Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Singing the Blues

Photo by Penny Mayes

When I see periwinkles in bloom a sigh of pleasure escapes my lips and I’m filled with joy. The color attracts me and if I believed in such things I’d think I had been a bee in another life. A honey bee, naturally, because I’m so very sweet.

A woman at work has a periwinkle blue car and every time I see it, I smile. So it is no wonder that yesterday, when the president of my company was in the lobby and I came around the corner, I screeched to a halt. The president normally wears white, button-down shirts, or white button-down shirts with a very light striping. But this was a solid, bold, attractive blue. The vice-president of sales, also in the lobby, said, “Blue? You are wearing a blue shirt?”

The president looked down as if he’d only just become aware the shirt was blue. “What is wrong with blue?”

“Oh,” I said, “that is not just a blue shirt. That is a periwinkle blue shirt. Such a beautiful color and it makes people seem exceptionally witty and charming when they wear it.”

“Periwinkle blue?” the vice-president of sales echoed, one eyebrow shooting up his forehead.

The president gave a twitter of nervous laughter. “Okay, periwinkle blue. You can call me ‘Perry” for short.”

A short pause of no more than two heartbeats followed before the vice president of sales barked out a choked, “How about ‘Winkle’ instead?”

For some reason my “fight or flight” instinct kicked in. I ran up the stairs and hid in my new cubicle. Sometimes one must accept the benefits of silence mixed with absence.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Convertible Duck Blind

Today was lovely. I paid my three dollars, dropped the top on my VW duck blind, dug out my binoculars and started the "Auto Tour Route" through the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Last week I was told there were a lot of swans there, but they've left to continue their journey to summer homes in the north. There was one lonely swan. I wonder that it didn't leave with the rest. Since wildlife and I don't get along, I don't really know what birds are what. So I will make a guess that it was a Tundra Swan. I also saw tree swallows, robins, barn swallows, a coyote, five-inch turtles on a floating log, lots of mallards and a multitude of birds I couldn't identify.

But, I was able to identify some. For instance this killdeer just stood beside the road for a photo opportunity.

Also this red winged blackbird was kind enough to follow me around for about an hour.

Red Winged Blackbird

The birds are in order of appearance.

Northern Shovelers

American Coots

Breeding Male Ruddy Duck
(and yes his bill really is that blue)

(These are very hard to see because they spend a lot of time under the water)

Sandhill Crane

Western Scrub Jay

Great Blue Heron

Red Tailed Hawk

Cinnamon Teal

(looks like a beaver with a rat tail)

And then the Canada Geese
("Melanie, they are not 'Canadian Geese', they are 'Canada Geese,'" I've been told)
Canada Geese

The Canada Geese filled the field and suddenly they leaped into the air and made a frantic dash for the trees at the edge of the field, flying over my car. I yelped and dropped my camera in an effort to cover my head. Being in a convertible in a wildlife refuge took on new meaning. When the birds were far enough away, I scooped up my camera and took this picture.

But then they started coming back, honking and screaming and wailing and I finally figured out why. This bald eagle was following them.

Bald Eagle

None of the other birds seemed upset by the bald eagle, but as the dozens of Canada geese circled around and their distraught flight path headed toward my car again, I decided it was time to leave before they could jettison fuel over my upholstery. I motored the car to the exit, put the top up and crossed back into civilization.

I hope you have enjoyed the journey.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mary Poppins Sing Along

It is alternating between sunshine and rain. The sun warms the car, but the rain leaks in the window and drops onto my left knee. I’m parked in an industrial area near a trendy downtown Portland district waiting to meet my parents, my daughter and my sister. We are going to a “Mary Poppins Sing-Along.” I thought about wearing a frothy dress with red trim and a matching parasol, or maybe a black nanny’s outfit with umbrella, but instead ended by wearing black pants and a black zippered velour jacket. If I put coal dust on my face I could step in time with the chimney sweeps.

My sister arrives with my mother. My father and brother-in-law have chickened out. I hop in their car and we drive several blocks and find a Thai restaurant where we have mango sticky rice before strolling a block to the theater. As we walk in they hand us a little plastic bag with props. We are told at the beginning of the movie, Bert, the chimney sweep, will say hello and we are to respond, “Hello Bert. Where is 17 Cherry Tree Lane?” We are also informed it is fine if we yell out, “Sod off, George” when Jane and Michael Banks’ father is being a snarky wharf rat. We are also told we can ad-lib as long as we do it with a cockney accent and keep it clean.

So the movie starts and we ask Bert the question. We find the children have run away from Katie Nana. They advertise for a new nanny and the next morning the streets are lined with ferocious looking nannies. A wind comes up and we have all been provided with fans to provide the wind to blow the nannies away. Then we all get out our tiny umbrellas (the kind you get in fruity drinks) and hold them up as Mary Poppins floats down from her cloud.

During “A Spoon Full of Sugar” we have all been given pixie sticks which we break open and choke on the sugary content.

During the penguin scene, we pull the kazoo out of the little bag and hum along. At the end of the chimney sweeps number (It’s the master! It’s the master, step in time, it’s the master, step in time, never need a reason, never need a rhyme, it’s the master, step in time) the Admiral fires of his cannon and we all “pop” a little plastic noisemakers filled with confetti.

Toward the end we get out the little gold tuppence coin so we can feed the birds.

What really amazes me are the men. Lots of them, singing along with their spouses, girlfriends, children and some who just came as a group and know all the words. The man sitting next to my sister is really good at the “Oh, sod off, George.”

I love to laugh; loud and long and clear. This has provided a great opportunity to do so.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Deceitful Swindlers

They all hate me and I know why. It is because of the dollar. That is why this morning on the way to work a deer sauntered across the road, flipping her tail in disdain. I slammed on my brakes. It would be just like one of them to hide in the bushes. Then, when I sped up after waiting for the first one to pass, the second would jump in front of the car before I could stop. I know how that game is played. The second would wail and moan and shake his leg in pathetic agony, the first would be the "witness," and a claim would be filed against my insurance company.

My car slowed to a turtle-crawl and inched by. Sure enough a disheveled teenager deer sneered from the bushes. I gritted my teeth and felt little satisfaction at having thwarted another attempt to harass me.

After finding out the deer were the ones stealing all my plants a few years back, (see Greedy, Malicious Marauders) I apologized to the few slugs still alive, and drove to the nursery to buy “deer resistant” plants. The lady sold me a bunch of green things in gallon containers and I plunked them into the ground--not even caring about the worms--satisfied I’d finally have some nice landscaping.

Apparently no one gave the deer the memo that they didn’t like the newly planted vegetation. Within days only nubs protruded from the earth.

Back to the store and home again with several rhododendrons and a butterfly bush. People assured me deer would not eat them. A few evenings later, I came out to water the four shrubs and saw a deer at the end of the driveway. Furious at the amount of time and money spent “feeding the deer,” I yelled at the miscreant. She jumped, turned huge, glazed eyes on me and lunged into the forested hillside. But as she made her leap, something fell. I padded up the driveway. A crumpled dollar bill fluttered on the asphalt.

Seriously. You’ll have to trust me on this. It was there. I stooped down and swiped it up, crumpling it in my hand and glanced up the hill. In the distance the frantic crashes as the deer plunged through the bracken faded.

My thought at the time was that a doe had just left me a buck, or maybe a buck had just left me some dough to help me recoup my losses. Later, when the harassment began, I realized they wanted it back.

They are not getting it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

PG Blogfest 2

I haven't read all the other entries from the blogfest. There are about twenty-five of them, but the ones I've read are great. Some are sad, some are funny, some are mystical and others are action-packed. All, however, admit they are not middle-grade, but are, in fact, most probably young adult. Whew, so I'm not alone in that.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

PG Love Scene Blogfest

Simon Larter, over at Constant Revision blog put out a challenge for a MG (middle grade) love/sex scene. I didn't see that particular blog when it was written, so I didn't know about it until I was on twitter last night. I went over to Simon's blog this morning and decided to participate. Why not? Except, I couldn't imagine an MG sex scene because that age group is 8-12. So here is my pathetic attempt to create an MG sex/love scene for the blogfest.

Franklin teetered on the branch below me, his arms waving for balance. I rolled my eyes.

“C’mon, Franklin, sheeeez, you need more exercise.” I reached up and curled my fingers around the next branch, swinging my right leg up and hooking my heel, using the long muscles of my thigh to pull myself to the next branch.

Franklin gyrated two branches below in his brown slacks and button down shirt. I sighed. If our mothers weren’t best friends, I wouldn’t be stuck entertaining the geeky Franklin. I shook my head. Why couldn’t he wear jeans and a t-shirt like a normal guy? How much longer were our mothers going to suck down the tea, anyway?

“Abby, why can’t we just play checkers or something? Why do we have to crawl around an insect-infested tree?”

His panting breaths irritated me. “I told you I’d play chess with you.” I shrugged and stretched up to the next branch.

He snorted. “No, you cheat. You say the king isn’t important and I must capture the queen.”

A smile sneaked across my face. “He is only the prince regent.” I glanced down. “And hurry up, we are almost there.” I straightened and got hold of the next branch, dangling with just my toes on the lower limb. Franklin shot up and his weight jiggled it. My balance shifted and my hands closed tight on the upper branch as my feet veered out for balance, slamming into Franklin’s head. He tottered and flung his hands out, wrapping his arms around my thighs. I couldn’t take the added weight and my grip loosened, slipping until just the tips of my fingers clutched the branch.

“Let go, you oaf,” I squeaked out. My finger muscles screamed and panic rose.

“Can’t,” he yelled, “I’ll fall.”

“I can’t hold us,” I puffed. Flecks of brown bark floated down into my mouth. The cough came automatically and my fingers slipped off. My screech dropped into the air along with my body until it snapped to a halt. Franklin straddled the limb and his arm held my back against him, his hand splayed across my newly sprouting bosom.

My hands flew to his and tried to pry his hand away. “Let go, Franklin,” I gusted.

“Can’t. You’ll drop like a stone.” He sounded breathless, like he was in pain. His hand tightened over my chest. Little tingles of sensation shivered through my body. I gritted my teeth. “Well move your hand, will you, for crying out loud?”

He groaned. “Just shut it and don’t move, Abby, I beg you.” He shifted under me. “I’m lucky I’m not talking like a girl. Just wait until the pain goes away.”

Against my better judgment, I held still, pressed against him with his hand clutching where no boy should clutch without my express permission. We both panted through our fear and I remembered when my little brother fell on the bar of his bike, straddling it like a bucking bronco. He cried.

After a couple minutes his hand moved, cupping me. Suspended twenty feet in the air, it felt curiously nice, not that I’d ever tell him that. He felt warm and solid behind me, like the trunk of the tree, only not rough. He probably didn’t know where his hand was because of his pain, so I didn’t say anything. And then he nuzzled my ear and his warm breath disturbed my hair. “Maybe you aren’t so bad after all, Abby.”

I drove my elbow back and nailed him in the side, twisting my body enough to latch onto the branch as he dropped me. “Don’t even think about it Franklin,” I sneered.

But as I caught hold of the lower branch, I wondered if he wasn’t so bad either.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

College Zombie Classes

Zombie photo by Grant Neubeld

The smell of new, glossy magazines wafted through the air and brown boxes of blank tax return forms littered the corner. My fingers closed around an envelope crammed into the tiny post office box. I pried it out. Then I pried out another until the wad loosened enough to pull out the bulk of the mail. Around the corner, I heard the tap of skin against glass.

"You have to touch the screen," a woman said.

"I know that," another woman answered in a deadpan voice.

"Well, touch it."

"I am touching it. Nothing is happening."

"Did you touch it?"

Slap, slap, slap. "I'm touching it. Nothing is happening."

The little door of my postal box squeaked closed and the key turned. Holding two weeks worth of junk mail to my chest, I shuffled around the corner. A woman with long, straight black hair punched the screen of the automatic package postage machine. She turned toward me, eyes blank, skin pale, hair nearly black except for a few gray ones glowing in the florescent lighting.

She jabbed the glass again. “Nothing,” came her monotone moan.

My eyes widened. The only reason for the screen not to register her touch was because she was a zombie. I clutched my mail and ran from the post office, sliding into my car and locking the doors.

I told my friend, Paul, about spotting the zombie at the post office and he said she probably worked at the community college. “You remember taking zombie classes, right?”

“No,” I said. “They didn’t offer zombie classes at my college.”

He chuckled. “Sure they did. You may not have realized it. They have zombie teachers.”

“Um humm,” I scoffed.

He went on, unperturbed. “The zombie teacher gets up in front of the class and casts a zombie spell, making all the students become zombies. The only thing that saves them is the bell at the end of the hour.”

I raised an eyebrow. “The bell?”

“Sure, the bell.” He nodded. “When the bell rings, or if there is no bell, then when the door opens and students start to file in for the next class, the zombie students wake up and stumble out of the room.”

“Wait,” I said as a shiver rippled through me. “I had a history teacher that may have been a zombie.” He didn't stand in the front of the class, though. He sat in the back of the room and played a tape recorded lecture. Probably because as a zombie, he couldn't speak.

“Well when the students wake up, they don’t remember anything that went on during the hour. It’s as if they were asleep.” His eyes fixed on mine. “But they weren’t asleep, they had been zombies for that hour.”

Goosebumps prickled up my arms. I thought of the first essay test. After attending every class, and reading the history book written by the zombie teacher, it was as if I could remember nothing. My essay test remained blank. When I handed in the paper with just my name on it, I went down to the administration building and dropped the class. Eventually I took it again from a lively, energetic instructor and passed with flying colors. All this time, I thought something was lacking in me during that first history class. But could it be there was no memory of his lectures because of the zombie induced slumber? If I hadn’t dropped the class after the first test, would I have become a zombie permanently? And is there record of the zombie class on my college transcripts?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Greedy Malicious Marauders

Gardening is what people should have to do if they have committed crimes or sold government secrets to enemy nations. I know there are people who claim to like gardening, but it gives me the creeps. From the time I first plunged a shovel into the ground and unknowingly performed a vivisection of dozens of worms, I’ve despised gardening. My mother used to make us go out on a Saturday afternoon and pull weeds on the banking butting up against Knowland Park Zoo’s foothills. I could never tell the difference between a weed and a plant. Now that I’ve grown up I still can’t.

The first spring in my house, I gritted my teeth and gingerly unearthed some dirt causing as little mayhem to worms and similar dirt creatures as possible. I plunked in a bunch of perennials and some annuals and pressed the dirt down around them. But the weeds completely overtook the baby plants. The next spring I noticed the officious, unwanted weeds begin their reign of terror. “Oh, ho,” I said to the cat, “I’m going to get those now before they take over.” I put on some purple flowered gardening gloves, hunkered down amid the slimy brown Washington slugs, and began pulling out all the new green. I worked along fifteen feet before it dawned on me there were no perennials peeking out of the soil. Could it be that baby perennials and baby weeds look the same? I ripped off my gloves and tossed them down, scratching my head and gazing at the bare fifteen feet I’d just cleared. The next thirty feet contained green, spindly weed-looking growth. My sigh made the cat crouch down and glance around the yard for enemy wildlife.

Off I went to the nursery, wrote out an enormous check and piled everything into my vehicle. Some of the plants the woman talked me into getting would have to be replanted the next year. That was okay because I had to replant the perennials too, but I didn’t tell her that. I didn’t want her to turn me in to the Department of Ecological Services for murdering perfectly good plants.

At home, I held my breath and hummed so I wouldn’t hear the screaming of the injured worms. I pushed a little garden shovel into the ground and spent all day pulling out spindly green stems and planting gladiola bulbs, pansies, marigolds, heather, thyme, a large Rose of Sharon and a crabapple tree. Flying insects dive-bombed to get a better look and even my cat seemed enthralled by the little holes, squatting over them until I knocked him away. It was torture. The woman at the nursery assured me it would be worth it later when the whole yard would be awash in vibrant color and birds and bees would cavort in joyous rapture.

Yeah, right.

The next afternoon I walked along the driveway to see all the baby plants and maybe speak a few kind words to them. The marigolds had vanished. A few half-eaten pansies quivered beside the bare stems of the thyme plant. The heather lorded over the ruins, curiously whole and somewhat smug. Could one plant eat the others? Taking a step back I surveyed the heather with suspicion. A trail of slime circled some of the forlorn stubs. Slugs. Fierce little beasts.

Back to the nursery for more vegetation. More planting. I sprinkled enough “Slug-Be-Gone” to bring down an elephant. I would not have put out poison if they hadn’t attacked first. Self-defense is okay, I reasoned. More needless slaughter of worms with the little shovel, as I crooned out my apologies and mindlessly replanted joyful flora already in blossom. Two hours later I rocked back on my heels and surveyed the fifty feet of happy little baby plants and tried to feel the sense of accomplishment everyone said I’d experience.


A week later I lounged under a tall brown tree with green leaves and imagined how beautiful the yard would look in a month, with the sun on my face, the fragrant scent of blooms, the warm buzz of a bee nearby and maybe a baseball game on a radio in the distance. My eyes closed and a tall glass of lemonade on a little garden table appeared in my imagination. My cat rubbed against my legs and purred. Life was good. I opened my eyes and squinted down the driveway. Something was missing.

I studied the plants. The pansies were gone and all of the new growth buds on the Rose of Sharon had been pruned off. I backed away, my hand covering my open mouth. Those dang slugs. Had they crawled through all the snail bait and clipped off all the new growth on the Rose of Sharon? What kind of monsters were they? I jogged back into the house and locked the doors.

A few days later, I drove up the dirt road to my house, rounded the corner into my driveway and slammed on the brakes. Several feet in front of me two malevolent black-tailed deer plucked the buds off the azalea bush. They ignored me as I rolled up beside them. They ignored me as my window slid down.

“Shoooo shooo, get lost, you thieving piles of venison steaks,” I said. I know. That wasn’t very nice but I was mad. One of the does turned, a blue and yellow pansy petal stuck to her upper lip, and sent me a daunting glare. The other one flipped me off with her tail. My mouth flapped open and closed. They both resumed than vandalism, ripping the buds off the gladiola. My shoulders sank and my car moved the last few feet into the garage. The automatic door grumbled down and I slunk into the house.

Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson

Gardening is a frustrating, expensive, unfruitful pursuit. It seems a perfect sentence for a repeat offender. Perhaps we should write our congressmen. If enough prisoners were forced to plant, replant, and replant the same spot every day, they’d soon tire of the experience, especially if they had to pay for the plants themselves. You’ll have to trust me on this. Punishment, thy name is gardening.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Vicious Little Thieves

Wildlife and I don’t get along. It wasn’t until I moved to my current house I began to encounter the more sinister types of wildlife, like raccoons and deer. And until my encounters with these menacing creatures, I didn’t realize that not all dangerous animals are stored in cages.

I used to love wildlife. When I was a kid our house backed up to Knowland Park Zoo in Oakland, California. All we had to do to see wildlife was climb up the steep banking to the hundreds of acres of rolling foothills belonging to the zoo, and walk two miles (probably only three-quarters of a mile, but it seemed like two miles) down a dirt fire trail to where they housed the animals in their respective pens. Maybe I loved the wildlife because it was in cages. Maybe I loved it because sometimes we could hear the trumpet of an elephant, or the barking of seals when the wind was just right. We could clearly hear the demanding call of the orangutan no matter what the conditions. Very distinctive call and I can imitate it well. Those who have known me a while can attest to this. It isn’t for the very young or the feint of heart to hear, however, so doesn’t ask me to “do the orangutan” unless we are somewhere secluded.

Photo taken by Kabir Bakie

This early experience with wildlife was a positive thing. I loved all the animals and the little train circling the zoo and the little bags of fish you could toss into the seal pool. The monkey and ape enclosures provided easy viewing and I learned you had to stand back from the camels and giraffes so they wouldn’t spit on you.

When I moved into my current place, I fed my cat out on the back deck. When I poured out his food, he’d swivel his head all around, checking the woods behind the house. Any tiny noise and he would spring into the air and the hair on his tail puffed out like a blowfish. One day I glanced out of the window and saw five raccoons gathered around his dish, chomping on the crunchies, chattering and slapping each other on the back like happy hour at Charlie’s Tavern. My cat watched from the top of the patio table at the other end of the deck, his claws firmly entrenched in the wood and his eyes huge.

Enraged they were eating my cat’s food, I charged out onto the back deck, flailing my arms and yelling so they’d scamper away into the forest. Instead they bared their teeth, rose up on their haunches and growled at me, their claws at ready. I backed into my house and shut the door, staring at them until the bar closed and they drove themselves home to the woods. I silently inched open the glass and the cat came inside where I fed him from a cut glass bowl to make amends.

There came a knock, not at the front door but at the bedroom’s sliding glass screen door as I huddled in my bed the next evening, reading a great book. The hair prickled on the back of my neck. I doused the reading light and slid out of the bed, tip-toeing to the bathroom so I could look out that window to see who was at my screen door. Three or four masked bandits scurried around the deck, peering in the glass and pounding on the screen.

What unmitigated gall. I flew down the hall, grabbed the broom I’d left by the family room door and flipped on the back light. I hauled in a deep breath, clamped my hands around the broom handle and flung open the door to the big deck. They all waited, even the ones who had been down on the deck outside my bedroom at the other end of the house. I shouted and gyrated, waving the broom around, but the animals just hissed and pointed at the empty spot where the dish used to be. Once again, they stood up on their haunches, flicked out their claws like a switchblade and indicated the spot where supper used to be was empty. A couple of them had their hands on their hips and glared. I sighed and back stepped into the house, defeated.

It took a week until they gave up pounding on my doors and windows, cussing me out in Raccoonese, and another week for the cat to eat his dinner in the kitchen without continually glancing all around him. It only took me seconds to realize these vicious little thieves were not in cages, nor did they resemble the cute raccoons Walt Disney Studios portrayed in films. It was a rude awakening