We stood in a gentle drizzle waiting for the bus this morning, you would’ve observed Adam tired but cheerful to his mitochondrial level the day after pinballing about the Evergreen State Fair with his mother and three pals, in observance of his twelfth birthday and no you weren’t seeing things, he was finally wearing his new spectacles, glad to have gotten rid of those droopy duct-taped other (horseplay several weeks ago at Grandma’s house). Wonderful times were had at the fair, honestly the timing couldn’t have been better, that’s because Saturday night the entire shebang closed early after a truly remarkable lightning storm which persisted for several hours, even Oliver Fern stayed up late to watch with us from upstairs, rapt observation of those countless thunderbolts (count’em, two thousand groundstrikes that evening) approaching from the south whereupon the football stadium below at the university would switch to eerie floodlights, sending fans scrambling to the concourses for last rites.
Zilch fair-going for the junior varsity as Oliver Fern opted out of manure smells, ridescreaming and sore feet, having already done the Puyallup last weekend (while this party pooper has politely declined backward and forward in the time machine, having meandered my share of midways for a lifetime). Oliver and I spent degrees of Sunday studying maps, navigation and venturing north across the Ship Canal up to Phinney Ridge, a tall prominence which to the east offers pleasant views of Green Lake and the Cascade Mountain range while the western slope offers wide-ranging vistas of a pie shop. We perused the stacks at that wonderfully-appointed branch library at the edge of Greenwood before wishy-washingly nudging back onto Phinney where we browsed the shelves at the boutiquey bookshop which is now doing fine on account of our pocketbook and thereafter found ourselves party to the most infuriating sort of slow-motion automotive fender scraper-bender which was offset somewhat by that encounter with a pleasant, bookish young man dazed at the prospect of future entanglement with the body shop cartel yet who offered the most sportsmanlike, consolatory handshake goodbye in the raindrops which I did accept (both the handshake and the raindrops) with some relief. So it is that I find myself this morning preparing to bake a birthday cake, the task of which I’d apparently been given a badly-needed reprieve from by the Gods, for you see the electricity was knocked out for one and one-half hours but lo! that’s passed for the oven is now preheating for what feels like a risqué performance art piece representing my worthlessness.
postscript: Doggone it! You won’t believe this but the cake turned out fantastic, if only the helium of butter and cocoa wrought by the double-layer creation could be hyperlinked here but believe me that no offense was taken at those flirty but sympathetically backhanded insinuations later by the boys’ mother that a substantial degree of beginner’s luck was involved for nary a mention was made concerning those half dozen panicked FaceTimes, haha! Tonight after some hard math, Adam wandered a couple miles through the neighborhood and Led Zeppelin III on his own (that particular album at the advice of his uncle) while Oliver Fern read to me from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Ugh, Narnia Schmarmia.
addendum to the postscript: And so I kept putting this off because life is sorta passing perforated notebook paper glider-me like a Concorde supersonic airliner, just Old News Nellie as usual…….
As pleasant a sunny disposition you’ll find out of me, summertime weariness replenished by fall semester’s flood tide of new freedoms and so it was that I released the shutter for back-to-school pictures on the front steps, this morning’s portraits bathed emerald green, giddy Oliver Fern framed in the gracefully arching myrtle and Boston ivy, the vining latter of which seems far more at home scaling the regal sandstone of those neo-gothic buildings a mile or two down the hill at the university versus the tacky, shabby asbestos-filled shingle of our house. The boys love school (though one of them has graduated to the minefield of unique cruelties and confusing locker combinations that can be junior high) but still I did my best to exercise a certain degree of Monday-morning empathy so as not to seem overly obvious. My cheeriness was temporarily tempered by the mountainously uphill climb (everyone click their carabiners three times!) several blocks to big brother’s new bus stop with the older kids. We’ll miss those pleasant strolls downvalley to the old waiting place, not to mention the centrifugal force (lopsided backpacks) of gravity those mornings we took too long, racing for the yellow limo like lame racehorses. On the bright side, by the time I’m back down to the house my metabolism’s gonna be that optimal simmer, perfect for journaling once or twice a week over a cup of coffee before smartly tackling the morning shift. Ding!
Still a touch bedraggled from a week of sleeping on the ground with the bugs in the San Juan Islands, Adam nevertheless cheerfully joined me for this walk which I’d been saving myself up for (don’t fail me now, feet) and by the end of the day we’d meandered twelve enjoyably convoluted miles over the ruggedest kind of parkland. He’s such a good sport, part of me worried I totally bamboozled him back at the house as to particulars of the journey but never a single time did he complain so I won’t bother humorously kvetching here about the sticky, preternaturally coagulated, titaniumized mass of formerly chocolate mints which had spilled then moltenized in his rucksack, that will require industrial sandblasting for removal lest a trail of fresh-breathed ants find their way out of the closet under the stairs to let the entire colony know about the chocolatier offering free samples.
This is unique backcountry at the mountain pass above our town, an exceptional place to wander artistic cracks and hollows in rock gardens of tangled elfin trees and heather. After scooting an absentminded vole off the path and admiring curiously uncurious pikas and other small mammals of the subalpine we climbed over dinner-plate and Yugo-sized felsenmeer to a mountaintop where we signed the summit register containing soggy papers but which left us sunny inside. Halfheartedly attempting a sketch of the complicated basin below us, Adam folded his pencil box shut (not before losing a brown #5 in the rocks) in favor of more chocolate and listened with me to the sounds of quiet. For the descent we followed interminable contours into crannies, crossing parklike meadows down the mountainside into forest at dusk where we listened to the chattiest owl in bird history, shortly thereafter making the acquaintance in the dark of one Recently Retired Rodney of Ellensburg (where he has lived all his life excepting a brief spell in Denver) who having spent the week on the Pacific Crest Trail commencing some seventy miles north and having detoured to some hot springs for a soak and having made a laborious ascent earlier that morning via wickedly overgrown trail, was gladder than glad to see us and join in the owl fun. A delightful companion for the remainder of the walk, we gave him a ride (told you he was glad to see us) to the petrol station across from the ski hill in order that he could wait for his friend taxi from Ellensburg on the other side of the crest, putt-putt-putt. Maybe buy himself a chocolate bar? He deserved it.
This phosphorescent, sinuous vista was the roof of Orcas Island last summer, in June. The oddest juxtaposition, this mossy slope and adjacent, trailing kinnikinnick! Adam and I tarried along the crown of Mount Constitution before dropping like a broken elevator to the lake below, the name of which escapes me as the island is saddled with a number of bland, forgettable place-names. The depth of field here is my cup of tea though it calls to mind a Corgi with grass-stained tummy (it’s my aperture). Several miles from the base of Constitution is home to Camp Orkila, where Adam has spent a portion of the past week (most of his time has been on Satellite Island camping under the stars). During this particular occasion we were sharing a rustic home on the island with dear friends who currently are packing boxes for a move from Ann Arbor to Philadelphia. When I should visit next hasn’t quite been figured out, I do love them and owe a call-upon. Summer seems a virtually miserable time in the big cities back east (woe the edginess humidity hath wrought) but they’re both university academics so my favorite season (autumn) is probable to be inconvenient unless I’m in the mood for mostly exploring on my own, which I sort of could be, in the evenings regale them with exploits from my zany adventures, like almost wetting myself during a DEFCON 1 search for a sanitary public toilet after miles of walking through history with five cups of coffee.
This morning, Oliver Fern and I counted coins, depositing them into the pretty blue vase from whence we dumped them out last evening (in search of quarters for an apéritif at the hilltop arcade, he played five games of Super Mario Kart followed by quiet browsing at the bookshop down the street). Curiosity got the best of us at breakfast-time, quizzing one another as to the worth of those tarnished nickels, dimes, and quarters and the grand total arrived at forty three dollars and ninety-three cents, not counting currency from Canada and Chuck E. Cheese and coin counting eventually circled to Orcas Island as I explained the history of the vase to Oliver. It came from a little farm in Crow Valley on the island, quite a long time ago. In the back of a clapboard house was a small barn with rickety shelves and Black Widows, that’s where we picked out the vase.
This morning finds me on the melancholy side, for second-youngest brother who is among the best and funniest uncles on the planet, his visit next weekend kiboshed on account of the soul-crushing demands of ruthless upstairs capitalism, I’m dreadfully disappointed but he has a young family to take care of along with a gruesome fixer-upper in Logan Square. Every day he rides the train to his office in the heart of the Loop where he disembarks into an urban obstacle course, dodging missiles of traffic through fearsome, shadowy Ayn Randian canyons of glass towers before sitting down at a leaning tower of papers stacked five feet high where he conducts drastically serious maneuvers of reasoning and logic. He’s the real big brother, one of us was fated to circle back to the Windy City, carry on the tradition, no one is more Chicago than him. Two winters ago we stood side-by-side for an impromptu portrait of our families together, much later I startled to see the photograph: Little brother towers over me in crisp business casual, impeccably groomed while I’m discomfitingly hillbilly, long hair curtaining my shoulders, it was hard not to cringe a bit at the Wild Bill Hickock staring back. Some of us are comfortable with the tradeoff when it comes to personal grooming (there’s only so much time in the day) yet the portrait was a jarring reveal and last night, before heading up the hill for the arcade, found me trimming nearly my entire beard and mustache with dainty sewing scissors, I haven’t kept a razor for twenty years (where do I even go for a haircut?) and forgot my nose is sort of crooked, courtesy of an old schoolyard brawl. Oliver beheld with perceptible disappointment his less hirsute father as recently he finished Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in which I’d served as the mental composite for his Hagrid.
Finally, this morning (when Oliver and I were scriss-scrossing tallies, plinking coins into the vase) my thoughts turned a quarter rotation to Adam. Several nights ago, struggling to fall back asleep I found myself reflecting upon the thorny ethics of the journal, writing about my teenager-in-the-wings. It dawned on me with clarity how devastated or conflicted his future self could be to find these accountings, if they go on much further. Up until now, I think it’s been fine. He has always been just a boy, after all. It’s like the time mother showed your first serious steady the ridiculous Kodak featuring you at four years old, the underwear is on your head (it’s supposed to be a deep sea diving helmet) and you’re itching your nekkid parts. Who gives a flying leap? But I’ve gotten past that point. Naivety or good intentions aren’t on my side, anymore. Adam deserves the right to tell his own story. It’s time for me to start standing on my two feet.