The seal pup blinks its eyes, its dorsal tail curls and I think of the Mer-Baby lost at sea and swept to earth on a wave.
I came upon this darling during a morning walk along Puget Sound. Seal Sitters had set up a barrier with tape to protect this baby from people and dogs. (They come onshore to rest and even “helpful” people can cause them unintended harm.) We in Seattle are lucky to have nature writ large. And a community of volunteers such as Seal Sitters who devote time and attention to sustaining such beautiful creatures.
West Seattle was blanketed by a thick, fresh snowfall in December. It was beautiful; definitely a day to tug on boots and enjoy a walk in our neighborhood — such an uplift from the omnicron buzz.
I hear a robin trill and find her perched on the snowy branch of a tree and take her picture.
Hamilton View Park is my destination. The Park overlooks Elliot Bay and has a hill where kids like to take their sleds and saucers to have a merry time in the snow. Just as I am about to cross the street towards the Park, a child approaches. She is alone and crying.
“Can you help me?” she says.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I’m lost. I don’t know where my home is.”
“Alright. Be calm, dear. What’s your name?”
“How far have you been walking?”
“I don’t know. I left the house because I wanted to play in the snow. I asked my brother to come with me, but he didn’t want to. He’s autistic.”
“Were you with the kids at the park?”
She shakes her head “No.”
“How far do you think you are from your home?”
“I don’t know. My Mom lives near the water. But I don’t live with her.”
My mind processes the situation. We are in a snowstorm in the midst of a pandemic. Snow reshapes things. Is the kid lost and confused because of the snow? Or maybe covid has added to her confusion? It has certainly added to mine. I want to help, but how?
“OK, Rosemary. Just be calm. Walk with me.”
We walk in silence. My brain is processing: This girl is surely old enough to know where home is. But when I ask, she does not know her address or her phone number. I size her up. She looks to be maybe eight years old. She is bundled in pink and lavender layers and looks cared for. Her blonde hair drapes over a fluffy scarf. I wonder about her home life.
I think of the robin on the tree branch whose picture I took. An old song from my childhood arose: The North Wind Will Blow And We Shall Have Snow and Where Will Poor Robin Go? I feel I am walking with a lost, little bird.
At first, I think about taking Rosemary home. That would not work; we would be no closer to finding her home. Then I have an idea: the fire department. I remember walking past Station #29 after taking the photo of the robin.
“I know what we’ll do, Rosemary,” I tell her. “The fire department is a few blocks away. We’ll go there.”
She nods, calms down.
We ring the bell at the firestation. I explain to the three firefighters there that the girl is lost. “Where did you find her?” one of them asks. I give him an approximate location.
Then a female firefighter asks Rosemary: “Are your feet cold? Do you need socks? Want some water?”
All the firemen try and make her feel comfortable.
Then one asks “What’s your last name?” Rosemary tells him and he taps the information into his cell phone.
“Is your mother an attorney?”
“Yes,” the girl says.
I am amazed by mankind’s ability to collect so much data so fast by simply consulting a smartphone.
Rosemary then explains that her parents are divorced and she lives with her father. She says her Mother lives near the water somewhere.
“You mean Alki Beach?”
The firefighters discuss how they will handle the situation and end up agreeing that Rosemary’s status as a missing child needs to be addressed by the police.
“They will drive you around, Rosemary. They will help find your home.”
At dinner, I tell the story to my husband. We come up scenarios about the divorced parents, the autistic brother, the police showing up at the door with the lost girl, the parents blaming each other for this incident.
And when my head hits the pillow to sleep, the old song is there: The North Wind Will Blow And We Shall Have Snow and Where Will Poor Robin Go?
A man who possessed all the world can offer went to church one Sunday and discovered he really had nothing at all. There were three cars in his garage, but he could only ride in one at a time. The finest delicacies found their way to his table, but only his guests enjoyed them. His appetite long satiated, the hunger which now consumed him was a craving beyond three meals a day. The cashmere coat did nothing to warm him because a chill had settled on his spirit. And so he left everything he had and went on a journey.
A man who had never ceased to be a boy went to church one Sunday and wanted, fiercely, to grow up. Like a drowning man, he saw in a flash the wasted years and minutest disappointments borne only in the half light of intoxication. So he cast aside his bottle and went on a journey.
A man who wore a constant sneer went to church one Sunday, and for the first time in his life wanted to believe in something. So with the corners of his mouth turned up, he stepped into the light of day and also went on a journey.
They travelled long and far, not knowing what they sought, and at a particular fork in the road it happened that they all came together. Each welcomed the presence of the other, and they continued on as one. They wandered in a weariness, and as night-time fell and finding themselves no closer to their goal, the three sat down to rest.
Whether real or a dream, I do not know, but each became aware of a figure in the shadow, and then it, or he, spoke, “You have travelled on familiar ground—three others came this way, many years ago. You bear a close resemblance.”
“Who were they?” said the first man.
“How many years ago?” said the second.
“Why did they come?” said the third.
“The world remembers them as the three wise men, and they came this way nineteen hundred and sixty years ago, following a star.”
“I can hardly be called wise,” said the rich man in lowered tones. “I had everything a man can wish for, but not the wisdom to enjoy it. I left it all behind.”
“A wise man can stand alone,” said the drunk. “I used a liquid crutch.”
“If I was once wise, it was only because I knew enough not to believe in anything. Now I am confused and filled with wonder at many things. If I was once wise, I am no longer,” said the cynic.
“True wisdom is often cloaked,” said the figure. “You,” he said to the first, “in possessing all, had a deep obligation to your fellow man. Through not understanding what you were to do next, you stripped yourself in order to find yourself. A man less wise would bask alone in the glory of possessing, only to find he must leave the world as he came to it, with nothing, having given nothing.”
“And as for you,” he said to the second, “though you think of yourself as a coward, you found the courage to cast aside your crutch, as you call it. This was a beginning—weakness acknowledged can become strength.”
“In the past,” he said, turning to the third, “you believed in only that which you could see or touch, and what you saw was not always pretty, and what you touched turned to ashes. All three of you have come this way in search of a star, but it is for you to find it.”
Glancing up at the heavens they at first could see nothing. But as they gazed each saw, according to the depth of his desire to do so, a tiny fleck of silver in the night sky.
“Are you able to see anything,” said the figure.
All admitted to having seen something. “If it is a star, why is it so dim?” asked one.
“It was not always so,” said the figure. “The other three saw it clear and bright from the very beginning, because it was a beginning. It has since been tarnished with centuries of injustice—people against people. They failed to see that each year at Christmas, with the birth of Christ, a rebirth is offered to all who will but seek it. If the star is exceedingly dim, be thankful that it is even barely perceptible, for once it disappears from the sky, it will not be seen again.”
“But we are only three. What can we do?”
“All of the evil, down through the years, has been born in insignificance. An isolated event, the craving for power on the part of one man has brought nations to war. Man, instead of humbling himself before God, has envied Him and sought dominion over his fellows. His greed has engendered an appetite impossible to fill. Three of you can do much to turn the tide, while there is yet time.”
“We are a sorry lot—God must weep at our creation. I will go back and give all that I have to the poor,” said the rich man.
“It would soon be done and finished, and you would have yourself left over. Rather, use your position to better conditions for those beneath you—a man should receive all that he earns, but must earn what he receives. A beggar soon learns to despise his benefactor. Go back now, and seek to find the true meaning of the word, giving, and your life will no longer be empty.”
“I will never touch another drop,” said the man who was known as a drunk, in a moment of high elation. I will tell everybody of this thing that has happened to me.”
“Softly, softly,” said the figure, “lest too much talk creates a thirst. Rather, live each day at a time, turning to many tasks, and those who once laughed and called you “fool” will marvel at your strength. Go now, and through quiet example prepare a path for others.”
“Tell me, now, how I can help,” said the cynic, who was beginning to believe in himself.
“You, perhaps, can do most of all. Whereas, you once believed in nothing, you are now free to break through the barriers that separate men from good will – prejudice which divides and conquers, based on religion, or nationality, or the color of a skin. Let integrity be a part of the smallest venture entered into, and beware of the harmless little joke that belittles another’s dignity. Pray, too, that the soul of man will not be judged by color.”
The man of wealth awoke in silken sheets, while the one who as labelled a drunk became cold sober in a place where he had gone to forget. The cynic, henceforward, saw everything as he wished it to be, and did all that he could to make it that way.
We have a chestnut tree in our back yard. Chestnuts and leaves blanket the lawn. The squirrels are in fat city. They scamper and scratch holes in the grass. They bury their treasure in the rockery.
But this year, the blue jays, who have a nest in our mountain ash tree, are in on the action too. I witness a chestnut battle.
One of the Blues descends from the mountain ash. Soon, a nut is in his beak. He returns to a branch with his prize.
Squirrel stands erect and looks distressed. He is frozen and perplexed by Blue. His tiny front paws fold over his chest. Discouraged? No. He darts to the lawn for more chestnuts.
He hops around, stores a nut in his cheek, and eventually scratches a hole to bury it. Squirrels bury an average of 10,000 nuts a year and end up eating only about 4,000.
Is it greed? Since the Blue jays have been showing up, is he hiding more of his booty?
Enter Squirrel #2. He leaps toward Squirrel #1 who scoots into the rockery.
More Blue jays descend.
Blue jays are carnivores known to rob baby squirrels from nests and prey on juvenile squirrels.
Squirrel #2 has intimidated Squirrel #1 who darts away to a more distant cranny in the rocks.
He scratches and inspects a burrow, stands on his hind legs, and looks distraught. Has Squirrel #2 confiscated a nut from Squirrel #1’s domain?
“Where’d my nut go?” he seems to be saying. Squirrel #1 is hyper, scampers to a tree, circles around its trunk, and then disappears into the tree canopy.
I imagine a squirrel conversation in the canopy:
“Betty. Sid just moved in on my turf. He’s the greediest squirrel in our berg. Even worse, the bluebirds must have a nest around here. They’re bogarting our chestnuts. Do we have enough nuts for Thanksgiving? Check the pantry.”
“Oh, Lenny. You know that I do.” Betty opens the tree pantry. Empty shells spill out.
Lenny is panicked. “OMG. Who got to them? Was it the blue jays or that greedy Sid?”
Betty shrugs. “Suck it up. We’ll get by.”
“Young Sammy will have to help. Where is the boy?”
“Last time I saw Sammy he was chasing his tail,” says Betty
“What? I thought only dogs chased their tails.”
“Chalk it up to adolescence, Lenny. Let it go.”
Okay, this may not have been the scenario in the tree canopy. And there may be no juvie squirrel named Sammy. But if there is, he should watch his back. The blue jays may move up the food chain and prey on him.
Have you ever been divebombed by crows? If so, did you think:
Wait a minute. I like birds. What do crows have against me?
Should I board up the house to protect against a larger attack, ala Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds?
Are they looking for food or protecting a nest?
If it is true that crows remember faces, do I need to start wearing a disguise?
Is this part of a planetary plot? First COVID, now CORVIDS?
The first time this happened – a few weeks ago – I was planting sunflowers in my garden. I felt a tap against my low back. At first, I thought: “Strange. A silent neighbor with aggressive touch? A stranger on our block wanting attention?”
Then I heard a whoosh and witnessed the black wings fly above and away.
The second time I was divebombed, I was pruning. The King Crow flapped away to the top of our Doug Fir. I shook my fist. “Hey…you are not the boss of me!” I shouted at him.
I am not the only one in our household who has been divebombed. I cautioned my husband to at least wear a bike helmet while mowing the lawn. He has been strafed by a Corvid four or five times in the last week.
We’ve laughed over these incidents. How cool – what are the crows trying to tell us?
But I do not feel as comfortable while gardening.
To quell my angst, my husband shared an article by Lyanda Haupt, author of Crow Planet. Her blog piece in The Tangled Nest says that crows will divebomb in spring and that the behavior is linked to protecting their nestlings.
Small fry birds with sweet little nests can hide in shadowy corners, and more easily escape human detection.
Not so with the crows. Being loud and bulky, they are at a disadvantage as nesters. We humans are on their radar.
Haupt is not a crow apologist, but asks us to consider matters from the complicated standpoint of an urban nesting crow parent. It’s spring. Give them a break.
She reminds us that once the fledgling is grown, the divebombing will stop. Soon the crows will turn their gaze towards the raptors – eagles, hawks, owls – to protect their kin.
Nature sure is wild. Would that some human families take such good care of their young.
So there you have it. No longer will I curse the crow. But I might just shop for a CORVID mask to disguise myself and keep a bicycle helmet handy.
Ah, the neck muscles of youth. Was that really me?
Around the time of these antics, my Father died suddenly of a heart attack.
Life was irrevocably changed. My sisters, new mothers at the time, were gone from the house. It was just me and Mom.
I felt like a lone confused wolf. The breadwinner who provided for us was no longer at the dinner table. Shouldn’t I be sad?
I confess that one part of me was relieved. No more fights between him and Mother, the worst being a particular Christmas Eve — finding him slumped over the steering wheel of the car in the driveway after his visit to a local tavern.
I did not want to be a grieving 16-year old.
I wanted fun, to make people laugh. And so I sought surrogate sisters vis-a-vis my “friends.”
But Mother told me my friends were sophomoric.
Sure. We were sophomores in high school.
Then Mother told me I had to find a job. After Dad’s death, our social security checks were not enough. If I wanted to go to college, I’d better start saving.
The florist in town hired me part-time. She had a heavy German accent. Wass ist los? she’d ask, hovering close. My reply: “Eh?”
I found myself emptying containers of stinky flower water and making corsages for the prom I did not attend.
The jewel in the crown: helping the florist set up funeral wreaths in churches. My Father’s spirit seemed to hover at every turn. I felt lots of heaviness and guilt in my heart over him. What had I not expressed to him that he needed to hear from me before he crossed over?
I showed up erratically at the flower shop. The florist dismissed me — I was no longer needed.
Meanwhile, my friends seemed like they were having a ball. They worked at Turnstyle, a discount department store. They bought hip-looking clothes on the layaway plan. They formed a clique, but I was not in their sisterhood.
The lone wolf once again.
To everything turn, turn, turn …
I started dating a guy down the street. He was Edward Scissorhands minus the scissors. We talked about our plans once we graduated from high school.
What were his plans? He looked forward to joining the circus.
When my “friends” learned I was seeing “circus boy” (as they called him), they laughed. Then they spray-painted an expletive on ES’s driveway.
ES did not deserve this disrespect.
Lightbulb: my friends were sophomoric. Could Mother possibly be correct?
Though I severed from my friends, I did not stay with ES. Barnum & Bailey claimed him and I needed to move on.
And so, to supplement college savings, my Aunt found me a summer job at the factory where she worked. I found myself bagging cotton and polyester fabrics alongside a tall, dark hippie sporting a handlebar mustache.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road …
Name a maiden who does not want to be looked upon as eye candy. Especially by a hippie who sports a handlebar ‘stache and rides a Harley-Davidson.
My Aunt, much to her dismay, spotted me on the back of Easy Rider’smotorcycle as we fled the factory and sped down Cuba Road on our lunch hour.
A short-lived tale. ‘Stache and the factory did not last beyond summer.
Fast forward. I am in college. Headstands are a long-gone thing of the past.
I trudge across campus, pre-Kindle and pre-computer days, backpack laden with classics: Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, and James Joyce’s Dubliners.
It is in Dubliners where I learned that “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”
I could relate to Mr. Duffy. I was largely living in my head, an English Lit major, enthralled by the classics.
I was in heaven, curled up in my apartment with its old, hissing radiator, sipping Constant Comment tea. Books became my BFF’s. I was feeding my mind.
Was it around the time I was reading Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis that my neck and shoulders started aching? Relieved that I did not wake up in bed transformed to a vermin like Gregor Samsa, I phoned a chiropractor.
“Lose the backpack,” he said, after examining and noting the Atlas bone in my neck was out of alignment.
Was it the backpack? Maybe it was the headstands of the “sophomoric” years. Or reading so much and living a short distance from my body, like Mr. Duffy.
No. I would never give up reading.
I feel I personally know Mr. Duffy.
Now, my book choices are more of a buffet. The entrees include Zen meditation and mindfulness books, creative non-fiction, poetry and contemporary literature. And when my eyes are tired, podcasts. (Some fave podcasts: Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris, Clear & Vivid with Alan Alda, The New Yorker Fiction, and On Being with Krista Tippett).
My body is becoming a portal for the breath. I “train the puppy” as the mindfulness facilitator leads our weekly meditation group. Why is it so difficult to sit still? “Don’t just do something, sit there!” my brain scolds my squirming body. I embrace that voice too and listen for waves of breath, to let go.
I am not the only Boomer who has lived a short distance from her body.
We are at the end of 2020 and approaching the hopes of 2021.
Turn, turn, turn.
Is it a cosmic coincidence that 1/21/21 is a palindrome? Read backwards and forwards it is the same — and it is the day our new President is sworn into office.
Skeletons love nothing more than to wave at us as we take walks, drive by, or ride bikes. Skeletons wave from Adirondack chairs, Barcaloungers, hammocks.
Skeleton families group together in rockeries. Mama Skeleton holds Baby Skeleton on her lap. Papa Skeleton digs out skeleton hands from the earth. Junior Skeleton hangs out with Doggie Skeleton who holds a bone in his mouth.
Skeleton sporting shades leans back in a chair holding a red drink. Kool-Aid? Somehow, I don’t think so. I sense this is Alcoholic Skeleton. Perhaps family life got to him? Maybe he needed Al-Anon?
Solo Skeleton swings from a tree swing wearing an Audubon cap.
Skeleton on porch holds a pair of binoculars: “The better to see you with, My Dear.”
Skeletons hang from rooftops, climb trees, drape themselves around lamp posts. Skeletons pirate a ship on a lawn. Skeletons dance on porches.
Skeletons, skeletons, skeletons.
Where do all these skeletons come from? Are people buying them on Amazon or do they have skeletons in the closet?
I try to hop on the skeleton bandwagon, but brick and mortar stores are sold out.
Clearly, a case of skulduggery.
Witches, ghosts, and vampires? Sorry, guys, but you are passe this year. Skeletons rule in Halloween 2020.
And rightly so: it seems the Grim Reaper has never shadowed our world so close with COVID, race riots, environmental meltdowns, United States presidential election turmoil.
My 2019 encounter in the grocery store with a young man wearing a Venetian plague mask is so uncanny. Here we are in 2020 and I shop for groceries wearing a plague mask. Hand-sewn, for COVID19. It’s all funny in 2020. I wonder if Venetian plague masks are on-line for ordering? Here’s my sketch of the incident last year:
It is a lovely spring day. As I approach Metropolitan Market, I spot girl students wearing sandwich board signs to Save the Wolves. They want to add me to a list to endorse their cause. I smile, desist from lecturing that wolves like to deceive girls such as them and belong in fairy tales.
A tall, slender youth strides by. He wears a long, black leather coat, black boots with spurs. His face is hidden by a Venetian Plague Mask. It covers his entire head.
Why the mask? What or who is he hiding from?
This is West Seattle, not Venice. The 21st century, not the Dark Ages.
Oh wait: maybe I’ve got that wrong.
He walks past the Save The Wolves girls into Met Market.
“Unusual, eh?” I call out to the girls.
“Maybe he is in a school play or something,” one of them says.
“Hadn’t thought of that.”
I had not thought of that.
No. My first thought, as I enter Met Market: is this guy packin’?
We live in strange times and what is this guy trying to say or prove with the Venetian Plague Mask, the dark leather coat, the boots? It’s not Halloween. Does he have a concealed weapon underneath the costume? Should I even go into the store?
Maybe I need to lighten up.
I grab a grocery cart, brave going into the store.
Plague Mask peers at me from over a pile of fruit as I squeeze an avocodo. He turns and walks down another aisle. The echo of his boots rings in my ears.
Now I have been to Venice but have never been to their carnivals where 16th century Plague Masks are part of the festivities. To my knowledge, Venetians would not be wearing them to grocery stores.
Again, I wonder: is this guy packin’? Will he pull out an AK47 and start shooting?
I better find the store manager.
“There’s a guy walking around here wearing a long, leather coat and a Plague Mask.”
The manager looks at me like I am daft. “A plague mask?”
“You know. Venice. Plague masks. Carnivals.”
“Well, it’s weird. Kind of wonder about him. Hiding behind a mask. And his long coat. Maybe he has a concealed weapon. Just thinking about safety, community.”
“Maybe he’s an actor.”
“That’s what the wolf girls think.”
“The wolf girls?”
“Yeah. The ones that are outside the store.”
The manager shakes his head. “Lady. Is that the guy?” He points to the espresso stand.
The young man has removed the Plague Mask. He holds it in his hand as he chats with the barrista.
“Huh. OK. Just another day in West Seattle.” I smile at the manager and exit.
“Fairy tales,” I declare to the Save the Wolves girls. “That’s where wolves belong.”
In 1908 in Seattle, a ship called “Corona” launched from downtown Seattle to West Seattle with a full deck of passengers. You can faintly make out “Corona” on the front of this ship which was one among others in the Mosquito Fleet.
The Mosquito Fleet ships were so nicknamed because they were small and quick, flitting from one side of the sound to the other.
While I never sailed on this ghost of the past, I did have a mosquito commute to work on the Sightseer which was pleasant.
It took only 12 minutes to cross to downtown Seattle and was far preferable to 40-minute bus and car commutes on the West Seattle Bridge. Less gridlock, less carbon footprints.
Before the Sightseer, I commuted on the Admiral Pete. Pete was much smaller than the Sightseer. He was the first water taxi when Seattle re-launched service in 1999. I used to sit on an open seat in the back and feel the water’s spray against my skin.
But in 2020, things aren’t funny. We are in lockdown now, with cities across the world in the same situation.
The haunting image of the Italian balcony singers of our Corona days presses me to get outdoors as often as possible.
My husband and I ventured out for a walk to Elliott Bay. With Purell in our pockets and donning our disposable gloves, we visited the dock where the water taxis moor.
A water taxi was pulling in. I was curious as to ridership these days, and so I spoke to the ticket taker. Ridership is down 90%, he said, even though King County is offering rides for free.
Social distancing on the water taxi? Of course, what was I thinking? This is the new normal. It just takes so dang long for me to wrap my mind around it all.
But wait, there’s more! A few weeks ago, the City of Seattle decided to shut down the West Seattle Bridge for repairs. There is no timeline for even temporary repairs. We are in a pandemic and the most heavily trafficked bridge in Seattle is closed? People are finding alternate routes, adding more time and requiring more patience, as they attempt to get to appointments, buy essentials.
I’d like to say things are funny in 2020. I’d like to say “bring on the mosquito fleet” so we could all feel salt breezes and avoid gridlock on bridges.
Though I will never feel nostalgic for gridlock, I am nostalgic for mosquito fleets. But also for bridges — which, after all, were first developed by the ancient Romans.