Saturday, January 28, 2012

Throw in the Towel

My future as an inventor has sunk. I’ve dismantled the brilliant experiment in the last post and tossed the address of the Patent people.

I don’t know beans about thermodynamics. I’m just an English major who can spell it (a long crush on Einstein). What I know about mechanics, I learned in “Humanities 471: Human Values in Engineering.” My final project was sci-fi story (got an A!).

My father was a mechanical man. He designed complex heating and air-conditioning installations, using two tools: the tape measure that lived on his belt, and crude shapes he scribbled on napkins, paper plates, bits torn from little spiral tablets. He nearly failed high school, then spent his life inventing mechanical solutions.

He didn’t teach me those things, and he enjoyed my ignorance. When I was 17, I cracked the head of my 1960 Studebaker Lark convertible by letting the radiator run dry. He handed me the keys to an old VW Bug and sternly told me to be sure I kept its radiator full. Then he fell out of his chair, cackling, when he heard I’d asked a gas-station attendant to check the Bug’s water. That’s how I learned about air-cooled engines. Thanks, Dad.

So here I sit, hopes dashed in my venture into the use of convection-heated shelter for a wild cat. The cat loves the food but scorns the toaster bed. “I have not failed,” Thomas Edison once said. “I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

I’m going to put out food for the cat and stick to inventing sentences and poems.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wildcat Experiment Continues

(Today's update below)

(Tuesday, 1/24/12) I keep my hands off feral cats unless they’re nursing kittens who appear to be abandoned. I’m a sucker for those, having adopted five ourselves over the years and placed a few others elsewhere.

But my heart’s gone out to a long-haired cat who adopted our front shrubbery last year. It doesn’t behave like a feral tom. It behaves like a frightened abandoned pet. I kept hands-off for months, but the temps have dropped to low twenties/high teens, and the cat has made a tiny nest in the nook of the fireplace wall this past month. It’s right outside my sunroom. The first rains came last weekend.

At dusk last night I saw it curled up there, and I swear I saw it shivering. The sight plagued me. Early this morning while nesting in my warm bed, I dreamed up a toaster bed for this cat. It involves heavy-duty aluminum foil over a wire hut and under its nest of leaves (carefully saved and replaced while wearing gloves), supplemented with hanks of Spanish moss under and over for insulation. I put out food as well to make this hut enticing. I think it might be too tall to reflect any heat, but better than nothing perhaps? We’ll see if the cat welcomes my interference. I let you know.

Day One: Cat Checks Bed, Says Yes to the Food, No to the Bed

Night Two: Food’s gone again. Cat slept under my car, even though I made my husband burn the last of our wood in the fireplace. This morning I’m getting sneaky. Put two morsels in food bowl but a whole handful on two leaves inside the hut. More firewood’s on order. Mark the Walking Man has offered construction advice in his comment. I shall refine the bed per his suggestions, since I don't know shit, really, about the reflective properties of inward-facing aluminum foil.

Third Day: (Investigator's notebook)

Someone was here during the night: evidence
leaf out of place
contents of offering plate, gone
footprints on moss carpet (maybe)

Nothing proves
who: any hungry nightcrawler
might have fallen joyfully upon the altar

Possible suspects: recently noted
gray squirrel w/ high-plumed tail, sniffing fence
tomcat, B&W cruising northbound
27 cedar waxwings casing the place
skunk on road (dead)

Poetry Jam requests poems of the senses this week, so I’ve adopted the feral cat’s view of this ridiculous experiment. Find more sensual stuff here.

Wild Cat Haiku

Whoever you are
What have you done to my nest?
It smells like a trap

I see what you made
That foreign thing is a mouth
I don’t enter mouths

Food magnet draws me
Crackling danger sounds inside
Ears laid low, I flee

Catastrophic mess!
Suspicious hair stands on end
I watch, quiver, wait

Then attack the food
Place stinks but how dear the meal
It tastes like more, please

Saturday, January 21, 2012


My life has been stripped of a few things in recent days. See all the red berries on the cotoneaster in my header photo up there? The migrating flocks of cedar waxwings, who made their first appearance here on December 16, have stripped them for sustenance on their winter voyage to Mexico. I rejoice in the fact that my little piece of paradise helped fuel their epic flight from the northern climes to their hiatus in the south.

Then I received a splendid tool last week from my physical therapist, who has made it his mission to strip my neck of the agony that plagues me. He gave me a TENS unit, designed to combat pain with electrical stimulation of the nerve pathways that conduct messages of misery to my brain. I attach electrodes to my neck and direct the palm-sized unit to zap the neural fibers in the musculature with a level of intensity that I control. It works! I crank that baby up to the echelon of warfare and rejoice as it slams shut the gateways to pain.

It is empowering to live in the solution rather than mucking about in the problem. I’m so jazzed that I’ve dived into the brown lifeless stuff in the garden. Hacking away at the evidence of death is a joy too, because visions of crispy brown crap drags at my sense of hope. Tearing it away fuels little jolts of delight as I uncover tiny shoots of the hardy harbingers of spring. Hyacinths and tulips push through the hard, droughty soil in their enduring drive to bloom.

Next comes the Zen of pruning frost-ravaged roses. I have 13 of those, looking like shit in the front yard, yelling “Life has ceased!” every single day since the hard frost hit. I hollered back at five of them yesterday with a litany of “Prepare for spring!” I was a rose-pruning ninja, not a Zen master, because I only had an hour and was impatient to dive into solutions again. Having made the crucial beginning, I will go more slowly today and savor the art.

It’s lovely to be stripped of things that then fuel flight.

Hope, personified in the eye of growth on a winter rosebush.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Something’s Amuck in Paradise

My first brilliant thought this morning: Something’s amuck in paradise. No coffee. No newspaper. And the phone rings, bearing wild anxiety from a woman I sponsor.

Mr. Coffee steams like mad to produce a thimbleful of lukewarm coffee. A hike into the colder-than-crap outdoors produces no newspaper. Both are essentials to awaken my bleary brain and allow me to produce speech. So I’m pretty pathetic when my frantic friend calls about her new medical insurance bill.

I tell my friend to hit her knees, then unearth the old percolator from the garage’s camping gear and crack open my morning meditation book, which discusses faith overcoming all adverse conditions.

That’s when my husband enters, bearing a hot latte and the newly arrived newspaper.

My Higher Power’s sense of humor is busy on a chaotic Wednesday morning.

The phone rings again: A service technician wants to postpone today’s scheduled maintenance so he can fix the heaters of those who are without heat on this 21-degree morning. Again I’m reminded that things could always be worse. I could be flat-broke like the woman I sponsor. I could be both broke and frozen too like others whose heaters aren’t working. I could be headed for chemotherapy this afternoon, like my own AA sponsor, or for radiation, like a man my hubby sponsors.

I shouldn’t ever take my first brilliant thoughts seriously. I can be as sour as I want to, or as joyful, because I’m free to start my day over again any time I like. By returning to a position of gratitude, by remembering to be thankful for what I have, I can make my home a better place in which to greet the world.

Today I have no legitimate complaints, as a man used to say in the early AA meetings I sat through 22 years ago. My humorous Higher Power converts even trivial adverse conditions into teaching moments about the value of faith. There’s nothing at all amuck in paradise today.

Scenes of Winter

The catfight wind yowls
churning the shrubbery
scrabbling over fences
staggers even the stoutest trees.

The stalk of a budded lily
arrow dipped in blood
aimed at heaven
quivers in its invisible bow.

The moon’s white opal
glows on blue velvet
rainswept with diamonds
swallowed by clouds.

Inside your love
is a woolly blanket
abrasively delicious
on a bitter night.

What reasons do you have to be grateful today?
Over at Poetry Jam people are pondering the power of home.

Monday, January 16, 2012

War Horse

If you know how to soldier on, applause for you today! For no reason whatsoever I dedicate this day to the noble art of perseverance.

Those who persist when the going gets tough rank among the elite in my book. It’s hard work, being noble. Endurance takes grit and grace because pain hurts and fear is frightening. It’s easier to give up than to soldier on.

I had to meet my magazine deadlines last week with what felt like a red-hot spear buried in my neck, and that’s what started a preoccupation with fortitude. I have a bad habit of doing all my assignments in one long 11th-hour session, fine when you’re young and strong but my cervical vertebrae are disintegrating now, and I sustained a whiplash injury seven weeks ago when a Suburban plowed into my car at a crosswalk.

As I worked at the computer last week, someone heated the fireplace poker to red-hot and then plunged it into my neck. There it burned relentlessly until I sent off my last story (on time) and went prone for two days. Then we went to see Steven Spielberg’s War Horse this weekend.

I had to clap my hands over my mouth to stifle the exclamations that wanted to burst out. War Horse contains moments that myths are made of, and a lot of sheer nobility. From the first battle charge an hour into the film, men and horses mine the depths of sacrificial bravery in one concussive nightmare after another in that terrible war.

Modern life also offers ample opportunities to prove we’re capable of courage. If you’re persevering through difficulty today, I salute you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Laugh in the Face of Everything

Farm couple shares a laugh in 1940

Got no crop last year
Lived off the fat of the land
Ma says I taste good

On that new kwi-zine
Ma feasted. I fasted. Look:
Now I need new pants

Crop came in this year
We’re living high on the hog
Food’s good. Love’s better.

This old photograph reminds me that laughter's one of strongest medicines on earth. While 1940 wasn't a banner year in history, the farming couple from Connecticut still enjoys a joke, maybe made by the husband as he hoists his pants.

A sense of humor helps maintain my equilibrium as the world churns around me. I suffer from a tendency for catastrophic thinking, but there’s an antidote: a dose of hilarity. Mentors showed me I can improve my perspective whenever I want to, no matter what’s on deck, by celebrating life’s absurdities. I'm thankful for the power of laughter.

See what the photo inspires in others over at the Poetry Jam.

Photo credit:
Public Domain Photograph from the Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection in the Library of Congress; Jack Delano, photographer.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sun Lovers

In winter I think of the sun because it’s fickle. Fickle things annoy me. I need that sun, need its vitamin D and its hopefulness. When it’s shining, I’m thankful. Even if it is the color of watered down nonfat milk, it’s got power.

Happiness is a sparkling strand of spider’s silk
diamonds of dewdrops
in the rising sun

Happiness is finding in the rose’s thorny mass
a pair of praying hands
open to receive the winter sun

Happiness is waking beside a new beloved
surprised your body delivered the verdict
your heart hoped for
A new sun smiles

Telling a tale in exactly 55 words is the G-Man's Flash Friday challenge. Check it out here.
Color is what poets are jamming about this week at Poetry Jam. Find crayons here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Peckers of the World Unite!

The colony of acorn woodpeckers that lives in the three oaks next to my house is worth telling about. Since we're next-door neighbors and the birds live their lives in the open, I've learned some of their habits by observation. What I've seen has driven me to bird books, for which I thank my grandfather and my mother, and possibly their grandfathers too, because I've read that reading is a learned behavior.

Both my mother and my Granddad carried nature-identification books into the forests and deserts we visited, and I remember the pair of them, sometimes with my aunt or uncles, poring over the guide books at picnic tables, laboriously trying to identify--by studying the minute features of it--some particular tree or bird or flower. They could spend what seemed like hours doing this. And some of the family still can't visit nature, or even our back yards sometimes, without hauling out the reference books and binoculars.

The acorn woodpecker excited the last nature discussions I remember having with Mom and family members. We're fortunate here in the oak woodlands to have these birds; their range is small, and from what my books tell me, they seem unique among woodpeckers. Both males and females wear a red cap and a black and white tuxedo, and they're exceedingly busy in the fall with their acorn harvest.

One of my three oaks is what's called a granary tree: This one large oak is where they store their harvest, in holes peppered all up and down the length of the tree's trunk and arcing out into its branches. It looks like this:

The woodpeckers in my oaks are great stewards of their resources.
The wonderful thing, the unique thing, about these woodpeckers is their community. They live as a colony in these three trees. Everyone harvests, everyone works hard poking acorns into well-worn holes, everyone helps. They share in the work, and they share in the bounty. We wondered if they harvest grubs that might grow in the stored acorns, but the books say they dine all year on acorns themselves (with insects as a side dish), stored meticulously in the granary tree, in holes that are reused and carefully selected for each individual acorn.

Lunch menu: Would you like it roasted, or perhaps in a wrap?
They even cooperate in raising their young, from sharing the duties of incubating the eggs to sharing the endless chore of feeding the young and, finally, training them to fly. The young belong to everyone.

I have seen this colony of woodpeckers work together also to fend off an onslaught of starlings that appeared one day earlier this year. The woodpeckers unified to protect their interest in the three oaks. Even though the numbers of starlings and woodpeckers seemed about even, after several hours of strategic swooping and chattering, the woodpeckers convinced the starlings to set up house elsewhere.

Together they protect their habitat. They are a sustainable community, taking care of their land and resources, reusing the same holes year after year. They diversify by consuming crops from different varieties of oaks, and they maintain emergency supplies, living on nature's bounty of insects when that "crop" is available.

They share in the rearing of their offspring, cooperating in raising up a new brood of responsible woodpeckers and sending them off to find new communities elsewhere, thus keeping their population stable and not overtaxing their resources.

It appears to me that the acorn woodpeckers illustrate the life of a good community. I hope my community's leaders make decisions that use our resources well and protect our habitat. I hope the spirit of cooperation flourishes in the state, national, and global level, that we and our leaders all work hard to be good stewards and share the bounty of our efforts with those less fortunate than we are.

The best I can do to make that happen is to bring such a spirit with me into this one day, today, and be alert with the people who come across my path this day, then keep on doing that, one day at a time.

It's easy, as one of the "99 percent," to feel overwhelmed, ignored, and powerless. But I fight to believe that my actions, my mindfulness, in the small sphere of my daily life makes a difference one human being at a time, one day at a time. I believe in the ripples in the pond: that my responsible, kind, thoughtful actions with the people I meet are used by the Creator to spread to others, in the same way they were passed on to me. May God bless us, every one, with an awareness of the small, but global, ripple effect of our personal actions in this new year.

Acorn Woodpecker courtesy Wikipedia

Just to prove I don't sit around all the time pondering nature and serious social issues, here is a recent poem inspired by these birds:

Two Woodpeckers Sitting on a Church Steeple

One woodpecker says to the other,
I’ve lost my pecker.
The second woodpecker says to the first,
It’s hanging there right under your nose, dude.
The first woodpecker says,
That’s not my pecker, idiot, that’s my beak.
They look at each other.
The second woodpecker says to the first,
Well, where’s your pecker then?
The first woodpecker says,
If I knew that, my pecker wouldn’t be lost.
They look at each other.
The sun goes down behind the steeple.

Top photo credit: Victory Dance and Family Feast, courtesy ShareTheRoad Productions

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