CRICKETS AND COYOTES


008

The cheerful sound of cricket song beckons me outdoors in the lingering warmth of late summer evenings and I plop myself down under a fig tree to soak it all in; apples ripening on their trees, and figs already sharing their deliciousness. The hydrangea blossoms are packing it in for the year, but in their dry state they will fill autumn vases for a month or so. Across the yard, the large orange tree has been warning me to harvest the fruit unless I want to pick it up off the brick patio. Raymundo promised to come and pick some Friday, but he never showed up. There will be more.

Reluctantly I return to the quiet house, loyal Charlie at my heels, ready for bed and wondering what I find so engaging in the nighttime garden.

The night grows deeper and Dr. Advice slumbers on. The crickets have gone to sleep and the only sound is the primeval yipping of coyotes conversing somewhere outside the garden enclosure. It is late in the year for pupping, but with the drought having depleted water supplies, maybe they are just thirsty. Though the sound is annoying, and I am happy to have Charlie safely indoors, it does not stir a flight response in me as the long mournful howl of a wolf would surely bring.

coyote

As an omnivore, coyotes have adapted to food sources all over the world, some food choices to our benefit.
To many Native American cultures, coyotes were powerful mythological figures venerated for their intelligence and mischievous nature. The Aztec name for the coyote was “coyotyl” which translates to “trickster”. The Navajo sheep and goat herders referred to the coyote as “God’s Dog”. I like that name better.

It’s the push and pull of the life force–cricket song inviting our participation, and coyote song pushing us into our own safe dens, allowing them to rule the night.

Advertisements

SWIMMING IN THE MOONLIGHT


mermaid
“The Mermaid” Painting by Audrey Mabee

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“People sometimes try to convince me that I am drowning.

If that’s true I can breathe underwater.

But I can’t just swim away like a mermaid.

And sometimes I do struggle,

But most of the time my eyes secure themselves

with a deadened glaze and rest in the dankness of my brain.

I know there is no life guard on duty, but if you want to

swim in the moonlight there usually isn’t.

If I go under, the water’s cool, cushiony embrace

Will envelop my tired body and lay me on the

Powdery sand to rest.”

POEM BY KATE NICKERSON, when in high school

WAS HUMPTY DUMPTY AN EGG?


Humpty Dumpty_crop

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses,
And all the king’s men,
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

Humpty Dumpty has become so popular a nursery figure and is pictured so frequently that few people today think of the verse as containing a riddle. The reason the king’s men couldn’t put him together again is known to everyone.

It’s more than probable that Humpty was a parody of someone in public office who fell out of favor, and thus was beyond redemption. We have all seen a few of that sort. But how did he become an egg?

We have John Tenneil to blame for our perception of Humpty. He was an artist and political cartoonist in the latter part of the 19th century, who contributed to Punch magazine for over 50 years. He was also famous for illustrating Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through The Looking Glass”, both of which are so famous I think it’s safe to say that Tenneil’s vision of an egg sitting on a wall tickled our sense of the ridiculous.

‘It’s very provoking to be called an egg–very’ as Humpty admits in “Through The Looking Glass”, but such common knowledge cannot be gainsaid.

What is not so certain is for how long the riddle has been known. It does not appear in early riddle books, but this may be because it was already so well-known. Students of linguistics believe that it is one of those pieces the antiquity of which is to be measured in thousands of years, or rather that it is so great that it cannot be measured at all.

The Humpty Dumpty of England is known as Boule-Boule in France, Thille Lille in Sweden, Lille-Trille in Denmark, and so on throughout the different parts of Europe. All double-rhyming words, easy and fun for children to sing. The word Humpty Dumpty is given in the Oxford English Dictionary for a boiled ale-and-brandy drink from the end of the seventeenth century.

The earliest reference to Humpty Dumpty as a squat, comical little person appears in the caption to an engraving with the title ‘A Lilliputian Prize Fighting’ published sometime between 1754 and 1764. Part of the caption reads:

Sir Humpty Dumpty fierce as a Turk,
At Captain Doodle runs his fork.

There is an old girl’s game called ‘Humpty Dumpty’ described by some American writers in 1848. The players sit down holding their skirts tight around their ankles. At an agreed signal they all fall backwards and try to recover their balance without letting go of their skirts.

Robert L. Ripley ‘Believe It Or Not’, stated that the original Humpty was Richard 111, while Professor David Daube, in one of a series of spoof nursery-rhyme histories for The Oxford Magazine” 1956, put forward the ingenious idea that Humpty Dumpty was a siege machine in the Civil War!

History aside, the beloved egg-shaped Humpty Dumpty sits precariously forever on the wall, waiting to be be pushed off in historical probability.

A POISONOUS SUMMER ALL AROUND


What triggers a story? You sit staring at the blank white page on your computer, knowing you have something to say. The piles of notes scribbled all over the desk say you do. And you do this every day. As you sit, you think about the banana cream pie you started out in the kitchen, or the dustmop waiting in the corner you promised yourself to use today, but something you thought of last night when you couldn’t go to sleep at three o’clock is nibbling at your memory. What was it?

In this case, it turns out that it was the smell of my mother’s homemade bread, baked in a wood oven in New London, Connecticut when I was ten years old.

059 “Kate and Nigh-Nigh” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

The start of two years in New London, Connecticut, did not bode well. We had arrived after a hot and hurried road trip across country in the summer of 1938 to a strange community, strange people and stranger new surroundings.

We found an apartment, upstairs over a grocery store. It had two rooms and the bathroom was down the hall, which was strange because you couldn’t hang out in it because somebody else might need to use it. There was a community phone out in the hallway, but we didn’t know anyone to call anyway so that was OK. The building was old and the landlord lived downstairs with his family of wife and two small children. The good thing was that the landlord’s kids could drink all the orangeade they wanted for free.

Our kitchen floor was crummy old greyish beige linoleum with colored flecks in it. In front of the sink it had worn through to the black, and in one place you could see the wood flooring. My mother was sad but uncomplaining; things would get better. Of course in the Depression, you never could be sure of anything. It’s only claim to fame was a big old wood stove which turned out delicious bread once or twice a week.

Eventually I went out to play with the downstairs kids and came home red and itching. The more I itched, the more I scratched until welts and bubbles broke out all over my body. My father’s diagnosis—poison ivy.

poson ivy

My mother bathed me with stinky CutiCura Soap and the ointment which went with it.and then coated me in a sticky layer of pink calamine lotion which kept leaving flakes wherever I walked. Though I spent the entire summer in bed in this condition, I don’t remember what the bedroom looked like. The whole thing reminds me now of Chesterton’s quote: “Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate.”

Another summer, our first (and only) in Oregon, was also spent in the throes of Poison something or other. Along with the ubiquitous calamine lotion, which I might as well tell you, does nothing to relieve the itching, they wrapped me in damp sheets for the summer, mummified and staring at the ceiling of another house.

Years later in California, Dr. Advice and I cut through a meadow to reach the river to go swimming away from the other summer vacationers. I was monstrously pregnant, and in those days you kept out of sight when in your swim suit rather than pose for Time magazine as Demi Moore so famously did in her birthday suit. The meadow was lush with bushes of blackberries and other bushes. We sat and ate our sandwiches and blackberries and tossed the crumbs to a friendly squirrel which seemed interested in us.

That evening I noticed a red rash appearing on my arms and legs. It itched. It spread over my large stomach. You would think I’d learn to keep out of the weeds.

PoisonOak_wb_biggerLeaves Poison Oak

THE GLASS PIRATE


chihuly3 We had lunch with Dale Chihuly several years ago in a small crowded Seattle restaurant while on a visit to see his show at the Seattle Museum. Of course he was hunched over his plate at an adjoining table and paid little or no attention to us, but nevertheless, we had lunch with him. He may look like a pirate with his patch over his eye and wild shock of hair, but he has been tapped with the wand of genius when it comes to making glass.

Beginning with the Egyptians and the Greeks who discovered that sand and quartz could be melted into glass it took the Romans to improve upon it by adding a fertilizer called natron as a flux so they could melt the stuff at a much lower temperature. They could make a lot of it in bulk and then ship it all over the Roman Empire to local craftsmen who turned it into cheap functional items.

glass vase

The Roman love of glass led to the invention of transparent glass windows. Before the Romans, windows were open to the wind, and anything else which might fly in. The windows were small and fused together with lead, because they didn’t have the technology to make large panes of glass, but they started our obsession with architectural uses for glass.

Until the development of transparent glass, mirrors were simply metal surfaces polished to a high shine. The Romans realized that the addition of a layer of transparent glass would protect this metal from scratches and corrosion, and allow them to reduce the thickness of the metal.

Scroll ahead a couple millennia, and glass sculptor Dale Chihuly comes along to enchant us with his brilliant and mysterious glass sculptures and installations. He is unique to the field and seems to be able to breathe life into blown glass.

I became aware of Chihuly while living in Seattle when he formed his Pilchuck Glass School. The 1970’s were a particularly vibrant time in the art world, both in Seattle, Portland and the Bay Area. It was exciting to be a miniscule part of it, if only on the fringe. Our friend Marvin Oliver, son of good friends, got his masters in Fine Arts at the University of Washington, and subsequently became a professor of Art there. Marvin was my conduit to what was “happening” in Seattle at that time, and he knew that Dale Chihuly was doing some extraordinary work in a boathouse on Lake Union.

chihuly 4

The glass bug had bitten numerous people, and small glass blowing studios popped up in various places all over town. One such was in the basement of an old building in Pioneer Square just outside the restrooms. It always took awhile to get back upstairs when they were working, it was so fascinating to see the large blobs of molten glass slide up the blow pipe and turn into something wonderful. You always wanted to stay and finish the process. Now there is a large glass museum in Tacoma, featuring glass from artists all over the world. A very large studio is open and invites the public to simply sit and enjoy the magic.

chihuly

The sheer scale of Chihuly pieces can leave you breathless in amazement, and the color may well remain reflected in your retina for days, but the memory of a visit to a Chihuly show will remain with you forever. The mass of color above is from his “Persian Series” and was installed in the ceiling of a doorway at the Seattle Museum. Throwing all manner of indiscretion aside, I lay on the floor beneath this legerdemain and became a devoted admirer of Dale Chihuly.

LUNCH BOXES


lunch box I happen to like PBJ sandwiches. It used to be only with grape jelly, but I graduated to strawberry some years ago. Fresh baked bread of course is primo, but in a pinch any bread will do.

Peanut butter and jelly remind me of the lunches my mother packed for me in my grammar school days. It was sometimes bologna with mayo; mustard came later when my palate matured, and avocado or left over baked beans made a good sandwich too. The very best as I remember was meat loaf. Each in their turn packed in a brown paper bag with my name clearly written on the front. They didn’t have the cute metal lunch boxes with cartoon characters on as yet. There was always an apple and a couple of cookies, and usually a screw cap jar with milk which had turned warm. Lucky we didn’t get ptomaine poisoning.

I asked Dr. Advice what he took when he was a wee tyke and his list was pretty much the same as mine. We were children at the same time after all. I think he was taken aback at avocado, baked beans and jealous at the meat loaf; he was probably more interested in playing than eating, which is his current persona.

I began to wonder what other people took for their childhood lunches, so I interviewed two friends while we were at lunch yesterday.

T. is from a farm family in Malta, one of 16 children, 8 boys and 8 girls, all carrying their lunches to school. Once at school, each carrying their own small spoon, they were given a graham cracker with jam, and the teacher poured cod liver oil into each spoon. I tried that with my kids by disguising it in orange juice. They have never forgiven me.

She had a hard boiled egg every day, and bread and jam. The bread was like foccacia with olive oil. It was wrapped in waxed paper and carried in a cloth bag. She usually traded the egg for a penny which she spent on candy! Maltese children traded off their lunches just as we did! I don’t remember getting any money for mine though.

T. is an accomplished seamstress, and when I asked her when she first learned to sew she said she always ate her lunch while sitting and sewing on the roof of the school with the principal!

J. went to a convent school in Jamaica, her father a gentleman farmer of English descent. A car came for her and her three brothers each morning, depositing them each at their individual schools.

Her sandwiches were of mashed sardines or potted meat and wrapped either in waxed paper or often in a slightly damp linen cloth, the weather being so very hot. There were no cookies or fruit, but a man brought in “patties”, which are small pastries filled with spicy meat, somewhat like a pasty. Very flaky and crumbly and wrapped in brown paper. They still make them, but they are now made with taro root and called coco bread. Though we have been to Jamaica a couple of times, I don’t remember the patties.

Though it was fun to reminisce, it wasn’t about the food as much as the memories, which it always is really. I wouldn’t trade my lobster ravioli in tomato cream sauce for the PBJ or even the meat loaf sandwich, and the dessert wasn’t bad either.

065
“Lily White, Fiji” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

A FLURRY OF BIRTHDAYS


prairegirlsspring

It seems that this week contains the celebration of birthdays–not mine, but I get to be part of the celebrations which is even better.

Yesterday’s luncheon on the island (Alameda) was in honor of two 87 year old high school friends, and Friday’s soiree is for a couple of 70 somethings. We were missing one of our group yesterday. It seems that she got a wrong number the night before at her home, and while in the midst of explaining that they had reached the wrong person, she got a coughing spell, which alarmed the caller to the point that they called the police to come take a look at her. The first she knew of it, the police were shining bright lights through her front windows and pounding on her door! Nice to know there are still strangers who care, but still she elected to opt out of our gathering the next day. Maybe she was still coughing. Who knows? She missed a lively party complete with small fancy cakes and the whole restaurant singing the “Happy Birthday” song.

Speaking of the police, the husband of one of our birthday girls had been a policeman. She related the story of a peeping Tom who kept showing up wherever she happened to be for a week or so. Her husband had been in the hospital for a few weeks when she first noticed the peeper. After the husband came home and was resting on the sofa one evening, the guy came to their front door. Her husband leaped from the sofa, grabbed his gun and chased the fellow down the street while streaming expletives at him. They never had any more problems along those lines.

I had a phone call from my much younger cousin the night before asking the date of my anniversary. It is about to be 68 years, and she mused that I had been married nearly her whole life. She had been a flower girl tossing rose petals up the aisle in her white dress our grandmother had made. An adorable little redhead whose braids were wrapped around her head European style. She told me it was the first wedding she had been to, and I told her it had been my first as well. One of the ladies yesterday had been in our wedding and I would have asked one of the others but she got married the week before me.

Since I was such a wedding novice, and our was shaping up to be the “wedding of the century”, I had fits of terror and tears beginning at about 1 p.m. My father, at a loss as to what to do about this dramatic display, assured me that I did not have to go through with the affair, even though the trap had been set: flowers and cake and gifts already arrived and in place. Nevertheless, I made an appearance at 4 o’clock on my father’s arm still dripping tears throughout the service while wiping my nose on the back of the wrist of my lovely borrowed dress which a cousin had lent, and the future Dr. A. whispering “Stop that!”

IMG_20140821_0001 That’s me on the right on our graduation day.

Our waitress, who takes care of our group regularly, is clearly amused and bemused by the sight of 8 ladies of a certain age who still connect to renew old memories. She was fascinated yesterday by the story of one of our group telling about the time she found an orchid on her front porch delivered for her husband’s birthday from an old girlfriend of his. She and the girlfriend had the same name, and were referred to as “old Helen” and “new Helen”. The orchid was from “old Helen”.

I plumbed their memories about a girl who insisted upon calling Dr. Advice at his office and at our home after we married. She had been some other fellow’s girlfriend in High School so there wasn’t a personal connection, but I guess she was just hopeful. I don’t blame her, he was pretty cute. (Still is.)

IMG_20140821_0002 That’s Dr. Advice second from the left with all that blond hair!