Every student will tell you that precious hours of study don't necessarily stick. How much do you retain? How much do you lose to fading memory? And if the task is more abstract — say to create goodwill in your community — how many warm greetings, a cheerful wave here or there in passing, how many welcome baskets, pet sits, apple pies, Girl Scout cookies will do it? If you are looking for adventure, happiness, a sense of life fully lived, how do you measure it? What dead-end towns, three a.m. truck stops, blank-eyed looks, fruitless hunches will you suffer through to find your Eldorado? How much of the journey evaporates without issue?
The second time my family crossed the U.S. it was in an old-model Mercedes, a car held together by rust and kitchen string, altogether at odds with the grandness of the name. We flew from Belgium; it followed us by ship, swung over the sides onto the dock in a cargo net. At least, that's the picture I hold: I could be conflating it with a Spanish ferry on the Costa Brava. The family was together then, the five of us, and we stopped into a coffee shop, just off the plane at JFK. I ordered a hot chocolate. "Honey," said the waitress (they still had waitresses and stewardesses in those years, until they were all exchanged at equal value for servers and flight attendants)..."Honey," she said in a mellifluous New York accent, "we don't have hot chocolate in August."
At this hinge of life, between a 9-to-5 career and the other side, between the frame and the door, if you like, we open the door and walk through. Sometimes — most times — that means saying goodbye to people and places we have loved. The flip side of loss is new experience. Dwell on the one half and you have always lost; live in the other, and there is the excitement of new sheets in a strange bed, a grail and ewer on the night stand, unplowed fields in the window, the latch on the broad-swinging gate. Different animals, new terrain.
Tenderfoot. When I joined the Boy Scouts, a new scout was called a Tenderfoot — or at least that's what I thought at the time. Since then I've learned that the first rank for a new scout is simply Scout, but there are few requirements for that stage beyond a basic knowledge of the organization and the ability to tie a square knot.
I go down into the ravine in mid-spring for the windless cool. The thistle hasn't taken over then, the grass is still unripe, the nesting blackbirds haven't formed vigilante groups yet, although one or two hang on the rock, baleful eyes and murderous smiles. "Staying long?" they rasp. "Passing through. Passing through," I say. And they nod, disbelieving.
One of the things human beings are very bad at — a list that includes having a thought without posting it on Facebook — is transcribing bird calls. There are just certain things a particular species isn't equipped to do. You wouldn't ask a blue whale to cook an omelette. Sure, they can sift flour, but they can't crack eggs. Those great flippers don't have the dexterity. And whales are smart enough to know that — which is why, even with massive unemployment in the whale world, none of them ever apply for jobs as short-order cooks.
To the east, Goat Hill catches the brilliant light that follows a winter storm. The deep terra cotta strata of the uplift are never as clear as when they contrast with bands of snow, like the blood-red and white of Acoma pottery. Geologists know the hill as the Bellvue Dome. At first glance, it seems just a continuation of the Hogback, with the characteristic eastern slope and sheer scarp facing the setting sun. But the gentle arch of the anticline, the eroding course of the Poudre River at its base, where it winds through Pleasant Valley, set it apart.
I have wildlife, I thought; you mean I can get a certificate as well? The article itself, "Get Wild! 5 Steps..." is based on the National Wildlife Federation's program, part of which is an effort to meet the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge and help expand corridors of hospitable spaces for transient bees and butterflies, which, face it, are having a rough go by any measure of environmental catastrophe.
We had a visit from a group of wild turkeys on the 27th of September. They can sometimes be seen across the ravine, moving down the hill from Frances’s place, but these crossed over, along the road, then past the sumac thicket by the driveway, heading south. Two things strike you about them. They’re big — up to thirty pounds or so, though the weight itself doesn’t do justice to their full-feathered size — and they cover ground fast.
Constructed from 8-foot lengths of 4x4 rough western red cedar (magical stuff) and cut to make a typical 4' by 8' frame, the raised bed is only fourteen or so inches high. Dowel and carriage bolts kept everything together. Somehow that simple-sounding process involved the purchase of multiple auger bits, a portable compact table saw, cordless sander, power planer, and more than twenty trips to the Home Depot on Magnolia.