Saturday, April 23, 2016

Dangerous walking

I have been walking the roads of Austerlitz for about 15 years, dirt roads, paved back roads and state highways. “Watch out on those highways. The trucks will mow you down.” People said. Others warned of drunk drivers, distracted drivers, dogs and bears. “You never know.” "They don't slow down."

Today, I had my comeuppance.

I chose to walk a couple miles on State Route 203, a mile up hill and a mile down. It was Saturday morning. I didn’t expect much traffic. In fact, there wasn’t any- well one car swerved to avoid a turkey on the road about a quarter mile ahead of me. The driver maintained control, missed the turkey and waved to me as she drove by.

It was windy, so I pulled the hood up on my lime green sweatshirt. I knew drivers could see me coming when I was dressed like that.

I walked the quarter of a mile. Suddenly, without any warning, I felt a push on my right leg, and a slight pain. I turned quickly and was nose to beak with that turkey. Tom had been lying in wait for me. He danced away as I turned. Rose up about three feet off the ground. On landing displayed his lush tail feathers. Even flared his nostrils, and came after me again.
From Wikipedia
He brushed my leg. I stood as tall as I could, waved my arms. He backed off, but not completely. I tried again to wave him off. Again that worked for about ten seconds. It was a matter of time before he might finally corral me. More tail feather display. Beautiful in a way, but not then.

I saw some free standing mailboxes on the side of the road. Round and round we went for almost ten minutes. Tom smart enough to try to come from the opposite direction in which I was rotating, a game I often play at home with my grandson or the cat. It was a frightening dance. This bird didn’t like me, ME.

A neighbor, Jake, came from the house across the street. He picked up a stick and tried to rescue me by talking to the bird and distracting it. “Your shirt seems to be upsetting him,” he said. When I found a chance, I pulled the shirt off, waved it at the bird, and tossed it near him. This Tom was single minded.  After a brief nod toward the shirt, he came after me again. Jake handed me back my shirt. I waved it at the bird which was just leery enough to back off a bit, and eventually, he retreated to the opposite side of the road, always out of reach of the waving shirt, but constantly stepping back towards me if I let the shirt down. Fortunately, the state highway was trafficless.

We continued to parry along the side of the road, the turkey feinting, drawing back, moving in, bobbing out. This had been about fifteen minutes. Jake went to his garage to get his car to perhaps frighten this deranged free ranger. A horn tooted. It was a sheriff’s car. The deputy sheriff in the car easily forced the turkey to back off. I didn’t wait around. I walked quickly, noticed that Tom was not ready to give up. I did a trot, the turkey trot, for about 100 feet, before I looked back again. I wasn’t convinced. I trotted a little further.

The deputy caught up to me near the end of my walk. “Did he attack you?” "Well, yeah…for no reason.”

I learned that it was possible that the bird had been rehabbed and had not the normal fear of people. When I went to the dedication of the new fire house, the deputy was there. He had told the story, and I came to tell the rest of the story. Some had called 911 about my situation. I wonder how that went. “There’s a man on the road being attacked by a turkey. It’s a real brawl. The turkey won’t give up, the man’s is barely able to hold his own.” It wasn’t an 18 wheeler, whew.

I think I'll roast a turkey to celebrate. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Winter morn

I didn’t want to get up. My toes told me it was too cold. My fingertips repeated what my toes said. My nose joined the discussion. My mind stayed neutral.

I put on some warm socks, a flannel shirt over my thermal pajama shirt, and topped it all with a warm robe. The temperature in the house was 58. The outdoor thermometer screamed -22. The scrawny cat shivered near a heat duct. Smart animal.

How to warm up quickly? A cuppa. A fire.

Music. Oatmeal. After I fed the cat.

Coffee warms in the winter and seems to cool in the summer. It helps the brain to kick in. It also suspends time just enough for the early sun to hit the outdoor thermometer. Only -20 after my first cup.

I start a fire in the kitchen stove. It wanted to start. The stove, the wood, the matches were cold. They work together. Within minutes, the outside temp has climbed to a -18. The inside temp is up to 60. Close to the stove, it’s 65. Ahhh!

I listen to a little prattle on NPR. It’s too early for them to get serious and do a commentary on Judge Scalia. I don't really want serious, but I don't need cute dialogue. I light up a fire on the radio as I insert a CD of pop music sung by Mexican soprano Olivia Gorra. Her passion is warmth. Mexico’s gift to this cold country. I don’t understand the Spanish, but I extract the heat anyway. 

The outside thermometer reads a toasty -10 in the sun.

My tingling toes and fingers have left me a while ago. It’s 70 near the stove, 65 near the thermostat.

I open the instant oatmeal, pop it into the microwave for 1.5 minutes; top it with a banana from my tree out back; and flavor it with Vermont maple syrup really from trees around here.

A trip to the woodshed in a minute or two and I’ll be ready for the rest of the day when the wind will die down, and it will be plus ten before sunset. They predict another night of cold, not as bad as it was last night, and then back to spring on Tuesday. We have had about a week of real winter. Last year, we had three months when it didn’t get above 30, so I count my blessings today in gallons of oil not used, mountains of warm coats hanging in wait, long johns still neatly folded in the drawer, and warmth from so many sources.
The sun peeking through the windows.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The unclean dishwasher-Marty™ to the rescue

I started my day as usual, two cups of Joe. Then, I was drawn into something weird. My dishwasher. It was full of clean dishes that I promptly unloaded to their proper shelves. Something was missing.
I asked Marty to look inside for the missing green cap from my empty vitamin bottle. I was afraid it had fallen to the bottom and had disintegrated on the heat element. Marty made himself small so he could fit inside and walk around. I shined my new flashlight to help him see.
"Ugh! What  mess!"
" It's melted onto the heat thing, isn't it. I'm glad you found it before it got worse,"I said.
"Well the green thing is just laying on the bottom. It looks fine, but what a terrible, terrible mess. I have to put on my mud boots."
Thud. Oof!
"What's happening in there?"
"Mud, sludge. Get me outta here."
I helped Marty out of the dishwasher. He was a mess, and he stunk.
" What's the problem? How come you look so bad?"
"Look, Phil, this is a great dishwasher, but it doesn't know how to clean itself. You gotta get in there and do the work yourself. I don't think any of these appliances are self cleaning."
I took out the filter. It had trapped food for months, years. Peas, broccoli,  carrots, barely recognizable as food. Even a couple of screws from nowhere in particular. I removed a stainless steel strainer. Muck,mud. A virtual septic tank.
I let Marty rest. He deserved it after what he had been through. I got out my rubber gloves and some natural spray detergent. I let the filter and strainer soak in the detergent and hot water while I sprayed the inside and scooped out the sludge with paper towels. I didn’t want to waste a good rag or sponge on the mess. With the main compartment really clean, I tackled the filter and strainer. I needed a brush and a blunt end knife for the operation that lasted another half an hour.
I don’t like to give advice about household stuff. There are experts. Probably that well hidden manual tells about the proper maintenance. I know what I have to do.
For those who don’t know him, Marty is my superhero. He can do wonders around the house, has the ability to increase or decrease in size. He can time travel across thousands of years and thousands of miles. A real friend, who helps out in difficult situations, speaks up when necessary, and even falls in love.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Reflection on Christmas: the refugees

Hi. My name is Marty. Phil has created me out of nothing. He puts me in situations and I just get involved. I get around a lot. Phil has had me in his own kitchen eating outdated food; in a cabin in the Southwest, finishing off a meal before I get hustled off to college by my uncles; and roaming Palestine with Jesus.

The Palestine adventure turned sour for me when he took me away from a great night with a woman I met there named Magdalene. (I can't really remember that night.) Phil just put me on an ass and I was traveling to a rendezvous with Jesus in Jerusalem. I wasn't happy. He'll probably send me back there; soon, I hope; Magdalene is waiting.

Las Vegas, the city of light. I'm standing with a few other people holding this sign,
                                                There is lots of room!
Donald Trump is ranting at the crowd.
"There are winners and losers. I'm a winner, way ahead in the polls. Winners win. Losers lose. You don't wanna be a loser. Look at those losers back there with that sign. They aren't even American… they want to turn our country over to the radical Islamists. I want our country to be great again… there's no room for those refugees who want to take over our country. Get them out of here. Rough 'em up a bit…they've lost. Losers lose. You don't wanna be a loser."

About fifty people rush at us. They smash our sign. I'm never this brave, unless you call eating all that stale food in Phil's refrigerator being brave. I ate well. Now, I'm getting trampled. I don't like being roughed up. No free speech with Trump, …unless you're Trump.

I escape that crowd, into a different crowd. The streets are alleys, jammed full of people, animals and carts. The sun is setting as I travel with Joseph and his wife Mary.  She's been riding a donkey all day.

"I never should have come here," Joseph says. "It's crowded and dirty. I hope we can find a place for the night."

"There's gotta be something," I assure him, not sure myself if there is. "There are so many people."

"I thought maybe there would be extra shelters for people who travelled long distances. The government wanted us to enroll for the census. Bethlehem doesn't have many hotels," Joseph says.

"Yes, it's a little sleepy town, not the place you want to be. Maybe we can find something." Marty says with little optimism.  "Mary looks pretty tired after that long ride… Is she due soon?"

"Probably. it's been about eight months since she realized that a baby was coming, so it can happen any time."

I knock on a door. "I'll check this inn." There's a swarm of people inside, huddled together. I could see there wasn't much room.

The innkeeper confirmed my suspicions. "There's no room here. Maybe across the street."

"Thanks," I say as we try to cross the street.

Mary lets out a faint cry , " Oh, oh!...I think the baby is coming."

Joseph storms across the crowded street. "There's gotta be room in an inn somewhere" he says.

He knocks at another Inn, where it seems very quiet.  "There's no room here. Try across the street," the innkeeper says pointing in the direction from which we came.

"Hey, we need a place,"  I shout. "This lady's going to have a baby any minute. We need your help, now." Again, I'm being brave and I don't know why. I don't know what I expect; there are so many people. The Romans have a way of screwing up people, especially the ones they call foreigners, … whose land this happens to be. The "foreigners' is skin is slightly darker than their own. It's odd how some even with similar skin tones manage to side with the powerful Romans against their own.

"We just came from there," I say to the innkeeper. "He's full; there's no room over there."

"Well, I'm full too then…you can go into the alley there with the rest of 'em. Maybe borrow a few blankets. Babies have been born in worse conditions."

"I think she deserves privacy and warmth away from the crowds." I say.

Joseph is comforting Mary. "We'll find something…can you hold on a little longer?"

Mary nods, "Please hurry…Help Us!" she yells at the innkeeper.

"I don't like to be yelled at," he says angrily. "Figure it out yourselves."

I stick my foot in the door as he tries to ignore us. "Wait a minute! You know our problem and you are going to ignore us? Well you can't…we're here….look at her."

Joseph is stunned that I'm so aggressive toward the man. "Slow down, Marty," he cautions. We don't need the guards coming after us."

"Maybe we do," I tell him. "This lout doesn't care about us… maybe he will care more if the guards are here." I glare at the startled innkeeper.

"Look, I don't want to make a big deal about this," he says, "but there is no room in the inn tonight. I can squeeze you in tomorrow night if you're around… wait a minute. Some of the animals in the stable were slaughtered for celebrations this morning. Come through that gate, Sleep in the barn. You can light a fire and be warm there. It's nippy, but the place is safe and quiet… half price for a whole suite."

'A barn," I say. "That's the best you can do!"

Joseph pipes up, "The barn is fine. We need a place now, Marty. Show us the way, sir."

We squeeze though the little gate followed by the donkey. The path is uncluttered. There's no sound coming from the inn. It's like a morgue. I don't see anyone through the windows.

"Why are you snooping around like that?" the innkeeper says.

"Are you sure there's no room inside?" I ask the man.

"Are you calling me a liar?"

"I have to ask… there doesn't seem to be any people inside…what's going on?"

"Bottom line, I don't like you guys. The lady needs help. She should be home instead of traipsing all over the hillside. Now you're making it my problem."

"It's all of us who have the problem," I say.

"Quiet, Marty… the barn is fine," Joseph says.

"Ohhh! unnng! ohhh!" Mary groans.

"Jesus! get into the inn." the innkeeper finally says. "I can't have this lady giving birth in a barn."

He ushers Joseph and Mary into a back door and slams the door in my face. I try the door, but it's bolted. I hear the man yell "Martha, Martha, get some hot water and rags… the water's burst…" He turns to Joseph. "Can you deal with this?"

Joseph says. "Bring the water. She's had other kids, so we know what to do?"

I go out to the barn and wait. When I wake up, it's summer. I'm travelling with a huge crowd through a desert, Syria. There are thousands of us. Bombs, guns blazing. People getting hurt. Starving people, sick kids, mothers giving birth all around. "Where will we go?" a woman shrieks. "I'm tired!" a little boy murmurs. "When will we get there?" a teen aged girl cries. "Allah is great, he'll take care of us," an old man says. "There's lots of room. It's a big world."

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Holiday encounter

“Shabat Shalom” Burt said when he saw me in downtown Chatham the Saturday before Christmas last year.
“Hey! Merry Christmas,” I replied. “Are you finished lighting the candles?”
“No, this is the fifth night with four to go.” he said.
“Just on time for Christmas.”
“It all works out,” he said.
We hugged each other like the old friends that we are. “Happy holidays!” we said simultaneously.

So what’s the big deal. There’s a simple approach to differences of custom that let’s people of all persuasions be friends. It’s called respect. Respect precludes demands or commands. It rests on “I” and “you” and “we”.

I got shalomed...he got merried...we went home happy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving reflection

Image result for Statue of Liberty
When the Europeans invaded America, there was no great cry heard round the world. Only in hindsight do we realize that the welcome portrayed in the first thanksgiving was the beginning of the end for the proud race of natives who inhabited the land we now call home. I’m glad that our ancestors came. I’m proud of the heritage of freedom that developed in America. I’m happy for the progress that has come about because of the discovery of this new land. I’m fortunate to have had my Italian and Irish ancestors welcomed by previous immigrants from the British Isles and their descendants. As we have come together as one nation, we have thrived on a material level more than most of the world. We have accomplished more than most of the world in the precious area called liberty.

It was not large armies that invaded. This may have been more the case in what we now call Latin America. Around here, the invasion was small groups of settlers who befriended and traded with the natives, established small “beachheads” that expanded rapidly by continually encroaching, claiming, “buying”, signing “treaties”, but ever conquering the people and the land. Armies did come, or were raised to protect the burgeoning population of settlers, the new Americans. The armies eventually decimated the native populations, leaving them relatively small areas to foster what little dignity remained.

I do not want to beat up the early settlers of America. They did what they thought they should do. Trade, marketing, riches, religious conversions trumped moral code. The arc of history bent in this direction.

From the efforts of these early settlers, a great country has been formed, but there is the tendency to recidivate, to fall back, to retreat; to take shelter in the cabin or fort; to lash out at the people who are different. Xenophobia surges. So early American, yet so un-American.

I don’t think our values of inclusion and trust should be trumped by knee-jerk reaction to immigrants whether from Latin America or Syria. When America realized the benefits of the second wave of the invasion that started with the settlers, this country became what it is known for, “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. I think Americans are brave, and should not cower. I would love it if the spirit that opened Americas’s doors to us would swing open to the many who need the welcome comfort emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty. Emma Lazarus wrote the sonnet New Colossus worth reflection on this Thanksgiving:

New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Monday, October 12, 2015

If today is everyday 10/11/2015

If today is everyday
it is forever.
The Hillside, photo by Meg

Today we meet on this endless hillside,
valley and peaks in the distance.

Today the eternal sun warms our bodies and hearts,
safe from uncertainty and resistance.

Today we see the beauty, hidden in life’s bustle,
Fair and handsome, beauty insistent.

Today, we listen, to each other;
“I love you”, persistant.

Today, the love found, discovered, recovered,
No longer distant.

And tomorrow,
is today.

When love continues to warm, to discover, to speak, to listen,

When the endless hillside is us.

And the valleys and mountains are us,

And the calm and the beauty are us.

Today is everyday, forever.

(Written for the wedding of my son and his beautiful bride.)