Sunday, August 30, 2009

catching feathers

“The Blank Page,” by René Magritte

Many good things happened this week. It rained some days. And then was sunny. And then cool. Fritz came home every day like he always does. Middlest ran nearly every day like she does. I walked our hill in the mornings with the sun coming up. The blackberries ripened.

On Monday, YoungSon went swimming with a friend. Our photographing friend came to the house bringing Eldest's senior pictures for us to choose from. Friend Photo sat off - with a skinny spoon and a blue glass bowl of Breyer's vanilla and sun-warm-glistening-black-and-fat berries - while we scrolled through the pictures on her laptop. "It's so nice," she said to my daughter after awhile, as we settled in on the three shots we liked best, "I'm loving sitting here and listening to you. You like them all! And not viciously tearing apart the way you look the way usually people . . . "

And I read a curious (to me) history of beans through the ages and three satiric fantasies by Terry Pratchett - even though it is August and officially an OFF month for reading, but, hey, it's August, and the last week before the last week before school starts.

Plus YoungSon finally put in order all the rocks and fossils on his desk. Eldest mopped the floor. Middlest put all her clothes away. I nearly caught up on laundry from all our camping/travels/whatever and organized the red-tin French-bakery breadbox which is our family's version of The Kitchen Drawer and emptied the terracotta flowerpot next to it which is Overflow and defrosted the freezer (which wasn't a good thing until it was done). In one night, Fritz and I and Mid and Young watched Pink Panther 2 (which made us laugh) and watched again from years ago The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain (which was almost of the stand-up-and-cheer, throw-your-arms-around-your-companion caliber). Then I stayed up to hear Eldest tell about her trip downtown with friends to see Topol perform Tevye in a farewell performance of Fiddler on the Roof.

So many small good things, the Grandmothers-of-the-Mind were keeping up a pretty constant murmur - or would it be a susurrus? - nicenice Aren't you? nice And nice blessings And nice so nice count them. . .

But I must be honest, there were only three and a half times this week that were true-good, where I was acutally and not just virtually happy, three and a half when all the citizens-of-the-mind chimed together vibratingly into One Sound.

I think I must pay attention to these - as I want more of them.

Worth at least a half-hurrah was the thing I read that Pratchett said in his acceptance of the 2001 Carnegie medal:
For instance, this book is about rats that are intelligent. But it is also about the even more fantastic idea that humans are capable of intelligence as well. Far more beguiling than the idea that evil can be destroyed by throwing a piece of expensive jewellery into a volcano is the possibility that evil can be defused by talking. The fantasy of justice is more interesting that the fantasy of fairies, and more truly fantastic. In the book the rats go to war, which is, I hope, gripping. But then they make peace, which is astonishing.

Oh, yes. And for the other three true-goods: One night after dark I drove toward the river to sit on a friend's back porch and talk in the light of tiki-torches.

One evening YoungSon and I popped open dry garbanzo pods and gathered our small bowl of beans. The pods do pop and the dried and drying leaves smell as heavenly as hay. An activity utterly and repetitiously satisfying - my son's shoulder leaning in against mine as he stands against me, his hair smelling of sunshine. It is this activity, I deduce, that we replicate and are programmed to find so absolutely satisfying in popping bubble-wrap: the pouff as thumb breaks through the papery husk, the sharp pebble-like clink of the hard seeds into the bowl.

And one afternoon, midweek, nearly midday when Middlest had gone to run daily doubles for cross-country and Eldest was gone babysitting, YoungSon came and draped himself over my shoulder as I sat at the computer writing and he said "We never do anything," and I said, "But we do. You better call up a friend. We're on our way to the creek."

"We are?"

And I left my desk and shouldered the folding camp-chair and tucked someone else's book manuscript that came in the mail the day before under my arm and headed for the car.

Two skinny little-not-so-little boys walking over the dried-up yellow grass in gorgeous flowered and/or geometric swimming trunks. Tap,tap the water - then jump! Glow of sun off their wet backs brighter than the glow from their hair. Skinny little frog arms starting to bunch with muscle-buds.

White splash falling back down into the gentle brown and slow-moving creek, bubbles and sun-dapples and the shining ridges of their wakes as the boys race on floating logs up and down. As I keep watch from my chair on the bank in the shade. Above me the swirling lava-lights reflecting off the surface of water onto the pale underside of the leaves. The banter bounces off the water as lightly as it bounces off the boys ("Hey, you just got water in my nose." "You can't do that." "You're still faster." "Hey, you're walking." "You're not the one that started this race." "Well, it definitely wasn't you." "Whoa!") I note it all down on the big white envelope of the manuscript I'm reading.

Even the prickle of vigilance makes me happy: awareness flicking like the ears of a deer from the splash and laughter in the creek to the man walking this way with a dog (friendly? too friendly?) who warns us about glass down in the rocks, sits at the picnic table, leaves messages on his cell phone, walks away.

This is not Nature pristine. Beyond the trees on the other side of the creek comes the sound of a car turning on gravel, then a little later the steady pace of a race-walker. Nothing particularly photographable about this place, but some memory in my DNA says this is a good place - a human place - the open shade, the sound of water. A man with army cap and ponytail rides his bike down into the water, walks the bike across and back up into the trees on the other side.

"I have to get my Stone of Justice out," says YoungSon, wrapped in some game of superheroes.

"You are FROGGY-FACE OF JUSTICE," says his friend, a little showman with a booming voice. Then suddenly he's boy again, "I have a rock I've been meaning for you. It's from where my family started. Well, my family is from Sweden but where they homesteaded it's by a mine and there are these very famous polka-dotted rocks."

A woman with her two daughters walk up the creek through the water. Solid-built with long black hair they stand in a row on the pebbly sandbar near the deep shade, fishing with breadcrusts(?) dangling from a string. Another older girl joins them. The mother gives her the net - it's one of those little green nets for scooping goldfish out of fishbowls. The woman and her daughters toss, toss their strings, dragging the white bit (which can't be breadcrusts) through the water. The older girl stoops, scooping with the net, shaking something out into a small white bucket.

I can't stand not knowing what they're doing - so unitedly and businesslike. "Crawfish." And the bait? "Chicken. Any kind of meat - they just come after it." So who eats them, all of you? "She does," the woman nods toward her oldest girl. "Put a little dill spice in the water. They taste like lobster. Really. Like lobster tail."

Two older boys bike over. One of them pulls a collapsible pole out of his backpack. The other settles himself on the bank, snipping blades of grass with his fingertips. "What are they fishing for?" he asks his friend.

"I don't know," the fishing boy sets up his equipment.

"I only set my bike down in the grass."

"No, you don't. You set your bike down all the time."

"Look, there's a cigarette."


"Have you ever smoked in your life?"

"I've like smoked, but - I think I want to skip stones."

"Dude, look at that!"

"Do you think I'll catch some fish?"

"A little guppy maybe."

"Look, I caught a feather."

When the boy - crewcut, camo shorts & tee - does catch a fish it's to me (because I look friendly? motherly? like a teacher with all the papers in my lap?) that he brings his fish over to show, "Hey, look! I caught a fish!" I admire it - the iridescent green along its side. The whole fish is only a little longer than my finger. "I better throw it back," says the boy. But as it hits the water, "That was pretty big - really!"

After awhile his friend stands, shakes grass blades off his lap, "She said half an hour. Catch you later." In the creek YoungSon and his friend are building bridges now with their logs, "1-2-3 - now lift!" They tug, tug. The woman and her daughters move further downstream, tossing their lines, dragging their bits of chicken, scooping, shaking out the net. The fishing boy sighs, starts to pack up. He calls out to me, "Have you ever seen a collapsible pole?" I haven't. He shows me, "And see, I'm ready to go! Just like that. Fits in my backpack and everything!" He zooms off on his bike.

"Is it time for us to go?" calls my son's friend from the water.

"Are you ready to go now?" I ask him

"Yeah, maybe in half an hour."

"Two hours," says YoungSon who would be content to float above the water on his log for the rest of the afternoon. "It's fun, isn't it?" he asks his friend.

"Yeah, it's fun. But it's getting less and less fun," his friend's voice drops and he avoids glancing back up over the bank toward me, wanting to be polite.

"Forgot the hooks!" The fisherboy in camo is back, rattling up, rattling away.

Splash-clunk of rock against rock in the water.

"I'm going to sun myself," says YoungSon's friend.

Sparkle of sunlight rippling over dark water.


Melissa said...

Oh, I love this! What an interesting trip to the creek, I think more interesting people live by you than in my state. Or probably your observation skills are sharper than mine. I love how you weave a clear image with your words. I can almost feel the sun warming the top of my head as I read this!

Emma J said...

I think interesting people live everywhere - remember the day we rode the El into Chicago? And the woman on the bus who reviewed restaurants for us? And the man on the El home with his beautiful little son in his arms on the way to the airport to visit family down South? And I think your observation skills are just filled right now keeping an eye on babies?

Mrs. Organic said...

You write so beautifully, I feel as if I'm sitting on the creek bank next to you.

Spontaneity is the elixir of youth. I took my mom into the Pacific this weekend, we put our old selves on boogie boards, tumbled over in the waves and laughed until our cheeks hurt from grinning. It was marvelous.

I think I shaved off at least 5 years.

Emma J said...

Boogie boards and the Pacific sound wonderful. (Though this raises questions about falsie-flotation- devices: was or was not hypothetical?)

Mrs. Organic said...

Have to admit, I'm not vain enough to bring them to the beach. Yet.

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