Saturday, January 28, 2006

IPod Squirrels

Maybe its just another sign that I'm getting older but I am really disappointed by the newest generation of five squirrels that live and eat in our yard.

From memory, it looks like we get three to four sets of new tree rodents each calendar year . Either that or the existing ones get such an extreme makeover every few months that we're not able to recognize them as the same old yard pets. We've been feeding the squirrels for about twenty-two years - so simple math says that we've seen the coming of over one hundred generations.

But equally important to these ancestral generations (child<-parent<-grandparent<-etc.) are what I would call Evolutionary Generations - a common set of traits and behaviors that may span several age groups. It seems to me that in terms of general basic behavior we have had three distinct E.G.'s - what I would call Generation R2D2, Generation Ex and the iPod Generation. When we first started to feed the squirrels they were ravenous, rapacious, damaging and destructive - the dreaded two r's and 2 d's, Generation R2D2. Our first feeder was a plastic "Droll Yankee" multi-perch cylindrical diner. It lasted about a week. The squirrels attacked it in place, chewing through the polymer sides until the sunflowers cascaded to the ground like a cataract of black oily food pellets. On days when they were particularly cranky they knocked the feeder to the ground and pushed it across the yard like an out-of-control bobsled as they burrowed deeper and deeper into their bounty of daily sustenance. We replaced this Droll Yankee with another one that was hung from a longer wire in a different spot. Then another. In between I tried covering the rodent holes with duct tape. Same results. Clearly the squirrels were learning how to play this game much more quickly than we were. Then our son bought us a different type of feeder - one that we still use today. The new device wasn't technically a "feeder". It was instead a perch that screwed on to the neck of a one liter soda bottle. Holes are then punched into the base of the bottle; and it is wired, loaded with seed, and hung perch-end down. The results were the same as with the Droll Yankee but, with the help of several cola consuming friends and relatives, the maintenance costs for the storage component of our squirrel feeding system dropped considerably.

After a few years the damaging and destructive aspect of the squirrels personality began to mellow, although the ravenousness and rapacity remained. And the squirrels became much more entertaining - performing gravity-defying munching maneuvers such upside as down toe-dangles and bottom-up abdominal curls.

Seeds were still sucked out of the feeders at the rate of about fifty pounds a month. But the bottles themselves stayed in place for several days, then a week, and finally several weeks before becoming so riddled with holes as to be unusable. Those that "fell" to the ground however were still demolished without mercy. As were hanging ones that were allowed by this author to remain empty for unacceptably long periods of time (more than one day). Many times I dragged myself outside to the seed bucket, shivering and shaking with fever, for the sole purpose of coaxing one more day of life out of an old 7-UP bottle.

Ultimately even the empties remained unscathed for a few days at a time. And finally we came home from a two week vacation to find a totally vacant one still hanging and functional. It's not necessarily easy to spot the exact point when one behavioral generation replaces its predecessor but I would define that event as the official birth of Gen Ex.

From the perspective of our family room window, Gen Ex is by far the most energetic and entertaining of the three groups - thus the name, Generation Ex(ertion). These little gray guys and girls certainly exerted their bodies to their utmost as they positioned themselves for their gluttonous gobbling. And also their minds to come up with more and more challenging ways to get to their oily carbohydrate prize.

Our bird feeding bottle dangles from about one and one half feet of thin picture hanging wire. The first Gen Exers would climb slowly headfirst down the wire, and hang by their little back feet while their bodies were draped along the side of the bottle with their mouths next to the feeding perch. Then they began running down the wire. Next they slid down like firemen on a pole. And finally some bypassed the wire completely and tried direct leaps-of-faith onto the base of the bottle. They failed of course. But still they kept trying.

Others preferred to lower their entire body down to the perch itself, which they then held onto birdlike, with their hind feet. A few of these bottom feeders contorted their bodies back on themselves so as to bring their mouths in touch with the seed dispenser.

The more creative ones however hung upside down from the perch, as motionless as a pelt in a fur stole. Then, when the hunger spirit moved them, with the sheer force of their abdominal muscles alone, they raised their upper body to form a u-shaped, chest-to-thighs seed sucking machine. Once there they would stuff their pouches then lower themselves down to the fully inverted position and eat - to then return again and again.

The really extreme perch hangers even developed more exciting ways to get to the feeding platform itself. While the daring ones slid down the bottle, the biggest risk-takers free-fell alongside it only reaching out to make contact at the last possible second, the squirrel equivalent of a trapeze artist's triple somersault - blindfolded. (Perhaps these most Extreme Exerters should qualify as a special sub-genre, Gen ExEx.)

Then suddenly all of the action stopped.

First I noticed that I couldn't remember the last time that I had to replace a battered bottle. Then I noticed, of all things, a plethora of birds eating at, of all things, the bird feeder. I scanned my oak trees looking for squirrel nests. Sure enough there were several of them. I tuned my ear to listen for the screeching, scolding noise of the squirrels, and I heard it clearly and frequently. I just didn't see them at the feeder.

And then I looked down - at the ground under the bottle diner - and there they were - lolling lazily amidst the carpet of rejected and carelessly dropped sunflower seeds - leisurely stuffing their little faces. No need to work for your food when you can get it sent down to you for free.

It made me think of the current generation of music-loving, internet-using people walking along in their own private little worlds, listening to their favorite songs on their tiny iPods or other "personal music players". Instead of purchasing their CDs from stores, they down load the tunes from the Internet (frequently at no cost) onto their hand-held devices, or send their own copies to each other (again gratis). It's a view of life wherein the consumer feels totally entitled to no-fee usage of the world's songbook, and, at the same time, that collection of music is made instantly available to the listener who, with virtually no effort of their own, gathers it in. It's the iPod Generation.

Once or twice a week one of the Gen iPod squirrels will actually crawl out on the bottle-hanging branch and slowly lower itself onto the bottle to hang out languidly and dine. But ninety-nine percent of their input comes by way of gravity-driven data transfer. And that causes me to be concerned about their health. (We see it on the news almost every week - a national obesity crisis, particularly among our children. Why not squirrels too?)

Maybe the current set of tree rats don't look any fatter then their ancestors, or move any slower (when they do move that is) - but as an ardent exerciser I'm still concerned about their apparent lack of physical exertion. It would be just awful if the creatures of the wild had to resort to running their little squirrel buns off on an at-home treadmill (like their domesticated hamster cousins) rather than being able to stay fit just doing the normal activities of their daily lives.

But mostly I'm concerned about their passive acceptance of whatever food comes their way. The Generation R2D2 gang certainly didn't. They acted as if they were living in a State of Nature like the one in which the philosopher Thomas Hobbes described life as "nasty, evil, brutish and short." The R2D2'ers took things into their own paws, probably way more than was necessary, and (at least in their own little minds) bullied the world into giving them what they wanted. But in truth they survived largely because those of us whom they felt they needed to badger were already predisposed to care for them.

Their successors, the Gen Exers, seemed to view their world as a meritocracy - a place where what you got was based on your achievements. They assumed a cosmos fat with food. And it was. And a compensation system that awarded the more industrious and entertaining squirrels with the most and best food. And it did. Because of their outstanding performances this generation saw the addition of the a table-like corn cob feeder to our dining facilities especially for them.

But I just can't figure out this current bunch. It would be too much of a cliche to say that they think the world owes them a living - and I don't really think that it is true either. But they do seem to act as if the world is a totally supportive place, ready and willing to let them be and do whatever they want to.

It's similar to what I have heard said about some of today's "post-feminist" women who seem to feel that world, by its very nature, is a nurturing and accommodating place - without any necessary effort on their part to keep it that way. Or perhaps the steady drone of dependably down streamed delicacies has deadened their minds to the possibility of famine.

Fortunately the squirrels are been replaced at the feeders by, of all things, birds. More and more of them. Different and more different kinds. Purple Finches, Nuthatches, Cardinals and Woodpeckers. Chickadees, Titmouses and (would you believe it?) Grackles.

They actually are pretty fun to watch. Certainly more interesting than the iPod squirrels. These descendants of previously entertaining little rodents need to be made aware of the law of supply and demand - that those of us on the supply side demand something in return for our generosity. Generation iPod - be afraid! Be very afraid!

Monday, January 23, 2006

The True Story of the Maltese Dwarf Garlic

In 1997 Mars and I visited the island of Malta. The following is a draft chapter from a short novel called the Men's Garden Club of Malta that I am currently working on. The narrator is Fenech De Piro, editor of the newsletter of the Men's Garden Club of Malta.

The Maltese Dwarf Garlic is the most prominent product of Maltese horticulture, but are we, the men who till the land and sow the seeds, proud of it? Not! Do we stand proudly on our limestone shores shouting out its praises over the crashing waves of the Mediterranean Ocean? No! Do we toast it with tankards of fine Maltese wine in our tavernas? Never!

Instead we skulk into the produce markets of the region, silently slipping our most popular product onto the shelves. Why, because it's just not a manly fruit - too damn small, and too gosh-darn cute. Lined up against the produce of other nations - the muscular gourds, hard-bodied pumpkins, burly potatoes and sinewy wheat - it's just, well downright embarrassing.

But it shouldn't be. In this case size doesn't really matter. It could have been bigger than all of the competition, maybe even larger than life itself, but we, the gardening men of Malta, for the well-being of our island nation, chose to grow it small. It is a part of our legacy and something of which we should truly be proud.

The story goes back almost six thousand years, to the time known to us as prehistory, back to the very origins of our country.

Led by Giovanni Gnieniannini, the Godfather of Maltese gardening and founder of our club, the first human immigrants to Malta landed around the year 5200 B.C. They came from Sicily, sailing more than ninety kilometers in tiny ships across the fierce Mediterranean, carrying with them only their families, a small amount of seed, grain and bulbs, and a few goats and cattle.

We do not know what they hoped would be here: better land for farming?, more game for hunting? something to do on a Saturday night? Skwirills for their favorite meal (squirrel cooked in garlic and wine)? Who knows.

But we have a pretty good idea of what they found. Limestone. Limestone. And more limestone. And, to their good fortune a land of fertile soil and welcoming weather. Plus herds of red deer whose ancestors had been stranded here when the peninsular connection to the mainland was washed away in earlier times.

So, like thousands of similar communities that were popping up across Europe and Asia, our Maltese founders stayed. They hunted and ate the red deer, planted the wheat and lentils, and raised their cattle, sheep and goats. And they grew their white Insolja and red Mammolo grapes in the rock-pocked Maltese soil and made their wines.

But, while they found scores of really old skwirill bones, there were no live skwirills to be found. These mainstays of the Maltese diet, and other former island inhabitants like the the hippopotamus, were marooned on the mainland side of the peninsula when it disappeared.

"Xejn skwirill - rvina!" ("No squirrels - all is lost!") the settlers cried. But even worse was the discovery that somewhere on their rough ocean voyage their starter-kit of five ge-normous garlic bulbs had washed overboard and sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean.

At the time, garlic was not only the key component in the Skwirill stew but actually the one and only, seasoning in the Maltese diet - from oatmeal to meat and everything in between, it all was liberally flavored with this strong-smelling, pungent-tasting bulb. "Tewma! Tewma!" they cried and several settlers had to be restrained from throwing themselves into the warm waters of the Mediterranean in a desperate search for their beloved flavoring.

"Xejn Skwirill! Xejn tewma! Xejn Hajja!" ("No Squirrel! No garlic! No life!") the settlers forlornly moaned. Things looked grim indeed for the early settlers of Malta.

Which of course explains the megalithic temples of Malta.

Centuries before England's more famous Stonehenge was built the Maltese settlers constructed several of these architectural marvels. The Tarxien temple and the Mnajdra temple complex at Hagar Qim were elaborate complexes of multiple buildings surrounded by mammoth walls of rock.

But the focal point of each sanctuary was a ten foot tall carved limestone fertility goddess - identity unknown, until today.

None of the carved icons have survived in their entirety. The most complete one is the lower half of a goddess consisting of two feet, two round legs and a pleated skirt at the Tarxien temple.

Looked at by itself or when compared to other later-built Megalithic images the remaining parts offer absolutely no clue as to the identity of the object of worship. Viewed within the context of the garlic-and-squirrel-deprived early settlers of Malta the character of the goddess becomes perfectly clear.

The feet are indisputably those of the missing Maltese skwirills - specifically the South European Gray Squirrel, the main ingredient in Maltese Skwirill Stew. And the ankles and "fat" legs are each, quite obviously, a garlic bulb. The pleated skirt, as always in such statuary, serves as the screen behind which the two garlic "legs" merge together and morph into the gigantic singular garlic goddess torso and head - as would be readily apparent had the top half of this, or any of the statues, been preserved - which they were not, and deliberately as we shall soon discover.

Throughout history, mankind has invented and then worshipped the gods that promised to provide the things that they needed at that time. And, if such a god or goddess did not already exist - well how hard is it to create them?

Intellectually, theologically and semantically - really easy. (A few glasses of Maltese wine among a few Maltese gardeners over a few Maltese hours and you get one new Maltese Goddess - Tewmanella, the Garlic goddess.)

Architecturally and engineeringly - really tough. Fortunately the limestone that had been such a curse was in fact the ideal building material - soft and damp when dug out of the earth and then turning white and hard after exposure to the sun.

But the design, planning and actual building of these temples required a degree of intellectual effort, planning and cooperation that is only seen in truly desperate situations - which this clearly was.

The work took decades to complete. And when it was done the entire population of Malta gathered to honor and worship the new goddess they had created - swigging wine, proferring burnt offerings and chanting:
"Give me a T! Give me an E! Give me a W!......
What does it spell? Tewmanella!"
"Tewmanella! Tewmanella! Tewmanella! You are our pick!
Give us! Give us! Give us some gar-lic!"

And they looked out upon the waters of the Mediterranean and saw an armada of tiny white bulbs bobbing towards land. Either through the divine intervention of Tewmanella or by sheer coincidence, thousands of dwarf-sized garlics, tiny offspring of those giant lost-at-sea tewmas, washed up onto the limestone shore.

Amidst the frenzy of garlic gathering and celebratory splashing the voice of Giovanni Gnieniannini was heard. "Let us not forget this day. And let us always remember the tiny bulb that has saved our community by preserving it forever in this handy, pocket-sized version. Size doesn't always matter - smell does!"

"Yes! Yes!" chanted the multitudes.

"Good." said the voice. "Now let's go knock down the top half of the Tewmanella statue, see what else we need, and come up with a new goddess. We can just keep recreating her - kind of like a Mr. Potato Head. I mean we’ve got the whole temple set up and everything. It would be a shame to waste it on astronomical calculations or something silly like that. Myself, I'm thinking casino."

And as quickly as that the upper portion of the statue, and all memory of the garlic goddess, was gone.

99 words about Nothing

"I see nothing on Doppler radar." said the television meteorologist.
He didn't say "I don't see anything" or "Not much of anything to see on Doppler tonight" -
but instead "I see NOTHING."

It kind of makes you think.

If astronomers had Doppler then they could see exactly where the universe is coming from - or going to.

If philosophers had Doppler they would know whether nothing is the total absence of everything or a special form of something

But most importantly, if men had Doppler they'd know what was bothering women when they said "nothing". Now that would be something!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Friends Without Shoulders

Because I have occasionally referred to snakes as "friends without shoulders" some people have apparently gotten the impression that I think of snakes as...well, friends.

Just because our family room is replete with snakey things: three Ikea stuffed pythons, a pottery wall-hanging sidewinder, a black wooden undulating snake decorated with round reflectors and fake pearls, and "Hissy" the blue Beanie Baby snake, one might get the impression the scaly reptiles are my buddies.


Actually I don't like snakes. Never have. Probably never will. It's just the way I feel.

Growing up in an urban New England factory town, as a member of a solidly indoor family, reptiles were certainly never an an issue during my formative years.

But, perhaps because of my unfamiliarity with them, as I grew older and began to venture out into the natural world I sometimes experienced a feeling of snake-induced insecurity when I looked into the underbrush around the area where I was walking. This fear kept me largely off the hiking trails until I met, dated and married Marsha - someone without the same dread, and someone who I would follow pretty much anywhere.

Which one day brought me face to face with this sign at the beginning of a nature trail in Coastal North Carolina:
We don't think of them as snakes
We think of them as friends without shoulders.

Huh? I mean I guess I got their point - this was a wildlife center, dedicated to teaching us about the interactions between plants, animals and the environment. And in the overall ecology of things snakes do perform many useful, maybe even good things. But a friend? You hang out with friends. Have them over for drinks and a barbecue. Occasionally even touch them. Shoulderless - definitely! Friends - never!

Then we began to travel to the Southwest - northern New Mexico, West Texas and central and upper Arizona. The good news is that there was no underbrush. The bad news was that here there really were rattlesnakes.

Outside of Albuquerque we hiked at Petroglyph National Monument after reading a sign cautioning us against poisonous snakes hiding in the rocks. Fortunately on this walk we were preceded by a pack of free-range Cub Scouts whom we assumed would prove to be a tastier treat for the reptiles than two aging office-worker Easterners.

In Marfa Texas, while staying on the grounds of the Chinati Art Foundation, we learned that the rattlers sometimes liked to sleep overnight on the porches and steps of the housing units - in other words exactly where we were living . Later we heard from our son about a woman at Chinati who advised him to always carry a cat to toss as an offering should a snake present itself.

In the town of Lajitas, in the Big Bend part of Texas, one of the locals told us how he liked to walk at midnight on the runways at the local airport because then the snakes were not around.

And all throughout the southwest we were reminded by signs and verbal warnings to double-check a rock before we put our hand on it - particularly on cool sunny days when the snakes like to sleep outside and warm themselves.

After our first southwest trip I gave Marsha a snakebite kit with a "First Aid Pump" that provides "painless first aid extraction for snake and insect bites" - something that seems, to us, preferable to the old fashioned "slit, suck and spit" method. In thirteen years of desert hiking we've seen but two snakes - and neither one clearly enough to know whether we should have been afraid or not.

Outside of Albuquerque is ten thousand foot high Sandia Peak. Along the side of that mountain, near the top, is a barely one-person-wide hiking trail. On one of our trips along that trail Marsha, who was leading, was suddenly cut off by a fast-moving, slithering something. With no room to step sideways, and uncertain of the footing for jumping back , she simply stopped and let the unidentified snake wriggle in front of her. And then, since we were much closer to the end than the beginning of the trail, continued on.

Another time in Big Bend National Park we found a long-abandoned natural hot spring spa complete with crumbling bathhouses and deteriorating manmade tubs. As we took in the scene, a long dark object glided across the sunlit ground and slid into one of the baths. We decided not to "take the waters" that day.

But an indoor classroom session at an Elderhostel in Apache Junction Arizona may have been our most memorable snake experience. The topic was "Venomous and Poisonous Critters of the Desert", or something like that. And the speaker brought with him various jars and aquaria filled with his subject matter.

We learned what to do when you come upon a snake in the desert . He called it the four S'es, which I may not be quoting exactly but you'll get the idea:
Stop (self evident)
Scan (see the snake and check the surrounding area for other snakes)
Step back (presumably into a safe area that you have just scanned)

When he came to the part of his talk where he would have shown us a rattlesnake the speaker paused and explained to us why he did not have one with him. Nor would he ever again. It seems he and his brother had grown up searching for and capturing snakes of all kinds. His brother had been bitten several times with no ill effects whatsoever - not allergic. Our speaker had never been even nicked by a pair of fangs.

Until one day when he was giving this very talk to another group, and the sample rattlesnake just up and bit him. Thinking not too much of it, he completed his talk without letting on that he had been bitten and then drove himself to the hospital. By the time he got there, ninety or so minutes later, the area around the bite had swollen up to twice its normal size and had turned a deep bluish-green. He had pictures. He also had other photos that showed the further effects of the venom. They were not pretty.

He was saved by anti-venoms and told by the doctors that if he were ever bitten again he would just die - that was all there was to it.

Now maybe some of you have friends like that - but not me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Merry Christmas from Santa Fe

On Christmas morning at eight the main plaza in Santa Fe New Mexico was empty. Marsha took a picture that proves it.

Moments before that a young couple with a brown chihuahua in a bright red sweater had trotted along one end of the area. But now they were gone.

At the other end two craft-selling indians were setting up their blankets under the portico at the Palace of the Governors. We were surprised to see them. But then again Santa Fe is a tourist town and tourists do like to shop.

Twelve hours earlier the plaza and the surrounding area were much more crowded as upwards of twenty-six thousand people (thankfully not all at once) wandered through on their way to annual Christmas Eve Farolito walk on Canyon Road.

The first mile or so of that street is packed with art galleries and a few restaurants. Most of the art shops are right on the street but many are located in the various narrow allies that run off of it. Large and small pieces of sculpture decorate the outside areas. And on Christmas Eve the farolitos come out — in full force.

El farol is Spanish in Santa Fe for "the light." So, farolitos are "little lights" — paper bags with sand in them for weight, and a lit candle set into the sand. Also called luminarios in other areas, these small decorations are placed on virtually every possible spot along Canyon Road — sidewalks, walls, fences and trees. There were also "flying farolitos," although we didn't see them.

After dark, the tourists and the locals (even though they won't admit it) shuffle along shoulder-to-shoulder taking in the sights of the lights. And the sounds of makeshift carol-singing choruses gathered around strategically placed heat-giving fires, and professionally engaged ensembles blowing and bowing classical airs. This particular evening the fires were not that necessary — the temperature was around twenty-five degrees, down from a sunny high of about fifty-five that afternoon. (But it's a dry cold.)

Farolitos also decorated most other parts of the downtown area, including the plaza, along with a more modern version called "electro-litos" that lit up the roofs of some hotels and stores. It's hard to tell which the Santa Fean purists hold in more disdain — the concept of electric farolitos or the (to them) misnamed luminarios.

Marsha and I were in "the city different" to spend the Christmas holiday with our daughter-in-law (Monica) and our son (Bram) who had moved out here this past May from the Washington D.C. area.

We ourselves have been coming pretty much annually to the Santa Fe, Taos, Albuquerque area for the past thirteen years, having decided for our twenty-fifth anniversary to see what it was about northern New Mexico that made Georgia O'Keefe paint those "abstract" pictures.

Monica and Bram introduced themselves to the desert southwest with trips to West Texas (another favorite of ours) and then southern and northern New Mexico. We all felt immediately at home and wanted to live in this part of the country. They just did it first.

About one and one half hours later we were at their apartment huddled around trays of dried fruit and German sweets (courtesy of the "kids'" grandparents) and opening Christmas presents - one of which turned out to be the very web site on which you perhaps are reading this.

This was followed by a breakfast of English Muffins and more fruit and German goodies, continuing the subtext of our visit — "eat your way across Santa Fe." (To summarize briefly: Zia Diner Shepard's pie, M & B's apartment fondue, Cowgirl Hall of Fame Ribs, chili quiche brunch with Kathy, a friend of M & B, Filet Mignon or Rack of Lamb at Ristras, Monica's Pesole, more quiche with other M & B friends (Janie & Joa), tomato soup & grilled cheese sandwiches (we needed a break) and gigunto pancakes at The Shed — all interspersed with more dried fruit and Teutonic sweets.)

Having celebrated Christmas in our own secular way we then headed to the Cochiti Pueblo to watch their traditional Buffalo and Elk dances. The weather which at eight a.m. had Marsha and I wearing our down coats in the plaza now called for shirtsleeves, baseball caps and sunscreen in the near sixty degree sunshine.

The dances are held annually on Christmas Day, along with other dances on other days, and are open to the public. No photos are allowed. There was no explanation of the dances which involved performers costumed with buffalo heads or antlers as well as one or two women (depending) and an indian with a small fir tree. All dances were accompanied by a chorus of chanting and drum playing Cochiti men.

During the ceremony members of the tribe distributed gifts, mostly pre-packaged snacks, to the dancers, the chorus and then to the audience. In addition to a good amount of junk food we also got two washcloths and an orange.

We always told Bram that when he left home he had to live in a place that was fun and interesting for his parents to visit. I always hoped that, should he get married, it would be to someone who was as good for him as Marsha is for me, and at their wedding we toasted them with that thought.

Since their marriage I've been noticing couples more closely, particularly our friends and ourselves, and lately I've been appreciating even more the fact that being half of the right couple is a major part of making you into the right individual.

Being in the right place with the right person is just about as good as it gets.

Merry Christmas from Santa Fe.

Monday, January 09, 2006

99 words about snow

Snow is the enemy.

Using the latest military Super Doppler technology the media relentlessly sounds the alarm of its imminent attack. Citizens, anxious to do their part, sleep restlessly - anticipating the next day's battles. Heavy equipment, trundling noisily down the deserted streets, moves into place before dawn's early light . Local militias quickly join the battle, wielding their own smaller arms - while imbedded reporters provide detailed accounts of the storm's passing for the housebound armchair combatants.

After the war we toast our victory with hot chocolate - as nay sayers protest "Hey! It's winter! It's Connecticut! Idiots - it's supposed to snow!"

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

99 words about yard ornaments

Dead, deflated Santas litter the daytime lawns of our town - along with other icons of the season like snowmen, Grinches and the occasional snow globe.

A month or so ago the images of Halloween, most of them orange, lay void of air on the same spots. And before that, the rabbits of Easter.

What do the denizens of the daytime, the children, make of this uninflated carnage?

Will their memories of these holidays be mental photos of surreal plastic puddles - like melting Dali watches?

Or will they remember that when the family was home, the holiday came to life?

99 words about grocery carts

Why don't we put our grocery carts away?

We shouldn't:
"Cart collecting gives somebody a job."
Maybe true, definitely condescending - and there is other work.
Besides that's really an excuse after the fact, not a reason before.

We should:
"Returning carts would keep prices down."
Yeah right!
"Loose carts are a safety hazard."
A minor one, but still not really why we should corral them.

Why then? - The Golden Rule.
The way we treat other people's things, we're saying, is how ours (and we) should be treated.
Corralling carts, running yellow lights, torturing prisoners.

It really is that simple.

99 words about Autumn

So here they come again!

Cascading down one by one, or clustered into groups.

Claiming their individual space, or slipping and sliding on top of each other into poorly organized piles.

Some say they're late this year, less vivid - but there seems to be more of them.

Either way, most will be gone within a week - bagged and dragged to the curb for pickup and recycling.

Some will stay through the holidays.

You can hear them on delivery days, pushing through the mail slot and flopping onto the floor.

Leaves? Not nowadays!

It's Fall. It's LL Bean and all.

99 words about birds

Our yard is being overrun by doves.

It's normal for birds to inundate this property. Squirrels too.

We have four feeders - three sunflower and one thistle. Plus an abundance of insects in our grass.

Congregations of sparrows and finches queue up at the stations. Chickadee gangs shout eponymously at refill time. Squirrel squads sort through the bark-mulch for fallen seeds.

After rainstorms, crows and grackles cover the lawn in ominous blankets of lustrous black, pecking invisible tidbits from the moist fescue.

Now bevies of doves dine delicately.

Just another branch of Hometown Buffet to the hawk circling hungrily above.