Want a Corona? No, thanks.

After yesterday’s blueberry pancakes (marking that it was Sunday), Bob took a long bike ride on his new electric bike. I tidied up.

Knowing that visitors are verboten, we have let our house become a sort of workshop and garden center. The porch is repository for anything from the outside: mail brought there by our gloved hands, Amazon deliveries, and food (purchased at the Co-op’s curbside pickup) all stay there for a day before being brought inside. A large cooler holds those food items that need refrigeration. Excessive? Perhaps, but I really don’t want to catch this thing.

In the afternoon, we did some gardening. It was a beautiful day, and the seedlings from our little indoor “greenhouse” were happy to bask in the sun. More of the garden was forked over, and the electric fence was refurbished and connected to the other electric fence that has been keeping the nearby beavers from building the equivalent of Hoover Dam behind our house. Critters beware!

Meanwhile, about 320 miles to the south of us, our granddaughters were making the best of their own isolation. They love to draw and paint, and now Eve, the 6 year-old, has begun to write poetry:

Be as strong as a mountain pushes down on the ground.

I am trying to be, Eve.

A Fisher Story

It was a warm and sunny day in early summer about 20 years ago. Some of our woods roads were still blocked by trees and tree tops felled by the great ice storm of 1998, and we had worked for several hours, cutting up and removing the debris from one of those roads. 

Sitting on the large trunk of one such tree for a lunch break, we heard the sounds of animals “crashing” through the forest undergrowth and heading our way. As we watched, two young fishers romped into the clearing where we sat. Seconds later, they spied us.

One turned tail and raced back into the woods, but the other climbed a nearby tree that had lost probably half of it’s height to the ice storm – a sort of 20′ tall stump. It was soon pretty obvious that he had never climbed a tree before! We watched the mother pace back and forth in the woods, hissing and snarling at him, the translation of which was something like, “You damned fool child! Just wait until your father gets home and hears about this! Get down from that tree this instant!!!”

The poor little guy was scared out of his wits. He tried starting down head-first but quickly turned about and hung on by his claws. He tried backwards. He tried head-first again, and all the while his mother paced and snarled. It was such a treat to watch them.

Eventually – and gradually – the little guy made it to earth, and the trio exited Stage Left as we laughed and marveled at what we had been witness to.

TV

My father didn’t earn a very big salary, and although we were comfortable and never felt we lacked anything, there were some things we just didn’t own. A TV set was one of them.

In my early childhood, TV wasn’t a common household item, and my father had loudly vowed it would not become one in ours. Back in those days, his aversion to the snowy black and white screen was reasonable: we could listen to a number of radio dramas (and did), and we could read. The radio sat beside our round kitchen table in the small apartment upstairs in my grandmother’s house, and our tiny family huddled close as Straight Arrow yelled “Kenneewah, Fury!” and galloped from his secret cave to capture the rustlers. It just could never get any more exciting or better than that – really and truly.

We moved to our own home in 1950, bringing Grandma with us, and my mother set about making repairs (she was the handyman of the family) as my father began turning the two acre yard into his own small version of Central Park. In the excitement of nesting, the first year or two must have flown by for them. I loved this new home too. There were neighborhood kids to play with, including some with TV sets, and I would regularly go to their homes to watch The Lone Ranger, Sky King and The Cisco Kid.

Fall came in the third year of our residency, and – perhaps sensing that he was losing his daughter to the neighbors – my father suddenly embraced the modern age: he announced we were going to get a television set. He purchased a small, used Philco, and we impatiently awaited its arrival. (In those days, apparently it was assumed that the average homeowner was not technically savvy enough to carry one home, place the “rabbit ears” on top, and plug it in). The delivery man/technician arrived in the knick of time: the Yankees were just taking the field, and we were all seated in a straight row of wooden chairs in front of the space prepared for the electronic marvel. It took the Bronx Bombers six games to beat the Bums from Brooklyn, and we saw every minute of it, animistically letting the TV “rest” between games.

With the exception of “The Two Ronnies,” “The Dukes of Hazard,” the 1980 US vs. USSR Olympic hockey game and an enjoyable run of “Northern Exposure” in the 1990s, I guess you could say the experience went downhill from there. These days, the TV “rests” between Netflix offerings, replaced by NPR, good music or just plain sweet silence. Whenever I drive through the Tug Hill region, I can pick up a station that plays the old radio dramas, and you know what? They are still great!

Skunks and the Women Who Trap Them

My neighborhood – the large area between the Adirondack mountains and the St. Lawrence River – was wilderness until shortly after the Revolutionary War. People migrated through here, heading west; loggers came and some settled; small farms were carved out of the woods; trappers set their lines and sold their pelts; and all of these activities continue today.

The migration now is mostly our children seeking excitement or jobs in distant cities; machinery and fewer mills have reduced the number of jobs “in the woods;” small farms have become hobby or part-time operations or have been consumed by large free-stall milking parlor dairies; the trappers – at least the ones I’ve met lately – now wear bras (probably at least some of the time). Oh, sure, there are still the guys out there with their steel-jawed traps and their clubs, inflicting pain and death on the local wildlife population and presumably finding a market for the bloodied skins, but there are also quite a few women who have taken up the trade.

As you might expect, these women see trapping as part of their household responsibilities rather than some perverse or violent form of recreation or income generation: it’s a tough job and somebody has to do it. They usually start small, say with a mouse-size Havahart trap, but eventually they all move up to something that will catch a squirrel (the one who’s eating the birdseed in the feeders) or a raccoon who has become too fond of sweet corn. Of course, if you set a trap big enough to capture a raccoon, there’s a good likelihood that sooner or later you’re going to catch a skunk, and that’s why the conversation at an average cocktail party around here might run to discussion of what to do once that skunk is in your trap. So it was at the opening of the Frederic Remington Art Museum’s recent show: the curator (Laura), a past-president of a local theatre organization (Ellen) and I were discussing Laura’s post-opening chore of relocating the skunk that sat at home in the trap under her porch. We all know something about this.

It’s really quite simple. A skunk is a bit like a little boy with a squirt-gun: he’s loaded, and the first human being he runs into will be a target. With that clearly in mind, the skunk trapper holds up a good-sized blanket, being very careful to conceal hands, feet, and every other body part behind it as she SLOWLY approaches the trapped skunk. She gently drapes the blanket completely over the trap. Once under wraps, skunk, trap and blanket can be gently lifted onto the back of a pickup truck. In theory, you can now drive your skunk to it’s new home without incident, but good sense suggests that you probably don’t want to do this if your vehicle is the family sedan…

After driving to a suitable location (the yard of a good friend, the site of the church ice cream social, the wedding reception of your ex – there are lots of possibilities here…), it’s time to release the skunk. This will be made much easier if you had previously tied a long rope or rope/stick combination to the trap latch or door and practiced opening it from a distance… (I’ve found that rolling the trap onto its top allows the door to flop open, but I haven’t yet tried this with a skunk in it). Again, remember the little boy/squirt-gun analogy… Let no part of you be visible to the skunk!

And so Laura’s black and white friend has a happy home in a distant wood (twenty miles distant, that is), the porch smells like a rose, and all’s right with the world. Let’s sing a chorus of “I’m a WO-MAN, W-O-M-A-N! Say it again!”

I hear that Havahart has just come out with a husband/boyfriend size trap, and compared to the four-legged skunks, relocating those critters should be a piece of cake. The family sedan caveat won’t even apply.

Friend

I pushed him once too often. He needed the push, or rather, he needed to take action, but he couldn’t take the push. His exact words as he left my life are forgotten now, although I do remember thinking profanity wasn’t ever expressed more eloquently than in the irate oration of this man. My front door – no stranger to his exits – punctuated the sign-off message with a profound slam, and then there was a very long silence.

That was the surprising part: he didn’t come back. The almost daily visits of the past twenty years completely ceased, and I got used to days and weeks uninterrupted. He was still around, but even in this North Country where no one is a stranger, our paths didn’t cross for almost two years. He had a woman companion (no doubt the reason he was able to “give me the mitten”), and I was glad for that, and a woodpile appeared in his driveway, so apparently he did make the call I was suggesting when he lost his temper with me. I hoped he was doing okay, but frankly the relief of no longer being the best friend of a person suffering mental illness was a relief I savored. I just never thought I’d be savoring it for so long.

Today while weighing the relative merits of Keebler and Nabisco in the local supermarket snack-food aisle, I became aware of a shopping cart close to mine, looked up, and there he was. I don’t know how long he’d been looking at me, but his eyes were filled with tears, and instead of “Hello,” the words, “I’m so sorry” flowed from his mouth. We embraced, a long emotional embrace, causing shoppers to make U-turns and forego crackers rather than confront this soppy pair. I told him I don’t ever care if he calls me names or gets furious with me, but he if he ever again disappears on me for two goddam years, I will hit him right side of the head with a two-by-four.

As I drove home, my mind wandered over the memories of what nearly a quarter-century of this friendship was like. How many phones had he smashed? How many dents in the front door? I thought about the morning he discharged himself from the hospital – an I.V. line, a string of obscenities and me trailing behind; remembered the call (made in my absence, from my phone) to the crisis center to come pick up his body in half an hour; thought of being in his tiny cabin as he flailed his ax, committing murder on a block of wood in the doorway; considered the night spent with him in the emergency room, his hand slashed open by the propane heater he had raged against. And who could forget the Town Court appearance where he put on a drunken oration Richard Burton would have been in awe of. With him there would always be times like those, and there would not be apologies.

And yet, he is a wonderful friend. On the good days, no one has a better sense of humor, a quicker wit; no one is smarter than my friend, no one more fun to be with. He has nursed sick animals, maintained diabetic cats, and comforted me through the death of dear pets; it was this friend who introduced me to P.G. Wodehouse, Gilbert & Sullivan and led me to Randy Newman. Have a question? Just ask him, and if he doesn’t have an informed, insightful answer immediately, expect a typed, researched response left on your dining room table within 24 hours. Baseball, science, literature, music, history – choose your topic, and my friend will bring it to life with sensitivity, intelligence and often humor.

So here I am, back on the merry-go-round again. I know there will be days when I’ll ask myself how I ever got into this relationship again, but right now I am feeling a warm sense of happiness. Thanks, Keebler and Nabisco. There’s been something missing from my life.

Thelma and Louise-in’

After a wonderful weekend with a group of Ontario Friends – more on that later – this wizard is leaving on a road trip with my buddy Louise from Toronto, and the blog will go silent for awhile. I asked her if I could blow up the tanker truck this time, but she reminded me of my non-violent Quaker ancestry.

FINAL SHOOTING SCRIPT, final scene, Thelma and Louise by Callie Khouri:

They [Thelma and Louise] are still looking at each other really hard.

THELMA: You’re a good friend.

LOUISE: You, too, sweetie, the best.

MUSIC: B.B. King song entitled “Better Not Look Down” begins. It is very upbeat.

LOUISE: Are you sure?

[Thelma nods]

THELMA: Hit it.

Louise puts the car in gear and FLOORS it.

Watch for us in the Hudson Valley… Thelma and Louise live!