Friday, December 21, 2007

I [is temporarily for I Just Can’t Seem to Blog]

I hope it won’t be too long before I can get back to this. Lately, each day has contained its own seed of sabotage. I is also temporarily for intentions. I do have them. Perhaps after the holidays, there will be some follow-through.

Friday, November 30, 2007

J is for Just Another Guy

For Mali, on the occasion of her 365 finale

Years later, we met for dinner. Would we even recognize each other? Sfuzzi (the restaurant) was still new and still hot, tucked into Union Station’s beautiful mezzanine. Maybe it was 1990.

Our chumminess quickly resurfaced as we caught up: work, marriages, this, that.

After, I suggested a walk—maybe to the Vietnam memorial, which I’d never seen at night. Had he been there? No. He wasn’t sure he wanted to. Let’s go, I said. We can leave anytime you want.

We walked the length of the wall and back. Black granite, black sky.

He pointed to a name.

“That guy was a real asshole,” he said. “But no one deserves to die that way.”

Monday, November 26, 2007

K is for Kris

Saturday morning, after a night out to see an excellent production of The Elephant Man, Tim and I got up and headed to the Holiday Food and Gift Festival, where I was determined to complete a made-in-Vermont gift basket for someone on my list and where, we hoped, Tim could fulfill his need for a-little-somethings for his hard-working coworkers, a-little-somethings that would perhaps balance the gifts of sugar that would be heading everyone’s way, some savory-little-somethings-in-jars. I, for one, wanted that part of holiday planning to be fini so I didn’t have to think about it anymore.

But when we pulled up to the venue, we both had to pee.

“Is there a bathroom here?” Tim asked.

“There must be,” I said, and then I remembered having been to this particular one-holer before and I knew exactly where in the store it was. We headed there.

The door was closed, and we could hear someone was inside.

We waited. This little nook contained kitchen sale items, so we looked at them. We waited. We waited some more. We bounced around a little.

Should we knock? I hated to resort to that. But it did seem to be taking someone a terribly long time.

Then, we heard a strange noise. It sounded like…wind chimes. What the…? I had no recollection of there being wind chimes in that small bathroom, and really, when one thinks what wind chimes would mean in a situation like this, well, one wants to stop thinking that one is going to be the next one in that room.

Was it a kid messing around? More chimes.

I was just about to knock, thinking maybe this person has no idea anyone is out here waiting, when the door opened. And out stepped Santa Claus, donned in the requisite garb and sleigh bells.

“Ho ho ho,” he said. “Have you been good?”

Tim and I began to chuckle. “Well, we’ll be better after we get into the bathroom,” I said.

“Sorry. I forgot how long it takes to change into this thing. And I’m running late. My pipes froze this morning.” (I wonder how often Santa uses that believable excuse?)

After we’d relieved ourselves, we had a very nice conversation with him. For the record, Santa’s a great guy.

When you’re desperately waiting for a door to open, sometimes there’s no predicting who’s gonna do the opening.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

L is for List

Snow tires
Take begos1 to Paul2
Post office
Work out
Read final page proofs
Send cx to SW
Prep final-page packages and FedEx
Update museum log
Send batch 2 of workbook and invoice
Query where rest of chapters are
Answer e-mail
Go through mail
Prep recycling and trash for dump
Try to read blogs
Try to post blog
Move 40 pounds of birdseed
Feed birds
Make Thanksgiving grocery list
(Fewer than 6 weeks til Xmas)
Make lists for tomorrow

1Polish stew with sauerkraut-potato-kielbasa base
2Who had a hip replacement 8 days ago

Monday, November 5, 2007

M is for Marmoset

A marmoset perched on my shoulder
Within minutes became even bolder.
He slipped under my shirt,
Which was less of a flirt,
More of monkey-avoiding-the-colder.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

N is for No. 2 Pencil

Oh No. 2 pencil, I have fallen in love with you in my middle age—you my truest friend of childhood left abandoned for the seductive ballpoint pen, then the typewriter, then the keyboard. The permanent dent in my right middle finger never forgot you, I swear, and sometimes craved the pain of you—I pushed so hard against you back in the days.

Oh hard black HB, you so full of graphite and clay, you who come to me most often hexagonal, but sometimes round (like the marbled ones I picked up in Florence, now nearly nubs I long to replace)—it is your dark gray against my white sheet, your smooth whisper tickling my ear, your point gradually dulling that makes me sharpen you again and again.

Still, I write with keys, having been (at a tender age) lured by the quick of it, seduced by sound and volume and practicality, drawn deeply into the first thing I could do well with my hands. You, No. 2 pencil, I save for private works: the grocery list (bananas, soy milk, spinach), to-do list (work out, get mail, feed birds), my own private page proofs (no red for others’ eyes). You are short phrases and sighs, the lover in the dark stairwell. You are eagerness and immediacy, the scritch-scratch of now, now, now.

Monday, October 22, 2007

O is for October

It’s that most wickedly wistful of months, the one you step into only to find yourself knee deep in some sort of nostalgia or yearning—maybe for something you used to have; maybe for something you’ve yet to have.

It’s the month in these parts when you’re reminded what orange and blue can be together, and something akin to belief tells you they were meant to be.

It’s the month I had to drop my outdoor wedding into.

But the O of October—and so much of October here is oh, oh, oh—the O of October is like the low branch of a tree begging you to climb into it. If your legs and arms can vault and steady you into position, you can swing one leg over, steady yourself. You can lean back into O’s curve for a seasonal spoon. Surely, once balanced, I will dangle one leg off the side and set it swinging. Maybe I’ll remember to wear a straw hat and bring a piece of wheat to chew on. Together O and I will become a 19th-century decorative initial, a delicious drop cap.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

P is for Presbyopia

It’s here.

Admittedly, the last year or so I’ve had trouble reading the tiny type on shampoo bottles and CD liner notes.

But yesterday, sitting on the couch, reading a hardback book in what must be 12-point type, I found I had to move the book farther away.

I couldn’t believe it. I played with it for awhile. Bring the book close to my face—type goes all blurry. Pull it away—it reappears, all clear.

I know this happens to just about everyone on the planet who lives to their Middle Ages. But you’d think people who’ve had bad vision all their lives would be cut some sort of break.

OK. Whine over.

On the plus side, it’s my twenty-first wedding anniversary. (With any luck at all, I’ll be able to read the dinner menu.)

Monday, October 8, 2007

Q is for Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

It’s 2:30. You’re caught up, mostly. Come on, go outside. It’s wacky warm out, for October. How many more days like this do you think you’re going to get?

There. Feel that breeze on your exposed skin? Won’t be long before you’re trying to remember what that’s like. Just look how fiery red the sumac is. And there—there’s a warbling vireo. What’s he still doing here, and why is he warbling?

Now, isn’t this better than sitting at your desk?

Stop under a quaking aspen. All the leaves are busy catching the wind. That sound, that whisper—you recognize it. Feel that breeze on your exposed skin? Won’t be long before you’re trying to remember what that’s like. Come on, come outside. Shimmer and shake.

Join the quotidian quiver in the quiet rush to winter.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

R is for Roller Derby Name

For Helen and Deloney

I’ve given it a lot of thought, and still, in light of the brilliance that has already occurred in roller derby names (see R is for Roller Derby), I’ve managed to come up with only one. So, for the roller derby life that exists only in my mind, I will hereby be known as:

Bella Coast

Warlike and fast. Breezy, even. Kick some ass and look good doing it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

S is for Snake

First, a brief explanation: I wrote this back in 1996 for a fly-fishing audience, introducing a journal issue that included one or two articles about the various ways, historically, that anglers got to water. This was the first part of the introduction, the part that came before the hey-look-what-you’ll-find-in-this-issue part.

There are things I decided not to share with that audience—like just exactly how hungry I was and how consequently cranky I was getting. (I wonder if Tim noticed?) Like how it became clear as we followed the truck that this guy went by the moniker Snake. Like how even though I happen to love snakes, I wasn’t convinced that someone called that would automatically be the nicest guy in the world.

But it was the most memorable day of that vacation, which we had dubbed in advance Moosequest ’96. The title of this intro was “Access.” Here’s yours to it:

On a dirt road in Maine one August noon, my husband and I were trying to find a particularly remote pond, and it was eluding us. The pond was clearly marked on the Gazetteer, but we were discovering a lot of side roads that weren’t. This pond, we were told, was sure to harbor moose. Moose was the reason I was in Maine—moose and landlocked salmon.

About to give up, we saw a pick-up truck coming the other direction and flagged it down. It was a Mainer on vacation; he thought he knew where we wanted to go. He said he had all the time in the world and would be happy to show us the way. He turned the truck around, and we followed him.

It soon became clear that he couldn’t find the right road either. But he offered to take us to the pond where he’d just been fishing. He took a look at our VW Golf, made a quick assessment, and decided we could do it. We got back in the car and followed.

We followed a long way, for a long time. The roads got worse, more remote, and our clearance was becoming extremely questionable. My city survival instincts were beginning to kick in, and I wondered what we thought we were doing, following a complete stranger into the middle of nowhere. It could be weeks before our bodies were found. The fact that we’d flagged him down wasn’t alleviating my anxiety.

Finally, without warning, he stopped. He got out of the car and showed us his secret carry to the pond, invisible from the “road,” marked only by the smallest of cairns. By sharing this access with us, he’d saved us significant paddle time. We thanked him, Tim offered him some flies, and we carried our canoe down and ate lunch.

And there they were. Two calves, two cows, and a magnificent bull moose feeding in the pond. We paddled all around them. It had taken several frustrating hours to get there and to find them, but it had been worth it.

And I caught some salmon on the trip, too.

Monday, September 24, 2007

T is for Trampoline

In elementary school, I was the kid whose jumping made the trampoline go down the farthest.

Trust me: You do not want to be that kid.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

U is for Udder

In 1998, life mimicked art when Fred Tuttle, star of the 1996 film Man with a Plan—the story of a Vermont farmer who runs for Congress because he needs a high-paying job with health benefits and no experience required—ran for Senate. He won in the primary against a multimillionaire originally from Massachusetts. The most famous moment, of course, was when, in a televised debate, Tuttle asked his opponent the number of teats on a Holstein. The flatlander said six. There are, in fact, four.

Upon winning the Republican primary, Tuttle promptly endorsed Democrat Patrick Leahy, admitting that he didn’t really want to win because then he’d have to move to DC. I’ve lived in both DC and Vermont. I loved DC, truly, but I have no plans to return.

This year I went to the Washington County (NY) Fair with my sister. Alison’s a speech-language pathologist, and one of her young clients was part of a family showing cows there. I learned from them that sometimes cows don’t have four teats—occasionally they are born with extra, which are usually nonfunctional and removed. Sometimes an infection can cause a teat to become nonfunctional, and again, it would likely be removed—leaving the animal with fewer than four. (Of course, you won’t see a three-teated cow at the fair.)

Alison’s client is a great kid. At age three, she’s already got both love for the animals and a clear, objective understanding of where animals fit into their lives. When given an opportunity to name a steer the family was raising for later use, she promptly christened it Dinner (like David’s rabbit, Stew; in that case, though, it was merely a threat). Dinner will be ready in another year or so.

So, here I am, rambling about Tuttle and teats and cows and steers and even rabbits, none of which is actually an udder. I know that. I seem to have to talk around the udder, not directly about the udder. I seem unable to look directly into the light of its milk-making glory.

But U is for udder, and today I must declare what U is for, and udder is an excellent U word, no matter how you get to it.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

V is for Vee

Last Sunday we headed south to Dorset for the weekly farmer’s market. For us: Pascal’s gourmet sausages, Swiss chard, and purple-and-white-striped beans. For Chuck and David, to be called on after: sweet Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and a bouquet of zinnias mixed red, yellow, fuchsia, purple.

We bumped into neighbors and made plans for the sharing of food and drink. The sky was breezy bright blue.

And then, the loud honking, and right over our heads, low-flying Canada geese—a vee of twenty or so, the sun somehow bouncing off their bellies with the flap up of wings—heading farther south than the Dorset Sunday farmer’s market. Probably much farther south.

No, not yet, I whispered. Then, bon voyage.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

W is for Will and Eric

Something good has happened in this village.

I live in a village. Not really a town, although my town is taxed with another town under a single “Town of…” umbrella. There are allegedly several hundred people here in Parts West, but they certainly don’t all live in the village.

There is no traffic light. There is a post office and a firehall. And until late last year, there was what some would call a general store, but what I would call a convenience store, tucked into an old building that used to be by the railroad tracks back when there were railroad tracks. Let’s call it Barney’s (for the sake of irony).

Perhaps in this way I’ve clearly been an outsider in this slate town: I almost never went to Barney’s. The place had none of the charm of the quintessential Vermont country store. It was dirty and dusty and smoky, and there was very little in there that I needed (the occasional fishing license, a propane tank refill). In fact, I almost never even thought of Barney’s for emergency purchases. Instead, we’d drive the 5 miles to the grocery store.

A couple of neighbors, when Barney’s closed, desperately missed its convenience for wine and beer. Likely it was a long dark winter for them.

One day, at yoga, a woman from a neighboring town asked me what I knew about the new owners. As I’m an editor chained to her computer in her home office fewer than a dozen buildings away from Barney’s, of course I knew nothing. I didn’t even know there were new owners. What did she know? Two guys, she said, and maybe one would be selling meats.

Work began at Barney’s: cleanup, construction, painting. And then something extraordinary: two twisty topiaries appeared, one on either side of the steps. The collective gasp of the ex-city chicks and village gays was very nearly deafening.

Will and Eric opened in August, right before I left for vacation. The place is transformed. (Of course, as several have noted, “clean” passes for “transformed.”) The boys are doing a good job of catering to the old customer base while batting their eyelashes at the new. That is, Barney’s is essentially still a convenience store with a deli counter—but check out the Vermonty perks: Fresh Rupert Rising bread. Consider Bardwell cheese. Pastries in the morning and Green Mountain Coffee in thermos pump pots. Wilcox black raspberry ice cream in the freezer. And someday, soon, beer and wine again.

I don’t often frequent convenience store–type places, so I keep looking for ways to patronize these guys (without gaining too much weight). The other night Alison was over for dinner, and we sent Tim to pick up some Chesster ice cream sandwiches (they carry them!) for dessert. Tim made the trip à la longboard, and apparently Will took it for a spin.

Barney’s: A phoenix has risen from the ashes.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Y is for Yoga

If I were rich, I’d do yoga almost every day.

I would become flexible. I would become strong.

Money Yoga helps one find these things.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Z is for Zebra

It is more likely than not
that I will never
see a zebra in the wild.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Z is for Zamboni

Only four more days. The ice rink opens July 2 for six weeks.

I have been awaiting this day since they melted the ice mid-March, turning the space into an indoor soccer field. I miss skating. And I have never, ever ice skated in summer. What does one wear for a 50- to 75-degree differential?

This past year, ice skating proved to be the most wonderful break from my NordicTrack workouts. I would skate for one hour solid, then make myself go back to my workday, as with any other workout.

I am not any good. I can skate forward, fairly quickly, without falling. Occasionally, Fat Red Ant (remember her?) skates with me. Fat Red Ant used to teach figure skating. Chick can jump if she wants to. Someday maybe I’ll get up the nerve to let her really teach me how to skate backward.

The only time last winter that I didn’t get my full hour in was the day the ice was so beat up that rink officials felt they had to stop the action and bring out the Zamboni. I was only 10 minutes out, maybe, from the end of my hour, and I could have stayed, watched, and made up that time on the newly glassed surface. But I’m a boring, working-class adult who really didn’t have time, who honestly needed to move on and get to work, who needed to count her blessings that she had enough control over her tight schedule to get to the rink in the first place.

So it’s been years since I’ve watched a Zamboni (or its generic equivalent, the ice resurfacing machine) at work. And because I now have a second opportunity to use the word squeegee (see end of previous post, “Y is for Yesterday”), I would like to note that a Zamboni shaves the ice, dumps some water on it, then smooths it with a squeegee.

Skating out onto that smoothness is a joy, and I had many opportunities last season to be part of the deflowering of virgin (or nearly so) ice—even though I hadn’t seen the Zamboni make it so.

And here’s a bit of Alphabird trivia: I have a friend who has a sailboat christened Zamboni, a boat that has often been his Baltimore address.

Four more days. I can just hear that Zamboni engine turning over.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Y is for Yesterday

Yesterday I (almost) finished washing the windows.

In my interview of June 3, I stated that I had thirty-one windows to wash. I’d like to correct the record. I forgot to count a window I already did, one that lives in a storm door and changes places with its screen counterpart seasonally. So, that’s thirty-two. I also didn’t count the door by the storm door, which has a bunch of little windows in it. I’m going to count that as one, and call it thirty-three.

On Saturday, I washed twenty-six windows. I am very lucky in that—after replacing almost all the windows in the house in order to “conserve energy”—my windows tip in, so I’m not endangering my life too much in washing them, what with not having to wash them from the outside, although I can’t say I got away bruise-free, even so.

(And yes, in the name of tradition, I started the task with Prince, The Hits 1 and The Hits 2.)

After twenty windows, I had to lie down and put a pillow under my lumbar. Aging sucks.

Then yesterday, I did four windows. That’s thirty.

I completely bailed on dusting the blinds. So I’ve not quite 8 hours into the job.

The three windows that are left? Well, two are bigger “picture” windows, one on the front of the house, and one in the mudroom. (These two have never been replaced. Too expensive to think about.) The one in the mudroom has never really been washed on the outside because I don’t have a ladder. And when I borrow one, it’s never tall enough. I could wash the inside, though. Guess I’m just lazy. The one in the front, in Tim’s studio room, well, there’s this big drafting table I need to move. I could do that. But I have to borrow a ladder for the outside. So I’ll wait til then. Of course, my sister Alison just did a little landscaping for us, just put a few plants in right there, right outside, right in front of that window. Do I want to stick a ladder out there? I might hurt them.

The last window is a door window, in the kitchen, but the door has an incredibly heavy piece of furniture in front of it, and I’ve been home alone. That one will bug me, though. That one will have to happen.

For some reason, it had never before occurred to me to use a squeegee. Alison loaned me hers. It helped a little, and I love to say squeegee.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

X is for XX

I have been happy with this chromosomal arrangement. I’ve even become expert at the art of peeing outside.

The nature/nurture question is unanswerable. If I’d been born with a Y, would I be more daring and aggressive? Or would I continue to be an introvert, just stuck in a Y body instead of an X?

Of course, having a clitoris is fun.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

W is for Windows

Voice-over: Amidst swirl of rumors of impending window washing, Indigo Bunting has agreed to a press conference to address these rumors directly. She approaches the podium now.

Indigo Bunting: Good morning. It’s come to my attention that rumors abound regarding my annual window washing. Rather than let this get out of hand, I’ve decided that a free exchange with the press is the best approach to ward off any possible misunderstandings. One of the primary reasons for washing windows is to let in more light. With that, I welcome your questions.

New York Times: Ms. Bunting! Is it true you are about to embark on the annual washing of your windows?

Indigo Bunting: The truth is that I have begun to think about doing this. It’s become a matter of scheduling.

New York Times: Ms. Bunting, a followup. It’s already June. Isn’t it getting a little late?

Indigo Bunting: Not so much here in Vermont. I once made the mistake of washing my windows in early May, before the pollen had really settled. In a couple of days it was like I hadn’t washed them at all. I won’t ever do that again. I vowed then and there to never wash them before Memorial Day weekend.

BBC: Are you saying that after you washed them too early, you didn’t wash them again for more than an entire year, even though they were covered with pollen?

Indigo Bunting: That’s correct. I did not.

New York Post: But didn’t that tarnish your reputation as a homeowner?

Indigo Bunting: It may have. But the fact is, I’m very busy, and I don’t have time to be constantly washing windows.

Weekly World News: Busy with what?

Indigo Bunting: Work. Occasionally life beyond work.

Boston Herald: But if you’re working, couldn’t you afford to pay someone to wash your windows?

Indigo Bunting: It’s true I pay some people to do some things for me. But I can’t see adding windows to that list.

Fox News: Ms. Bunting, wouldn’t a professional do a better job?

Indigo Bunting: Yes. A much, much better job. I’m not very good at it, frankly.

Weekly World News: Is it a big job, Ms. Bunting?

Indigo Bunting: Yes. I have thirty-one windows to wash. And in the past, I’ve dusted the blinds too, one by one. It usually takes me three days working several hours per day.

NPR: Thirty-one windows? Isn’t that an awfully big house for two people?

Indigo Bunting: Maybe. But I have a home office, and my husband has a studio room, and we have a guest room, so it feels like just the right size for us. And it’s a Queen Anne Victorian—is that the proper terminology?—so it’s really all windows and doors. I feel like I’ve barely got any solid wall space, if you wanna know the truth.

USA Today: So it’s light and airy?

Indigo Bunting: Absolutely not. I don’t know how these Victorians managed to put in all these windows and still retain a sense of darkness. On the upside, of course, it is quite cold in the winter.

Washington Post: Isn’t it politically incorrect these days to live in a house that’s not energy efficient?

Indigo Bunting: Well, I’ve replaced almost every window. And we had insulation blown in. So we’re trying, but it will never be exactly cozy. That chimney won’t ever allow a working fireplace. We didn’t build a new house, though, which in itself is somewhat environmentally minded.

CNN: Ms. Bunting, it’s all well and good to think about washing windows. When are you planning to actually do it?

Indigo Bunting: Look. I don’t mean to sound defensive, but I’m absolutely swamped with work right now. I have hopes of Saturday next, June 9. That is, if it’s not raining.

Toronto Star: And if it is?

Indigo Bunting: I don’t know. I’m traveling the next weekend. It may get put off until the end of June. I’m hoping not.

Washington Times: Do you think it’s right to take a trip if your windows haven’t been washed?

Indigo Bunting: I’m not sure I can choose to think of it in terms of right or wrong.

Weekly World News: Why not? Why are you afraid to commit to an opinion here? Are you trying to hide something?

Indigo Bunting: Next question, please.

Rutland Herald: Ms. Bunting, have you ever considered dusting the blinds separately from washing the windows?

Indigo Bunting: Thank you for asking. Usually, because I’m already up on the ladder and I’ve already moved the furniture, I figure I might as well do the blinds. This year I’m seriously thinking of just washing the windows. Maybe I could finish in one day. I don’t have too many guests inspecting my blinds. At least I don’t think I do. I might be able to get away with it.

Reuters: Are some windows worse than others?

Indigo Bunting: Certainly any window facing the street is filthy. I do them first.

NPR: Do you have any window-washing rituals?

Indigo Bunting: I always play Prince at some point. I find his music quite motivating for this task. Each year I find myself thinking, Wow, this guy was a genius. Why don’t I listen to him more often?

USA Today: Everyone has sentimental window-washing memories. Can you share one of yours?

Indigo Bunting: A few years ago, I suddenly felt a strong need to be in touch with my friends Debbie and Lee, whom I hadn’t heard from in a long time. Because I knew where Lee worked and could find his e-mail address online, I got in touch with him first. Turns out they had broken up, and I had contacted him a few days before Debbie’s wedding! We scheduled a catchup conversation for during the wedding itself, a conversation that lasted two hours and was great fun. I was in the middle of washing windows when that happened. So I always think of Lee when window washing comes around. Come to think of it, that must have been the year I washed the windows too early.

Highlights for Children: Ms. Bunting, do you ever find yourself having fun while washing windows?

Indigo Bunting: Sometimes I actually get into a rhythm, and it’s a little bit fun. What it’s NOT is sitting in front of a computer editing copy. And I get to listen to music.

Portland Press Herald: Are you nervous?

Indigo Bunting: Definitely. This is a big chore. I’m afraid I have so much work to do that I won’t get the windows done. Or, if I do the windows, I won’t meet my deadlines. It seems I don’t have time to keep up with things. I used to have a blog, Alphabird, that I don’t have time to write anymore. It’s pathetic, really.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

V is for Vermont

There are no billboards here.

There is asparagus, in a cooler at the farm stand, $2/bunch, honor system.

There are Chuck and Dave, back from their winter haunts, already hitting the art openings, already absorbing tales from the cold season.

There’s a pair of orioles at my suet cake, fighting with downy and hairy woodpeckers and a gang of starlings.

The hummingbirds are fierce fighter jets on the way to their feeder.

An indigo bunting showed himself to Tim, but I saw only the blue flash of its tail feathers.

The rose-breasted grosbeaks make me gasp every time.

There is no McDonald’s in the state capitol.

There are lots of rich people here—retired people, the always-rich. Some of these people work very hard, even though they don’t have to. A lot of them are successful artists.

There are lots of poor people here.

There are mountains. When I drive to the next valley over, I feel like I’m in paradise.

There are slate piles in my town, what with living in the Slate Valley. It is not destination Vermont. But it is Vermont.

Paul, Lynda, Kristina, and Nolan moved in next door a couple of years ago. What a stroke of luck.

In summer, we go to Sioux, Duke, and Aidan’s swimming hole. We drink champagne on their porch.

In winter, if I’m lucky, I cross-country ski.

In spring, I sign up to edit big textbooks. It keeps me slaving away indoors but helps pay the bills so I can stay here awhile longer.

I want to stay here awhile longer.

In fall, there are 10 perfectly colored days. We cannot tell you in advance which ones they will be.

Another Paul looks after all of us. He paints my house—a little every year. He advises us newbies on how to maintain property in this clime. He sold his house to my sister. He traded that perfect porch for a perfect screened-in one, surrounded by woods.

The year I moved here, I was advised to lock my car only in summer, so that it would not be filled with zucchini.

There are civil unions here. And Jim Jeffords was our senator.

There are lots of cows. We have the highest cow-to-people ratio in the United States (allegedly 1:2).

A rail trail, the Delaware and Hudson, runs behind my house, just on the other side of the creek. It trails by lots of cows and lots of birds.

There’s a general store built over a brook. Look through the deliberate opening in the floor. Sometimes there are trout in the deep pool.

There are cedar waxwings working the hatches above the rivers. Common yellowthroats, those masked bandits, tease us from the stream bank’s tall grasses as we fish.

There are no billboards here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

U is for Until

Until Thursday, it’d been a coon’s age since I’d looked at the river thinking I have to be in you. Until Friday, I hadn’t heard a snipe* since the last mating season. Until the heat wave, I hadn’t exposed my blindingly white skin to the elements since the earth tilted me away from the sun. Until Saturday, I hadn’t swept the garage for a year. Until Sunday, my butt hadn’t hit a bike seat in a month of . . . Sundays. Until the light started hitting just this way, I could only dream of the sound of peepers. Until this past weekend, I hadn’t had a gin and tonic on Paul’s porch in months. Until the high water and rising temperatures, I had never seen a muskrat really riding the current of the stream, tail relaxed: temporary bodysurfer of the valley. Until last night, I hadn’t slept with the windows open in a blue moon.

*Do not let some camp counselor or elementary school teacher take you on a snipe hunt, then tell you there’s no such thing as snipe. These people aren’t malicious—simply ignorant. You may have been on a wild goose chase, and real snipe are elusive. But many things that are elusive are real.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

T is for Tim

Sometimes a word is fun just because there’s a Tim in it. Par example: Altimeter. Timid. Intimidate. Timothy. Timpani. Ultimatum. Timing. Stime. Lunchtime. Dinnertime. Suppertime.

But these are my all-time favorites:


Good words. Good times with my guy.

I’m lucky.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

S is for Should

Should I worry that after several months of an abundance of work, suddenly no one’s called for a couple of weeks? Should I try to drum up business from here in Portland so that I’m ready to hit the ground running and make some money next week? Or should I let it play out, because next week I actually have to host my book group, which you’d think wouldn’t be a big deal, but I always have hostess anxiety, not feeling at all a natural at it, and it looks like at least fifteen people are coming, and I have to feed them dinner (thankfully, I’ll have help). So it wouldn’t be so bad to not have a textbook staring me down in addition. Should I stop spending so much time reading/writing blogs? It is becoming more and more time-consuming and obsessive. I am spending so much of my life in front of screens. Should I be concerned that even though I didn’t have that much work to do while here in Portland, I have also managed to (so far) avoid answering all the e-mail I swore I would answer and not written drafts of blog entries to have on hand when I really do get overwhelmed with work again? Should I go out and play in the snow today? Tim is getting sick, I am slamming immune boosters, I can’t afford to get sick too. But I feel it [the cold] lurking. Speaking of lurking, maybe I should forget all this and watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Just one. The wireless is out this morning, probably because of this big wet snow that I simply must go be in for awhile. The fresh air couldn’t possibly be bad for my immune system. I’ll go out. Right after Buffy. I should.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

R is for Roller Derby

They had names like Goldie Headlocks, Miss Creant, Killer Quick, Lois Blow. They were fully helmeted, padded, mouthguarded, fishnetted. They were fast, graceful, tough. I wanted to be out there. I wanted to be them. I wanted to be 15 years younger and living near leagues.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Q is for Question

When we moved to Vermont, people stopped asking us, “When are you going to have kids?” and started asking us, “When are you going to get a dog?”

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

P is for Portland

Tim’s an art director for a catalog company. For the past few years, he’s been working with a photography studio in Portland, Maine. He spends a lot of time there—I’m guessing almost 3 months per year, if you were to add up all the weeks.

The longest stint is always in spring. He left Sunday, and he’ll come home around mid-April.

This has the potential to be a real relationship stressor. If we had kids, I don’t see how I could put up with him being gone so much. If he was shooting at some studio on the other side of the country, I would be very cranky. If I were working a regular office job, we’d be stuck being apart all those weeks. But none of these things are true. We are childfree, I am a freelancer, and the fabulous town of Portland is only a 5-hour drive away.

Tim stays at a hotel right downtown on the waterfront. He can walk to work from there. There’s wireless Internet in the room, which means that I can walk to work too—the several feet from the bed to the desk. There’s a small gym, so I don’t have to miss a workout (and when lucky, I can time it to next-day repeats of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report). There’s a promenade by the bay, so when it’s nice out, I can take the fast walk instead of the elliptical cross-train. (Ah, to be a runner. I’m not.)

In Portland, I become a Pedestrian, a life I gave up when I left the city. Within 2 hours of pounding the concrete, macadam, and cobblestones, I have shin splints. I will feel it for 3 days or so. Then I’ll have my city legs back.

And there’s food. Oh sweet Jesus, there’s food.

It’s not that there isn’t food in rural Vermont. It’s just that there’s very little interesting food for the money. I don’t have to go far from home to be offered an opportunity to drop a wad o’ cash for dinner, or even a half-wad, but it’s rare to feel that I’ve gotten my money’s worth. Where is the nearby affordable dive for me to love and frequent? It eludes me.

In Portland, even the dives are great.

People assume I eat a lot of seafood when I’m in Portland. I eat a lot of fish, not a lot of shellfish. (I eat a lot of nonfish too: Indian, Thai, barbecue, and the best duck I’ve ever had.) I’ve never been someone who thought that a bigass lobster was the treat of a lifetime.

After a 25-year hiatus, I did get up the nerve to eat some raw oysters at a nice little bar, and I didn’t hate them. I don’t crave them, but they’re interesting, so oceany, and with a crisp glass of Gavi, it’s a sweet little happy hour.

And then there’s Una, my favorite martini bar. I don’t know why I love it so much. Maybe it’s the company I’ve kept there. Maybe it’s just that I miss cities, and it feels so urban. Maybe it’s because the martinis are good. When I get there early enough to sit at the bar, I’m a happy, tipsy camper.

Have I mentioned the movies? There are eight screens within walking distance, and the downtown theaters tend to run some of the more indie stuff that may never get to my corner of Vermont. The closest movie theater to my house is a half-hour drive.

The people Tim works with are exceptional. I know, they have to be nice to Client Tim, but they’ve become our friends, socializing with us in the off-hours beyond the call of duty. Peter has invited us to two company Christmas parties at his house, parties that I, introvert, have really enjoyed. Tim sometimes plays music with George and Emma at their house; if I’m there, I hang with ultracool wife/mom Michelle.

I leave Friday to join Tim for about 10 days. I’m already getting antsy, wondering if I can wait that long. There are definitely things to look forward to. On Tim’s last trip, in January, Len turned him on to a new restaurant/bar, and rumor has it that three of us must go there one night. I’m going to love it. I’m picking up my very first commissioned piece of art on this trip, by Louise, who works in—among other things—piano parts. On Saturday night, I’m going to my first-ever roller derby, starring Heidi. I’m utterly psyched and need to start reviewing the rules.

Maybe I can get Wendy to teach me to shoot this trip. I should send her an e-mail.

Portland’s become a home-away-from-home. It’s highly artificial on some levels, of course. I mean, if we moved there, our lives would be nothing like the charmed downtown existence we lead as Tim lives on expense account and I spend my allowance on food and drink. We would be caught up in real life, life with chores always looking us in the face, life with major bills to pay, life with little time for friends because everyone’s just too busy. In Portland, we live in a hotel-room bubble. We have time for each other and other people. How does one make that happen at home?

Don’t get me wrong. I love where I live, and it helps to spend the daily grind near mountains, streams, and little traffic. There are reasons I left the city. But there’s a part of me that will always be urban, and it needs to be fed. That Tim’s job takes him to this seaport gives me that.

There are eiders in the bay. I don’t see many eiders in landlocked Vermont. And Portland mockingbirds speak seagull. I love that.

Time to Pack.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

O is for Owls

I keep hoping they will wake me up.

It’s getting to be time for owls to mate. The stream running through the farmer’s fields and the nearby patches of woods make for perfect roosting and hunting grounds.

The ones most likely to wake me are the barreds and great-horneds. The barreds are just loud, conversational.* The great-horneds are softer, and they awaken me more gently. I love the mnemonic used for their call: Who’s awake? Me too!

These first awakenings happen behind closed windows, as it’s far too cold to be sleeping with them open. It is almost always I who wake up, almost never Tim, as I am by far the lighter sleeper. At first suspicion that I may have really heard something, I get up, walk around the bed to the windows, and open the one closest to the stream. I stoop down and stick my face up to the screen. I listen as long as I can stand it.

The next-most-often-heard owl here is the eastern screech. I love its sound. It’s the spooky-owl one. Such complexities for such a little bird! Its vibrato is the essence of spring.

The one and only time I heard a saw-whet owl, it woke me up. The Cornell recording doesn’t sound exactly like what I heard, but friends have described the saw-whet’s call as “a spaceship backing up.” Just so you know, a spaceship backing up sounds a bit like whetting a saw. I so wish I could hear it again.

I think I have only heard a barn owl twice (and a barn owl has never woken me up). The first time was almost scripted. Tim and I were heading to Chincoteague to camp with some friends, one who’s practically an ornithologist. On the way, I wondered aloud what a barn owl sounded like, because it’s not included on the Peterson tapes. When we got to the campground, we asked Chuck, who became suddenly alert and said, “Kind of like that!” as a barn owl screamed above us. Chuck managed to get his megapowerful flashlight on the bird as it flew by, and we got a look. People have likened the cry of this owl to the scream of a child. It’s a frightening sound. The second time, I was walking along the rail trail after dark, by the farmer’s fields. This barn owl was also on the wing, its screams drawing close, then veering away.

Owls. It’s almost Equinox. It’s time for one of them to wake me up.

Who’s awake?

*Tim can do a pretty good imitation of a barred owl and can occasionally get an answer when he calls. But it’s an outdoor trick, not relevant to getting the wild ones to wake me as I’m sleeping indoors. Of course, if Tim was awake and I was asleep, he could possibly trick me.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

N is for Nest

We were riding our bikes on the rail trail when I passed it on the ground. I slammed on the brakes. Tim was way ahead of me, of course. It was an oriole nest. I picked it up and stuck it in my pack. Now we keep it in Tim’s studio.

An oriole nest is a perfect, woven sack. Orioles build them high up in the tree, in branches overhanging streams, paths, roads. It seems I often see them in what I think is the same place from year to year, but a little research tells me that orioles don’t reuse nests—although they may recycle materials from old nests in the same tree.

There was an oriole nest in the tree in our next-door neighbor’s front yard. The tree was half dead. We could see the nest when it was occupied, and it stayed where it was for a couple of years, I think. It survived winters and windstorms. I loved walking under it, looking up, seeing it was still there.

At the beginning of January, my neighbors took the tree down.

It was the right thing to do. But I hate seeing trees go, and I hate losing that oriole nest, that oriole tree. I wonder if they’ll feel betrayed.

Of course, orioles and their nests will still be around. I’ll see them along the rail trail. I’ll see them on that particular bend of the Mettawee River if I wade up far enough. And there’s a tree across the street, way up on the hill, where—if I stretch my hammock between the hooks on my porch and actually lie down in it (an all-too-rare occurrence), then place binoculars to my eyes—I can see them flitting in and out of a nest. They are so perfectly orange against the blue blue sky.

Monday, March 12, 2007

M is for Monkeys-See, Monkeys-Do

For Christmas, I received the entire run of Get Smart on DVD (M is for Max!). This show is one of my earliest memories of comedy and understanding its importance. It is a very silly show, but smart silly, and I enjoy even the dumbest parts.

However, I recently saw an episode that included a chimpanzee. Why have so many sitcoms eventually resorted to the chimpanzee episode? Writers must think that other people think chimpanzees are funny. Maybe they’re right. It just seems lazy to me.

[Spoiler alert!] The use of the chimp in this Get Smart episode wasn’t too overdone; he didn’t get that much screen time. The chimp was used by a killer to lock a trailer from the inside after a murder. Still, they resorted to the chimp joke.

None of this has anything to do with monkeys, of course, as chimpanzees and monkeys aren’t the same thing. But no doubt that episode put me in a monkey mind frame as the letter M rolled around here.

The few monkeys I have personally encountered (monkeys-see) are nothing like the funny, friendly chimpanzees of stage and screen.

I once spent three days at a birding lodge in Belize. My body is never happy about traveling, and it was a rough trip, but being there was one of the most spectacular things to ever happen to me. We were in a rain forest, and not only were we surrounded by amazing birds—there were also spider and howler monkeys about. When we checked in, we were told that we’d hear the howler monkeys overnight. I asked what they sounded like. Oh, I’d know them when I heard them, they assured me. That night I heard lots of unfamiliar jungle sounds, including something I figured was a big cat. That turned out to be the howler monkey.

Mostly, we watched groups of spiders and howlers in the trees. They were close by, but binoculars greatly enhanced the experience. A couple of times we were really close to groups of spider monkeys in treetops right above us; they never seemed bothered. Once, though, Tim and I wandered into a particular howler monkey’s territory. He (the monkey) was none too pleased and very vocal about it. I was as intimidated as he intended me to be as he followed us from so many feet up. I may be bigger, but it’s likely he could have taken me in a fight. He’d have the dropping-from-the-sky advantage, too. They look like very good droppers.

The only other monkey I’ve met lives a couple of miles away, in the wilds of my neighbors’ house. He’s a pygmy marmoset named Chiclet: tiny, with a perfect feathery-fur mane. When out of his cage, he is diapered and tethered to one of his owner’s shirts—usually Ed’s. Chiclet likes the warmth between shirt and skin, so we rarely actually see him, even when he’s in the room. He’s not friendly to the rest of us—in fact, it’s clear he’d be happier if we weren’t around—but he’s completely devoted to his owners.

It seems monkeys-do not like me.

That’s okay. Deep down, I know the birds don’t either. But they’ve seldom shown outright hostility.

Friday, March 9, 2007

L is for Lorna Doones

Plural. The shortbread cookies. It may say Lorna Doone on the box, but I’ve never eaten just one.

And I’ve never read the (singular) book.

When we worked together, on particularly rough days, Dana and I would do a line o’Lornas.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

K is for Kestrel

I saw a kestrel the other day perched on the telephone wire, hunting, ready to take off and kill something. He knows it’s March, even though it was –10 degrees F (–23.3° C) when I woke up this morning. Very unMarchlike. I hope he found a yummy mouse or vole and is still out there surviving this.

I spotted a few kestrels over the winter, but one really starts to see them here this month, up on the wires, spaced evenly between territories. Tim and I can also count on seeing a pair every year in a farmer’s field behind our house. They nest in a tall dead elm trunk. More than once we’ve had our binoculars on them while they were mating. I’m not sure what that says about us, exactly, but I can’t say we weren’t into it.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

J is (Just) for Jays . . . Jabirus . . . Jubjubs

J is for jays: the gray ones that eat from your hand at Rainier but are elusive by the marsh in the Adirondacks; the Steller’s of the northwest; the western scrubs and pinyons whose paths I’ve rarely crossed; our common ones whose varied blues, when really viewed, are impossibly beautiful.

J is for the jacks I used to swipe up, letting the ball bounce only once; for Judi Johnson down the street in 1971; for my nephew Jack and my niece Jean; and especially for jabirus (whom I’ve only always seen in zoos).

J is for all the uttered justs of Christians (lord I just ask that, lord I just pray that); it’s for the joejamiejimjamesjonjohn boys I’ve kissed; it’s for the Jameson whiskey Dewey used to always share; it’s for the jelly beans I will forever shun.

J is for the Joneses in my record collection: Norah, Quincy, and Rickie Lee. It’s for the generous juniper berries that gave their lives for my gin. J is for Jabberwocky’s Jubjub bird (but not the frumious Bandersnatch). It’s for the jangle of keys, for the jumps I’ve taken and the ones I never will.

J is for jest, which surely I do.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

I is for Indigo Bunting

I can’t remember when I saw my first indigo bunting. I’m pretty sure it was before I left DC. Fact is, I hardly ever see them.

If I’m hiking up at Merck Forest at the right time, there’s this field they frequent. Sometimes they are flitting atop some high weeds. More than once I’ve found a male at the top of a very tall pine tree in that field, singing his heart out. I hear this song so infrequently that I’m not sure I’ve ever immediately known it for what it was, but I’ve known enough to think Maybe it’s an indigo bunting and to run toward the sound to find out.

A couple of times, they have stopped at my feeder. This shocks me. First, they’ve left the (OK, very nearby) fields to snoop around town (OK, cluster o’houses). Second, ohmigod an indigo bunting! The color is not to be believed. Third, these birds don’t do feeders. At least not around here. At least not on any kind of regular basis.

I can’t tell you much about what indigo buntings like, other than open fields, high spots from which to sing, and other indigo buntings. This Indigo Bunting likes birding, cross-country skiing, contradancing, skating (ice and roller), snowshoeing, hiking, most restaurants in Portland (Maine), martinis, fine wine, great beer, standup comedy, NYC, quirky TV shows, jazz, books, being read to, Winnie-the-Pooh (Milne only please), canoeing, fly fishing, frogs, toads, red efts, snakes, messing around in boats, elliptical cross-trainers, other people’s pets, all sorts o’ music, hot tubs, exposed brick, the swimming hole, happy hour after the swimming hole, and standing in my driveway looking at the Milky Way. Oh, and blogging. And…

Friday, February 16, 2007

H is for Hawk

Do you like foreign films? If yes, do you like subtitles or dubbing?

I’m a subtitles gal. I don’t mind reading. I like hearing other languages. For me, it helps the texture of the film to hear the characters speaking their own language in their own setting. I like when lips and words synch up.

I was surprised, when visiting Italy, to be told that most American films are dubbed. Everyone seemed to prefer this. Maybe English isn’t as pretty to listen to. Maybe it’s audience laziness. I know North Americans who cringe at the thought of subtitles, certainly.

For the nonbirders among you, I’m about to let you in on one of my dubbing pet peeves. On TV, whenever any bird of prey flies across the screen, no matter the species, the scream you hear will be a red-tailed hawk. That eagle at the intro to the Colbert Report? Red-tailed hawk. Tropical birds of a certain look soaring on Survivor? Red-tailed hawk. Any time anyone wants to spook you a little in daylight hours? Red-tailed hawk. (For night spookiness, see great-horned owl. The good news? Too dark for you to see the wrong bird.)

Okay. I haven’t spent much time in the tropics. Maybe all those birds really do sound like red-tailed hawks. They sure sound suspiciously like each other. And sometimes—maybe 0.05% of the time—footage will actually reflect the proper non–red-tailed call of the bird. When that happens, Tim and I have to physically lift our jaws off the floor.

Seriously, listen to the call of the bald eagle. If you’re going to dub it, at least use a seagull. Or use a real eagle call, with a subtitle that reads [scream of a red-tailed hawk]. I’d start laughing with you.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

G is for the Group

In the early ’90s, down in metro DC, we had a good thing going for awhile, this gang of eight who got together for great food, wine, and company.

We once planned a winter weekend retreat together, renting a house down in Chincoteague/Assateague. Of course, a blizzard hit the day we were to leave. We tried to call and cancel, but were told we’d get no money back. The majority of folk decided we should brave it.

Six of us—Wayne, Sue, Craig, Ramberto, Tim, yours truly—piled into a van to head south in the major snowstorm. Bill and Susan promised they’d come the next day.

It was insane. A trip that in good conditions took maybe 3½ hours took about 8. We shouldn’t have been out there. Someone, who shall remain nameless, pulled out a couple of joints to ease the tension in the back of the van. This did not ease the tension of the firstborn square chick up front (the youngest person in the car) who felt that illegal substances are better left in stationary places like houses, not in moving vehicles during blizzards when at any point One Could Be In An Accident. Nobody really gave a shit what square chick thought, though, especially after a little dope. I believe it was at this point that someone brought up the topic of pod people, which would become some sort of weird theme for the weekend. It escapes me a bit. Craig could tell you.

It was so dark when we arrived, we had dinner at the only possible place to do so, after which we navigated the back roads via something akin to braille and attempted to enter the wrong (luckily empty) house with the key we were given. The directions Rental Woman had given us weren’t so great.

The next house we tried was the right one.

We were exhausted. But the next morning . . .

It’s the first and only time I’ve been to the ocean in the snow. I took a long walk through the corridor that was the beach, waves on one side, snow drifts on the other. It felt miraculous. There were snowball fights. On the beach.

We played hard that weekend. Bill and Susan joined us. That night, in another exhausted heap, I was introduced to Cleo Laine’s That Old Feeling, the most mellow collection of standards I’ve ever heard, the slowness of which seemed to slow everything else down, capturing us in this thick, syrupy dream.

Eventually, the group met its end as five of its members left DC: Wayne and Sue to Arizona, Craig to Florida, Tim and I to Vermont. I often wish we could plan a retreat somewhere again, a reunion. I know it wouldn’t be the same, but it wouldn’t have to be. Would it?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

F is for French fries

Spring in the District of Columbia is breathtaking and brief. The time between too cold and too hot is too short. Naturally, the natives become restless.

Besides cherry blossoms, I have vernal Washington associated with a sudden necessity to get out of the office at lunchtime. At some point, Cheryl would call, or I would call her, with simply: “Ollie’s?”

Then we’d take the walk from 12th and D SW to 12th and E NW, not far from the Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania, for the graceful greasy grub that was Ollie’s Trolley.

For me, it was the French fries, always the French fries: the superseasoned deliciousness of them, the only fries I’ve ever had anywhere with caraway seeds.

French fries. With caraway seeds.

Friday, February 9, 2007

E is for Elgin

A few years ago, I became somewhat obsessed with watches. I wanted to own an even dozen, just for the fun of it. More specifically, I became obsessed with owning an Elgin watch. My husband has an old Elgin pocket watch that belonged to his grandfather. It’s a beauty. But I wanted an Elgin watch because I had lived in Elgin for a year. My nostalgia made it seem like I needed to own an Elgin watch.

Now I have four—or at least four that say Elgin on their faces. One of them had to have been made after the factory closed, when rights to the name were purchased. My sister gave me two of them as gifts. I found two of them on my own. All of them were e-bay purchases.

My favorite is one I bought from a guy in Slidell, Louisiana, which he categorized as “pre-1940.” It’s got a chrome casing with some western-looking engraving. Not only did I like its look, but I liked its story, assuming it’s true. This was probably a small pocket watch recased as a wristwatch after the first world war ushered in the practicality of such a thing—driving away the testerical view that wearing a watch on one’s wrist was feminine. The winding mechanism is at 12 o’clock, and the bands attach at 9 and 3. I love it.

When the watch arrived, the minute hand had fallen off in the casing. I had to send it back, and the seller promptly fixed it.

Then I couldn’t get it to run. E-mails went back and forth a bit, the seller being certain it worked when it left his hands—he’d had it fixed by a professional, after all. I was about to send it back again, when I accidentally dropped it from a height of several feet, and it started.

So I kept it, and it worked on and off. Finally, I took it to a jeweler, who sent it off to be cleaned. A month or so later, it came back, and it works. I don’t wear it often, but I love the thing, and it’s an Elgin.

But there’s something else. When I look at this watch, I think of Slidell, on the shore of Lake Ponchartrain, an area hit hard by Katrina. I think of my husband’s trip to Slidell not a year before the storm, on which he caught what was likely the biggest fish of his life. I think about how devastated the fisheries were, how ecosystems and economies were destroyed. I wonder about this watch’s journey to Louisiana. I wonder what happened to Darrell, the watch seller of Slidell, who sold me the Elgin timepiece I love so well.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

D is for Dipper

First, the Big one.

On the way up my back steps after dark, I often see it cradled between tall pines and rooftops. I like looking at it over flat, farmed fields. I think about all the people who might be looking at it right now and about the ones who could be but aren’t. I almost always imagine myself staring up at it over Osgood Pond, and then down at its perfect watery reflection on clear, still nights.

Second, the American one.

I think I saw my first on Oak Creek in Arizona. On last fall’s trip to Oregon, seeing one was a goal (Vermont is a dipper-free state). American dippers can be spotted perpetually bobbing as they wade shallow—then they dive, feeding on insects. It’s a swimming bird that doesn’t look like a swimming bird. This may be part of my fascination.

In Oregon I got my fill of dippers—aka water ouzels—first along the beautiful Metolius River as I fished, then on the Umpqua as I watched Tim tackle the serious wading. I sat on couched ledges with book and binoculars, making sure Tim got up, fly rod in hand, if he fell, and was treated to hours of dipper-watching as they splashed on a ledge between us. I never got bored. And I didn’t read much.

Monday, February 5, 2007

C is for Chickadee

If it is cold, and maybe a little snowy, wait til your bird feeders are empty, or nearly so. If they are located by the window of your dining room, kneel down, and open that window just enough to stick out your seed-filled palm. Use the wall as a blind. Give them two or three minutes. The chickadees will come first, and the boldest of them will land on your hand, grab a seed, go. Others will follow. As they get used to you, they will sit a little longer.

There is nothing like little bird feet on your fingers.

When you get numb, and if you have a partner or friend about, nonchalantly switch out. He may even get goldfinches interested.

Who lives life more boldly than a chickadee?

Saturday, February 3, 2007

B is for Behind

I skate behind for the view ahead: the bejeaned grace of men who have been doing this forever. You can see the hockey that lives in the legs of one, the figures coiled and ready to spring in those of the other. I try to match the movement, know I can’t, still love the way the ice moves under me as the globe spins.

But back to the asses I began to objectify: Both of these boys have slid past the sixty-year line, one likely ten or fifteen years ago. I whisper a prayer to Something Out There that in twenty-thirty years I’ll still be able to move like this . . . this fast . . . faster.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

A is for AAA

My last name begins with A. I grew up being first.

This might sound good, but it wasn’t so great for a serious introvert. At school, I was always at the top of the list. In matters that involved everyone in an orderly fashion, I had to go first. Sometimes it felt good to get it over with. Other times I was the clueless one trying to keep from humiliating myself, having no one ahead of me to learn from, right or wrong. As someone longing for invisibility, first wasn’t usually fun.

Freshman year of college, I was second. But by the end of the year, the first disappeared into anorexia (another A) and never came back.

I moved to Vermont a dozen years ago and promptly became first on the voter roster. In a town that still votes an Australian ballot in pencil, I loved directing the local poll workers to my name at the top. Finally, in adulthood, I’d found a place where I liked being first.

Nearly two years ago, my sister bought a house here. She recently made Vermont her primary residence and works in New York City three days a week. Tuesday is a New York day. When she went to town hall to pick up an absentee ballot, I went with her.

It was there that the downside of her move became abundantly clear.

My sister’s name is Alison. Even her middle name begins with A. My position has been utterly usurped.

She’s almost three years younger. It’s not fair.

Friday, January 26, 2007