing all around us, I opened my mouth to speak.

And cool air hit my tooth.

I immediately became a mumbler and told her through my cheek that she had to do all of the talking. I tried to stay silent. I really did. It turns out that my friend is one of those people who fills a silence. She got really uncomfortable, ran out of things to say. I tried to stay quiet, but she choked. I ended up grunting just enough so that she could tell me every joke in her repertoire, even ones she knew she'd told me before. I needed to hear those jokes too because with the little mumbling that I did, my face started to hurt like I'd been punched. I couldn't get into the dentist for another hour and a half and I figured that laughter was way better than pergocet. I was right. I kept mumbling through clenched teeth and she talked through all of her jokes. By the time we were done and the dogs had run until they were pooped, I only had twenty minutes to wait before the dentist could squeeze me in and glue my tooth back on.

I forgot to ask if he used super-glue or Elmer's this time. I don't want to know, but I'm not flossing on that upper side, not at all, not even to hear all the jokes I can stand in an hour.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Hungry Hummingbird

This is the first weekday in weeks that I've had a chance to noodle around. What did I do?

I sat on my deck, read, and looked at my birds. I have a tiny bird bath and a hummingbird feeder. If I don't stare at them, the chickadees bathe within five feet of me. The hard part is that I so badly want to watch the chickadees and the towhees up close. It almost works to look in the middle distance and see them in my peripheral vision. The towhees are much more shy and so far only bathe when I'm inside my house. They don't seem to mind noise from inside, but they don't come too close when I'm outside.

The chickadees splash water onto my book. Did I ever tell you how the chickadees got into the habit of pecking at my windows when the bird feeders were empty? I've since had to stop feeding them. Much as I'd like to, it brought rats, raccoons, and the bear ate there too. I guess the berry suet was too good to share. I could argue with my husband about the rats and the raccoons, but I didn't have any intention of surprising a bear at his berry suet. So, I satisfy myself with the hummingbird feeders and the bird bath.

Have I ever told you how much I love my bird bath? It's a simple terracotta saucer for a pot that I don't even have any more. All I have to do is add water and now and then I brush it out and rinse it. These days, I add water nearly every day.

So, I had brought out some work and my lunch to the back deck this afternoon. The chickadee came and went while I read and ate and didn't even splash me this time. Then, I heard what sounded like the wings of a big bug. I stood up thinking I might need to go inside. I don't like big bugs.

And as I stood there, not sure what to do next, a hummingbird checked me out, coming at me from a couple of different angles and making me take a step backward. I've heard they are territorial birds, but I never expected to be intimidated by one.

I went inside and checked out my field guide. I think I have a calliope hummingbird. The recordings on the Cornell Ornithology Lab sound right. It could also be a Rufous hummingbird. I'm no expert.

When I went back outside, I noticed that there were only a couple of drops left in the feeder, so I took it inside to clean it out and add more sugar water. I was letting the washed glass feeder and the sugar water cool when I looked out the window. The hummingbird was hovering at the spot where I usually hang her food. She was agitated, floating first one way and then the other. She charged forward and then buzzed away for a minute.

A chickadee came in for a dip in the pool. Oh, the joy of a moment to yourself in the pool.

And the hummingbird, still agitated, dived toward his head, backed up and dived toward him again. The poor chickadee flew off in a huff and hasn't been back all afternoon.

I guess you don't mess with a hungry hummingbird.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, May 1, 2015

Cat Hugs and No Story Today

Do you know how hard it is to type on my laptop when the cat is purring while standing on my lap and rubbing the backs of my hands with his cheeks. No, I'm not totally heartless. I've spent most of the last ten minutes hugging and petting him. He likes when I wrap both arms around him and rub my face against his ears.

Then, he gets done and leaps off as if I'd mauled him.

Crap! I realize I don't have time to sit here and hug the cat while I pretend I'm going to tell you a story. I could tell you about the balloons that got stuck at the top of a tree in bloom in the dog park yesterday. It's not a story, really, but it looked like a present, this gorgeous white tree with pink and purple heart-shaped balloons blowing around at the very top.

I could tell you about the incredibly lucky guy who blew a tire on his trailer, who jackknifed, and did a perfect spin in between traffic in front of my house two days ago. When I told him that the Universe had a plan for him, that he had work to do, this man lit up and spent the next ten minutes telling me about how he had just finished rescuing fourteen wild horses from the Yakima Indian reservation. He talked long enough and glowed enough that I figured his adrenaline rush was going in the right direction and it would be safe for him to unplug the trailer and head off in his truck to get a new tire for it, on the same road on which he nearly died moments before.

I could tell you about dogs at the park, about how my boy spent his time after school flintknapping today. He is chipping an arrowhead for his best friend who's moving away at the end of the school year. I could tell you about sleep, or lack of it or about the good things police have done for me, unlocking my car when my keys were in the ignition, changing tires, checking that I was okay after a near-death experience. You didn't think I thought of that adrenaline and Universe story by myself, did you? I really hope our country can find a good balance between our young black men and our police. I could tell you about the pork knodels that won't make themselves. I could tell you about all kinds of things, but that dinner isn't going to make itself and I need to get cracking. Yup. No story today. Sorry.

By the way, happy May day. Go make love in your garden. That way your land will be fruitful. Druids much? 

Thank you for listening, jb