It’s certainly no longer autumn through the mountain passes. This indisputable truth was revealed to us a few days ago during a snowy tromp which devolved into a heron-like choreography of frosty one-two-threes (not unlike beleaguered, bundled-up sumo wrestlers) northwardly over-and-sometimes-through thigh-high drifts along an historic, abandoned portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. With surprising accuracy, the boys found it delightful sport to free snow laden boughs (directly above my head) from their wintry burden and it was barely cold enough for tolerating the fluffy blizzard-dusters (warmer but wetter plops can hurt).
It’s shivery up high (unless a Pineapple Express comes along and puts a damper on things) but one of my favorite rituals in the lowlands before autumn really fades and everything turns gray-green is documenting our festering, rotted jack o’ lanterns because that’s when even the most uninspired carvings will take on life their own but owing to the time-honored tradition of post-Hallows Eve pumpkin-smashing by who-the-heck-knows-who (pampered, spoiled rats have been known to pry in search of forgotten seeds and send gourds rolling) my subjects have dwindled to an odd couple perched atop the sidewalk and I expect they’ll be meeting their grisly denouement at any time.
Speaking of grisly denouements, macabrely entertaining meals for the Venus flytrap include Halyomorpha halys (the stinkbug) in that they don’t go down without a fight, veritable gladiators in the face of certain death. This morning we delivered a would-be juicy package of protein with the bug tweezers but it clawed its way to freedom so we brought him back and the ugly little bugger once again refused to go silently into the night. The discomfiting scene of stick legs feebly wiggling for freedom was unsettling to me and I couldn’t help opining on this sinister business, the feeding of his little monster but Adam reminded me rather brutally there are no vegetarians in our household. I’m not going to disavow my notions that easily but it is creepy the way the bony, ugly things come crawling nose-first down the drapes on some sort of bug mission such as crawling into bed with me. Feed the little monster!
Where the stinkbugs come from, your guess is as good as mine but it could be someplace like the woodpile. I don’t know how many cords are sitting there outside the kitchen window but it makes the boys proud and frankly it makes me feel manlier having it around although I worry a little about termites. We don’t have a fireplace let alone a wood stove, that’s true. On the other hand, the neighbor’s murderous cat has one less place from which to creep and pounce upon unsuspecting birds just minding their own business, window-shopping their way down to Grandma Bird’s treetop in the Arboretum. The pussycat had it in for me from the first, I believe for no reason at all. Our relationship is damaged beyond repair, unlike that bond which I shared with his predecessor, an orange tabby who before succumbing to old age (limping through the flowers with hurting kidneys, he’d arrive to me desperate for drinks from the garden hose or lick water-drops off the leaf-tops) always stopped by for tea and napped in the upstairs closet where he’d paw a nest out of my dirty laundry. Furthermore, the bad chap has the most ridiculous swinging teats which certainly must hinder him each and every dash from cars, dogs, hurried package delivery drivers and other hazards of the urban environment.
postscript: The inspiration for this musing was a set of interesting close-ups featuring a giant stinkbug being devoured alive but several months later upon editorial review by the Probably Should Get Rid of this and Start Over with Something Else Committee it hardly struck a chord and no wonder since the Venus flytrap is now in hibernation (a very unimpressive, solitary green sprig resembling prison-yard flagpole is holding down the fort) and I conceded perhaps turning my gaspy, wheezy journal into a B horror movie isn’t the way to go. As a paean to the rhythms of life, ramblings have been left alone (including halfhearted complaining about uncharismatic, naughty house-cats) and the spotlight instead swiveled to horribly foul gourds.
It was official last night: You could hear boiling in the radiators while the gremlins in our hundred-year-old pipes did their initial mischievous clanging and a final inspection revealed no toy trucks, MacBook power cords or drapes in danger of forge by the finned hulks sentineled about the house. No leaks, either. It would have been nice to make it to the end of the month before firing up the stove but a heap of deferred maintenance means the house is currently a sieve owing to decaying window caulking in high, scary places along with crooked sills and missing shingles. I’ve always taken a certain pleasure being on display at night for nosey dog walkers or wayward tourists hopelessly lost after a long walk in the Arboretum (baffled by where the real top of the hill could be) but come November the blinds and drapes get tucked cozy to keep the outside out.
Last week in the grocery store a bent-over, feisty old lady shuffled after me like an octogenarian Ms. Pac Man. This commenced after she tapped me on the back of the arm, offering a matronly how-do-you-do and explaining her eyes were starting to go south (macular degeneration) and since it’s getting trickier choosing (stuff is going south or long rides from there) I helped her in Produce. She seemed a little off her rocker (forgive me for sounding like an ageist jerk but I had the intuitive sense she had always been bizarro) and while weirdos don’t faze me, small talk with strangers is not my forte and she seemed disappointed yet determined to adopt me as hairy hunchbacked companion and indeed did I have the distinct, out-of-body sensation of mute fairy tale creature reunited with the resident forest godwitch come to benevolently touch him on the head with her wand. Watching her wave handfuls of greens underneath her nose for antteatery whiffs or stare sideways through melons like peepholes in a motel room door brought waves of recollection……… years ago in Willamette Valley country I was acquainted with a retired Lockheed engineer also clinging to self-sufficiency in spite of similarly deteriorating eyes and I remembered what a frustrated, ornery fucker he was when it came to favors (we volunteered together a few times a week and I weathered Jekyll and Hyde swings since I was a kid who knew nothing and feared [or stood in awe] of the man, having been made privy to credible Flash Gordon sort of rumors involving his ideas which had changed the course of history). For the rest of the day I wondered if I’d ever see this woman again and how on earth she got to or from the market. The boys and I have been on our own an awful lot and when this happens, life feels exceptionally fragile and every sunbeam and dark cloud take on exhausting gravitas.
Regarding less weighty matters, I was relieved to finish Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, my copy being the twentieth anniversary edition featuring a never-ending epilogue of cringe-inducing backpatting along with bonus where-are-they-nows. Bouton was ahead of his time for a jock but to distance myself from a detestable sort of hyper-masculinity of sports writing I dove into Stacey May Fowles’ Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game that Saved Me. It was grating at first what a sentimental shill she could seem for Major League Baseball but there’s more than meets the eye and it was a breath of fresh air. Nevertheless, I’ve exceeded my quota of sports-related books for the foreseeable future. In between Ball Four and Baseball Life Advice I read Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn and The Tripods books by John Christopher (my mother had reminisced to me recently about reading this young adult series and I found it predictably cheesy but enjoyable).
Several nights ago on the way to the Central Library, an excessively above-and-beyond field trip for a fourth grade school project having to do with medieval castles, the Ramones (requested by the boys) were vibrating from the speakers but all the better to drown out the inane banter from one of Adam’s yakkier pals. Following Beat on the Brat a few tracks later was the song about sniffing glue and it dawned on me that a line could be getting stepped over. Speaking of glue, Adam wore a brown ensemble to school, several weeks ago: Brown shirt, brown pants tucked into scuffed-brown cowboy boots because he’s assistant administrator for a group of seven of the smartest, nicest boys in the fourth grade who’ve formed the National Security Secret Club (the boys are heavy into unicorns so it’s not bad as it sounds) headquartered in a den burrowed out of wood chips under the playground’s catwalk or slide, I’m not sure because he was unforthcoming with the coordinates it being a secret club. Your guess is good as mine as to what purpose this fudgily-bureaucratic sounding club could possibly serve and I couldn’t help good-naturedly razzing Adam that he resembled a zookeeper, my only recommendation for the club being the boys switch to more upbeat, less authoritarianish colors. Unfortunately, he (and me) got in hot water because dressing up like a grocery sack for picture day at school is a surefire recipe for retakes and furthermore he origamied his shirt collar dracula-style (repeat of a past prank which was not well-received despite a thousand watt smile) and tonight he and I naughtily reminisced with satisfaction about this during penmanship. While I’d rather be chatting over my last cup of tea with him about geography or natural history, cursive is considered expendable by the school district these days so I’m having us work on it hard now before other things become more important.
Lately, I’ve grown more consumed than usual with the idea of teaching the boys as much as possible before I die as they’ll be needing to take care of their mother when I’m gone. At least one of them will have to pull down a comfortable salary if she’s to remain in the city unless she opts to live out her days quietly on the Peninsula in which case one or the other (or both) boys will need to not mind the periodic long drive out to Port Angeles and they’ll have to be good with their hands for fixing problems such as under the kitchen sink. Last weekend, Adam installed the new tire on the old wheelbarrow. This weekend we’re clearing off the work bench so he can start on his model kit (a classic Dodge number). I’m a little worried about fumes from the glue.
postscript: I’m still here (with run-on sentences, dangling participles and such). These particular musings were borne from a gloomy, rainy evening last October and although I’m making it my first post of January in the new year, I’m backdating it to eliminate confusion. I’ve never really known how to start back up after these extended lay-offs. Still, when I crank up the dusty WordPresser the warm, fuzzy feeling comes back.
After the steep, always delightfully roguish descent down sandy bluff (far easier than usual due to overnight showers which stabilitized the ordinarily terrible footing) through colorful maples and green nettles, Oliver Fern and I spent several hours wandering the beach at relatively low tide. After inspecting untold numbers of tiny crabs and undertaking a handful of meandering detours around ghastly, slippery clay leaching and oozing out of the forest above into the shallows of Elliott Bay, we eventually happened upon a derelict runabout, a garish-orange Whitehouse full of putrid seawater and gravel and we pried the dangling, corroded nameplate off with a mussel shell, loving found objects much as we do (Oliver Fern insisted we tow the boat home, cleverly appealing to my sensibilities with a most intriguing proposal involving containerized Saguaro cacti in the backyard). The boys and I’ve discovered lots of broken-up old boats on the Whulge, over the years. They’re terrific finds for children and their shutterbug fathers, akin to strolling along forest paths which mysteriously lead to meadowy clearings underneath abandoned treehouses with thick rope ladders hanging down. Obviously, if a treehouse appears suspiciously well-constructed of cookies, gingerbread and the like, you turn and run the other way unless your dad insists it looks safe (even tests the rope himself).
The youngest bicyclist in our household is only a few months removed from training wheels and has a bike with one gear so initially the boys and I stuck to sidewalks for our Saturday afternoon ride: Starting with a delightfully long downhill (distant views of the university’s football stadium) and then gradually leveling off into the Montlake neighborhood where tenured professors live in tidy houses with those telltale neat but frumpy yards that convey organized people with not a lot of time and which feature improperly-pruned fruit trees with watershoots like cellular radio towers (not that bad pollarding stuff, either) and that mess the sidewalk with rotting manna and protrude branches which hang down and poke you in the head. Sprinkled in are fancier, somewhat larger older homes lived in by aging code monkeys from 1998 who conscientiously ride their bikes astonishingly long distances but will bus it on rainy days and finally you have the smattering of dark little bungalows inhabited by curmudgeonly native Seattleites who go for walks in the Arboretum to blow off steam and scowl at English ivy like newcomers from Michigan, ripping it all down bare-handed.
After stopping several times to browse uninspiring yard sales consisting of broken radio control cars and embarrassingly bad music collections, we continued across the ship canal (stopping on the bridge to admire boat traffic this magnificent blue-green day) and joined up with the Burke Gilman Trail for a leisurely ride eastward, though the final push to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard was rather unpleasant as a matter of course. Throughout and during this time we paid a visit to the hordes on Kite Hill in Gas Works Park, got milkshakes (root beer and strawberry) in Fremont and whizzed past giddy beerphiles at Oktoberfest.
On Sunday, we rode the full length of the Elliott Bay Trail and that’s where these pictures come from. We were crosstown for Adam’s game in Magnolia, a place which I find positively dreadful to the fullest with the exception of that one Discovery Park (which we have not visited since the Victoria-ish rupture that sent alligator turds streaming like Atlantic Salmon into Elliott Bay) and it being such a pleasant, warm afternoon it seemed like it’d be an awfully fun save to squeeze in another summery ride and so we dodged ornery yellowjackets, swerved around grouchy guys with fishing poles and raced rumbling locomotives that crawled in the train yard next to us. There was a breathtaking popcorn sky over the grain silos on the way to the sculpture park but the boys wanted to keep going so I settled for left-overs on the return to Smith Cove.