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.