Gullible’s Travels

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Riding high, Alki Beach

Hi.  My name is Gil.  I am a seagull who wised up to the world and this is the story of my travels.

First, a little background.   While still a hatchling in the nest, I used to tap on Mom’s beak for feedings.  The menu?  Vomit.  Seagull regurgitation.  Not exactly the variety my dumpster-diving siblings brought home:   chunks of pizza, French fries, Cheetos.  Once, my sibs even brought home parts of a deer leg.   They fought over it.  Screamed morning till night while I, the little hatchling, was still on a diet of Mom’s vomit.  I adapted, became used to these behaviors.  When Dad hung a shingle on our nest that said Safe Place, I believed it.

Still, after a few months I wanted to stretch my wings.  There was a great big world out there I wanted to explore.

As I soared in the clouds above my oceanic watering hole, I felt a rush from the tickling breeze and believed that the world was my oyster.  Forests, mountains, sea — it was all mine.

Suddenly a disciplined white air force of fellow gulls screeched and swarmed around me.  We were being dive-bombed by an eagle.   Shit bombs explode.  Danger, Danger, my amigos called out.  The raptor snatched a fellow-gull and carried him to the top of an evergreen.  I had evaded the eagle’s hungry eyes.

It was my first lesson in communication and cooperation.  Though we scream at each other — and at you human beings — we know there is safety in numbers.

Since I’ve mentioned humans, why do you folks act like we are snarky when we scream or go after the litter you drop?  Why do we have reputations as walking garbage dumps – we’ll eat anything that moves and a lot that doesn’t —  when you’re the ones tossing that hunk of beef jerky on the pier?

Did you ever stop and think that maybe you are the snarky ones?  To survive in the wild, yes I will even go after Styrofoam cups and cheese wrappers.

I need to come clean about that beef jerky.  I snatched it away from Peg Leg.  Peg Leg is a one-legged gull.  That’s right.  One leg.  I did not ask him how it happened.  No.   TMI.   All I know is that he was hobbling over to the beef jerky and I snatched it from him.   The peeps back home in the nest trained me well.  That’s the thing about sibling rivalry – it teaches you how to be bad-ass.   Man that beef jerky was good.

So with my fill of protein that day, I was flying high.  Maybe too high.  For suddenly, an amigo is cruising along with me in the fluffy clouds babbling to me about foreign object debris.  He points his beak at one of those proud birds with the golden tails.  You know – one of your human contraptions – a jet airplane.  He warns me about colliding with a plane’s windscreen, getting sucked into engines.  Really?

But hey, knowledge is power.  My trust in fellow gulls increases.  I dip away from the airplane, land on the beach to rest.  After a decent sleep, I spot a clam saying “Eat Me.”  I down it, but five minutes later puke it up.

A bummer, you say?  No.  A hidden talent that I would not have learned about if I hadn’t left the nest.  We gulls have superpowers:  we can sense paralytic shellfish poisoning before it’s too late.  Bet you can’t do that!

The brush with the toxic clam leaves me thirsty.  And so I fly over to my favorite watering hole:  the Pacific Ocean.  How many creatures do you know who can drink salt water and live to tell about it?  Sharks, crocodiles, maybe.  That’s gangsta, son.  Another instance of Gull Super Power.

I strut my stuff on the shore, fly over to some beach grass where I find a discarded lamb chop.   Thanks to your beach litter, I am learning your chops.

Sated and content, I fly to a tree limb to rest.  But as I tuck my bill into my feathers, I hear cries from a neighboring tree.  To my horror I witness a mature, fellow gull with a chick egg in his beak.  He just robbed a nearby nest of its newly hatched Gull.  I hear the delicate eggshell crack, and watch the mature one feast on its victim.

What? 

I thought I was gangsta, but this?

No.  This was just too much.  I suddenly felt yearnings for Mom.  And so I flew back that very night to the parental unit.  Is it true, I asked Mom.  Do we eat our own?

To me, this was a simple Yes/No question.  But not to Mom.  She would not give me a direct answer.  Instead, she regurgitated some of the same old pablum for me to gobble up.

 “Oh, Gull, just eat your food,” she said.

“The name’s Gil, Mom.”

“No.  From this day forward I call you Gull.” 

“Huh?”

“C’mon.  Mangia, mangia.”

As for my siblings?  They stared at me with the hungriest eyes I have ever seen.

Confessions of a Mer-Crone

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Mermaid family

We show up regularly to water aquatics class. Mostly women — a few gents too — shaking our booties at 8:00 a.m.  The heavily tatted instructor shouts out the movements:

“Run-in-place:  take it up to a 3!”

Then:  “Now pick it up!  Take it to a 4!!!”

Jeesh.  I was happy at 3.  Why doesn’t she factor in the resistance from the water as we run?   3 could be the new 4.  I need protein.  Why didn’t I eat that egg before I came here?

“Take it to a 6!!!!!.”

Then relief comes — the cross-country ski stride.  Long, luxurious, and slow.

But not for long.

Now it’s “Raise your knees high and wide.  We’re doing tire pumps.”

Next, it’s the bicep-busting Maytag wash machines with water weights, kick-backs for rocking horse which ache my sacroiliac, and finally “the Marilyns.”   This is a set of 100 jumps where we press our foam weights between our thighs.  The instructor named them after Marilyn Monroe.

Don’t ask me why.

And show me a woman in the class who could live up to the Blonde Bombshell’s standard.

No.  We are the Mer-Crones.

Our hair may be gray or dyed or hiding under flowered bathing caps, but we perk up in the water, wear glorious smiles as our float belts carry our spotted, wrinkled, sagging  flesh around the pool.

And we are wise.   Bikinis?  Gauche.   Much more comfy to sport a 1940’s-style Esther Williams swimsuit. You know the kind — the halter one-piece with a bit of drape to cover the tum?  Nice, tight spandex to tuck the bum?

I applaud you, Lands End, for providing quality and variety in women’s swimwear.

Until I discovered LE, finding a good swimsuit was  a search for the Holy Grail.

But back to aquatics class.

I have a hard time keeping up with Mary.   Mary is 75 years old and jabs her water weights like Rocky Graziano.

If I live to be her age, will I have such stamina?

(Confession: back when I was a smirking mermaid, I used to swim laps adjacent to what I deemed The Codgers Aquatics Class.)

How times change😊.

I am in awe of the peeps in class who show up with battle scars.

Take, for instance, one of the men in the class.  “Foghorn Brad” (so named by the instructor for his bellowing interruptions) returned to the pool only three weeks after melanoma surgery.  Though he habitually annoyed the instructor with his thundering disruptions of our foot circles (shouting out REVERSE and causing the water to ripple with his booming voice), I noted that the instructor smiled, glad to see that he had returned.

And me? I shall defend being a mer-crone, whatever the cost may be.  I shall never surrender.

 

Bootcamp

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Memory’s Vault is just off the main trail in Fort Worden.  Once housing coastal defense bunkers, it  is now a place of contemplation.   7-foot high metal monoliths with porcelain enamel plaques contain poems by Sam Hamill. The artwork references gun battles and military function of the Fort.

During writing bootcamp in Port Townsend, it was hard to stay focused.  Nature  and U.S. military history is Writ Large there.  I went far afield on hikes.  The Memory Vault trail is off the beaten path.   The area was originally built as a United States Army installation for the protection of Puget Sound.  Now it’s a place for contemplation.

I was up at the crack of dawn hiking along Admiralty Inlet.   The birds and lighthouse were a 5-minute walk from dormitory:

FortWorden_PortTownsend_Poulsbo_0174      AdmiraltyInletLighthouse

I did manage to focus on writing eventually.  Here’s a 10-minute quick-write for  a Fairy Tale craft lecture.  The prompt?  Re-frame Red Riding Hood  to POV of my choice.  In this case, the  Voice is Red’s hood:

I advised the kid not to wear me on the way to Granny’s cottage.  But she’s known around the village as “Red Cap” and lives up to the name and I am her favorite color.  So I lost that battle.

Other than not listening to me, Red’s a good kid.  She did not sass her Mom when she gave Red a loaf of bread, jug of milk to take to Granny.   (But you should get a load of Red’s sister, Drusilla.  Poster child for misbehavior.  She used to blow smoke in Red’s face when Red was just a babe in the cradle).

So Red and I venture out.  We find ourselves in a field of flowers.  A Monarch butterfly alights on my peak.  I twitch it off.  The kid gathers daisies, Queen Ann’s Lace, bachelor buttons. She puts them in the basket with the loaf of bread, jug of milk. 

We’re almost near Granny’s.  But then the Wolf spots me.   I know he wants to devour the kid so I shake from the peak of my cap to the hem of my cloak.  My magic ripples down the garment, causing Red to drop the bread, milk, flowers.

“What’s going on?” she says.

“I have made us invisible.”

It works.  The wolf darts at the bread and milk instead of us.

“Told you not to wear me in the deep, dark forest,” I say to the kid.  “Red is eye candy for wolves.”

By the time we reach Granny’s door, we are out of breath.  We ring the bell.  She locks us in and the Wolf is left behind chomping away.

 

Do I Contradict Myself?

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Spotted on bike ride in our neighborhood. Message feels global.

 

I have umpteen self-help books on meditation and mindfulness.

Do I practice what they teach?

A bit of background:  As a young lass in the cro-Magnon, pre-digital era, I  signed up for a mantra.  (Partly influenced by the fact that George Harrison was playing sitar and following the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at that time).

I even recall my mantra.  But today it goes something like Om…Om…OMG I forgot I have a dental appointment at 3:00.

How do I know this?  My smart-ass phone just beeped.

OK.  I realize this is a 1st world problem, but though I am thankful for the modern conveniences of our digital age, these days I crave mindfulness.

Am I contradicting myself by being on the blogosphere?  Is this yet another distraction?  If so, I am in company with the Good Gray Poet, Walt Whitman:  “Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then I contradict myself,  I am large, I contain multitudes.”

At any rate, I left Chicago in the 1990’s and moved to Seattle.  Mt. Rainier, the Pacific Ocean, the Hoh Rain Forest — all eye candy for me and my husband.

And something else called out that was new and exciting:  the Internet.  When we arrived to this high-tech city, the Internet was just a dirt road, not yet a superhighway, nor had it become The Cloud.

The Internet was cool; I enjoyed scootering on the dirt road.   I created a health and safety intranet site for the organization I worked for.  But then, during a walk on the beach, I spotted a young man wearing a t-shirt that said “Rage Against The Machine.”

The t-shirt was disconcerting enough, but at the time I was also reading a book titled I Live In The Future and Here’s How It Works:  Why Your World, Work and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted: 

“There needs to be a way to opt out of the constant retrieval of images, audio, and information. What do we do when the Internet or computers refuse to forget?”

And “The Internet is changing our concept of location, trust, space, time and connections.”

The dark web is undeniably out there today.  But I like blogging.

Walt Whitman, will you please travel to the future and help me deal with these contradictions?

 

 

 

Not a Truffle

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She is random she is free and uncontrolled by time and space. The clock shatters when she appears.

She is the Muse, a butterfly offering on-again, off-again glimpses of light to those open to her inspiration.  Try and catch her, but not with the nets of over-thinking. If I take a walk, ride my bike, she might return.

If I try too hard, she disappears. A muse, after all, is not a truffle to be rooted out from the earth by pigs and served up at the dinner table for $200 a pop.

In our time-starved world she is free to visit wherever, whenever and whomever she wants.   Are you a Mother longing for time to write?   Listen for her whispers even though you yourself may feel like a babe alone in the woods. Or you may actually be in the woods, walking a shoreline, standing in line at a subway station, at the check-out buying groceries.

It doesn’t matter where or when or how she shows up.  Maybe you like to write at cafes in the early morning and you are halfway through your double Americano when an image, a sentence creeps in.

She shows up Anytime.  Dawn, noon, dusk, midnight.

Is she fairy, is she mist?

All I know is that if I stay in the Now, silent in my head, hopeful in my heart, I might feel inspired.  I have a notebook handy, a tape recorder.  Whatever I am doing she just might show up.

 

Primordial Life

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The swamp is gone.  I steer the car to the side of the road and park under the shade of a Dutch Elm.  Crossing the road  (paved,no longer gravel),  I wander to where the marsh was, recall the chorus of crickets and frogs that lulled me to sleep as a child.

No soothing chirrups, no cattails.  Only grass.  My gaze sweeps to the split-level house.

The rev of a lawn mower.  A strange woman rides it, cuts swaths in the grass.  I notice that the chokecherry tree is gone along with the tire swing.

I watch the woman make pivots with the machine.

And the weeping willow?  Vanished also.

Isn’t it poetry the way that tree weeps?  I flinch — realize that I sound  like my Mother.

The woman angles the mower toward the fence at the rear of the property.  It’s then I notice the cornstalks in the distance.  Yes!  The maize waves in the summer breeze, reassures.  The warm, sweet scent of silky corn hair as I played hide and seek with other children.

The woman circles the mower towards an unfamiliar tool shed.  She shuts it off and dismounts like a seasoned cowgirl.  Her hand dips into her shirt pocket and she pulls out a pack of cigarettes.  Tapping one out, she lights it and surveys the work she’s done.  Then her platinum blond head turns in my direction.

“Hello,” I call out, moving towards her.

She flicks ash off her cigarette and the corners of her mouth rise in a smile.  I remove my sunglasses.  Her hazel eyes are warm, friendly; somehow the crow’s feet add to their sparkle. An aroma like freshly baked bread escapes the chambray shirt she wears.

I hold out my hand to clasp hers in greeting.  “I hope you don’t mind my snooping.  I lived here when I was a girl.”

The woman’s name is Barbara and when I tell her my parents last name, she recalls my mother.  In a gravelly voice, she tells of Mother stopping by once to ask for some plantings from the back yard.   How could she refuse such a sweet little widow wanting flowers for her husband’s grave?

Barbara offers to show me the house.  She leads me to an enclosed porch with wicker furniture.

“The patio used to be here.  There were no screens.”

“Mosquitoes,” Barbara answers, “a nuisance out here.”

I don’t recall this being a problem.  What I remember is fireflies glowing and dancing in the distance.

Barbara leads me to the living room.  The picture window is enlarged and there’s a wrap-around view of the grass that replaced the swamp.  I am not disturbed by the changed house but the disappearance of the marsh with its humming, primordial life makes me sad.  It teemed with crickets and frogs and we children dipped into it to catch tadpoles.

As I stand in my old living room with this stranger, I feel how time distorts place.  It is like returning home after travelling long and far away.  How rooms seem as small as those of a doll’s house, how they cramp the humans inside.

The humans who look outward for primordial life.

 

 

This is So Serious

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Every now and then a scene from the movie Royal Tennenbaums, bubbles up in my thoughts and I laugh.  In the movie, Ben Stiller is hyper-vigilant for disaster.  Ben plays the character Chas and he has two little boys.  Chas has his boys practice timed fire drills in the house.   Fire alarms blaring in the background, Chas yells at the boys to go, go go!  Once they safely exit the house, Chas clicks on his stop-watch to see if he and his boys will survive or be burned to a crisp.

I can relate to Chas’s character.  I, too, have been known to awfulize.    Perhaps my vigilance for disaster began in childhood.  I had a vivid imagination and once believed I saw the outline of a bear in the darkened hallway of our house.   It turned out to be a pile of rugs.

Then, when I was seventeen disaster did hit — my Father collapsed in the house and died from a massive heart attack.

But what’s over is over.  All I’ve got is today.  Why not have faith that there is a reason for the way things happen?

Being crisis-oriented is horrible.  It robs life of joy, detracts from living in the moment.

Oddly, my worries took on a deja-vu turn a few years ago.  My husband collapsed in the kitchen and at first I thought it was a repeat of what I experienced with my Father.  But it was not a heart attack.  He’d been broiling Leeks Au Gratin and bubbling cheese dribbled down the rubber mitts he wore, burning his wrist.

The doctor in the Emergency Room lightened things up about the Leeks disaster, joked about wine pairings.

My husband still makes Leeks Au Gratin.  I just look the other way.

 

 

Sew What?

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Atta Girl!  I commend myself for measuring, cutting, pressing and sewing a curtain valance today.  The inner critic wants to berate that the rain drop pattern (white raindrops on black cotton fabric – I love black and white design) is not moving in the correct direction.  Raindrops fall downwards, the critic says.  They don’t travel sideways and they certainly don’t levitate skyward. 

If that isn’t enough, the critic starts in on my math skills:  You should have measured and cut more carefully.  If the width of the fabric is 42” and your window is 75” and you stitched the two 42” pieces together to make 84,” how come the valance looks skimpy?

Inner critics are such bores.  I silence her with a gentle voice, letting her know that instead of skimpy, I prefer the word minimalist.  My goal is a valance with a Zen feel to it – no frou-frou for me, thank you.

And if raindrops in the fabric pattern travel sideways and levitate skyward, oh well.   I call it artistic license.

Liver Days

I was edgy.  The caterwauling at 2:00 a.m. was keeping me awake.  It was the cat’s sleep or mine.  It was time to take our tabbie to the animal hospital to have her put down.
But neither of us could stand the thought of Mimi taking her last gasps on a clinical metal table.

Luckily, I discovered a local veterinarian who made house calls.

“I’m phoning the home pet vet,” I told my husband.

Showing up in her starched white doctor’s jacket with her medical bag (straight out of a Norman Rockwell illustration – and this was for a pet, mind you), the vet took one look at our 5-pound cat, listened to our description of her dwindling appetite, ran some tests and confirmed that Mimi had kidney disease.

The vet recommended daily hydration injections through an IV catheter.

“It’s simple,” she said, demonstrating by lifting a lump of fur on the cat’s back and poking it with a needle connected to a plastic hydration pouch.

I have a dread of needles going into anything other than a sewing machine.   It didn’t look simple to me.

And the cat?  I could see that her feline dignity was clearly insulted:  “Huh?  How would you like carrying a plastic pouch on your back?” was the overall attitude as she skulked away.

Then the vet recommended we start cooking Mimi some liver.  From that day forward we did not own the cat, the cat owned us.

I gave my husband free reign — both with buying and sauteeing the liver and poking the cat with the IV needles.  But the caterwauling at 2:00 a.m. did not stop.  I was tired and between the vet bills and hydration bags and trips to Whole Foods for liver, Mimi was costing us.

The bigger cost, though, was my sleep.

“Eeeeeoooowwww.”   The piercing cry grew louder with each shrinking ounce of cat.
Her huge green eyes seemed to look into my soul as I warmed milk for myself in the wee hours of the night.

I felt nostalgic for the days she used to circle her kibble bowl as if she were a Cheetah moving in for the kill, crunching dry food as if it were zebra bones.   I felt guilty and conflicted in my heart about her euthanasia, but I did not offer her my milk.

“Do you think we’ll be treated this well when we’re elders,” I asked my husband.

He shrugged.

And then, on one of those insomniac nights, I happened upon a quote from Mark Twain:

A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.

That was it!  It was as if we were carrying Mimi by the tail and all her caterwauling was at us for meddling with her natural process of dying.   Her rebuffing food, her pleas to end it all in the middle of the night.

Set me free, I imagined Mimi screaming.

And so we had the home pet vet pay her last call.   My husband stayed true to the end in ministering to Mimi.  I left it to him to hold her in his lap while the doctor gave the fatal dose.  Tears streamed down both our faces.

“Do you want me to cart Mimi away, cremate her, send her ashes to you in the mail?” the vet asked.

“Of course we do,” we said.

“I also offer a plaster impression of paws.  Would you like me to cast one for you?”

“Of course we do,” we said.

Within a week we received Mimi’s fancy container of ashes in the mail.   And at Christmas Mimi’s plaster cast nestles in our tree.

I painted these words underneath her paw print:  Liver Days.

Northwest Folk Life Festival, 2010

A youth staples dollar bills to his bare chest.
A woman reacts:  “I will pay you twenty dollars not to see that.”
The stapled man accepts the twenty, stays planted in his pain
between the Black Death All-Stars
and the Festival Food truck hawking Pennsylvania Dutch Funeral Cakes.

I imagine the stigmata of his wounded childhood:
Smashed arm off a recliner chair, crumpled beer cans, and his father’s leather belt.
In his Mother’s coffee cup, the ash heap of regrets pile high, turns green.
She once dressed him as Medusa for Halloween.

The bleat of a bagpipe drifts on the wind –
“It’s so lonely round the fields of Athenry.”

A young girl says “Let’s go to the fountain.”
Her friend wears a sign – “Willing to sell I-phone to buy ride home.”

On another stage, a young capitalist offers “Expensive Ass Hugs.”
His counterpoint, a maiden in white, announces “Free Kisses If You Measure Up.”

Centrifugal Force.  Like a carnival ride where the floor drops out,
youth spinning, pinned, with no connection home.

Just open-mouthed shock, slack laughter.