We are standing in line at Kohl's. This is now Pat's favorite store; it seems to send out the most blatantly pleading mailers: "80% off on our storewide half-price stock from noon to midnoc every day but yesterday - including sale items!!!" We are here to get me some shorts. I choose cargo shorts and stand in line admiring their near-utility; they have this multitude of probably-useless pockets that I will never avail myself of, but I love the thought of them. Considering all these pockets is akin to looking at National Geographic Maps, the big foldout kind that used to come in the magazine, that people would paper their bathrooms with. The urge to evacuate double-edged. All the possibilities. All that life to be lived. You wouldn't think cargo shorts could do that for me, but they do. Pat hates them. I think maybe it is the faux-military air of them; hidden symbols of male dominance.
A foot-tall stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh sits on the counter in front of us. It is bright yellow with an orange shirt. It is minding its own silly business; Pat picks it up. "Pooh has been co-opted." She announces bitterly. "He was Milne's symbol of what was sweet and innocent and now Disney has co-opted him in Kohl's!" Her face brightens as she finds the pun, and she holds Winnie up in the air - "Look! He's a sham-pooh!!"
The clerk is reaching for Winnie, but Pat holds him just beyond her wavy-fingered grasp. The girl wants to ring him up for the customer ahead of us, a very burly man who looks shaven-skulled, and probably tattooed, beneath his baseball cap. He has been not-watching Pat's display and now he turns to her. A large vein throbs bongo-time in the middle of his forehead; this ersatz bear is meant to go home with him, probably for a child he adores. He grabs Winnie from Pat's hand and thumps him onto the counter, scowling.
The clerk can now reach him. "$5.99." she intones.
"I'm not paying that!" Pat yelps. "I won't buy it!"
The man and the woman with him turn to look at Pat again. I enfold her in my arms and say "Too much coffee this morning." I try smiling ingratiatingly. They look away. The man doesn't attempt to hit me. He pays for Pooh. Pat will be 73 tomorrow and it will be a calmer day.
A couple weeks later and the Polanas have started to come in; they are the earliest red raspberries we planted. Pat comes into the garden, watching for bugs, slightly skittish, finds a cup and a half just at the fall-into-your-palm stage, and eats them on the way back to the house. They are hers, absolutely; I put them into the ground last year thinking exactly this would come to be. She has been asking me what was keeping them since April. The thick rows of the three other types, Heritage, Killarney and Boyne, will come in during the next few weeks. I will have to dig out the numerous runners and start new beds this fall. In a couple of years we will be all berries, they spread so fast.
All else in the garden booms onward, too. Toms are the size of baseballs, but still green. Peas have been picked and pulled up and replanted; not sure if the weather will permit but we might get another go at them in the fall before frost. Kentucky Wonders are snaking out from their flower-homes looking to be plucked. The brussel sprouts in the green house are getting big enough to take; what a long, long time to get them this far, and so much room used. I probably should have planted my greenhouse brassica, for late fall, weeks back. I will get to it soon.
Some ask why I no longer mention the bees. It's all about cowardice and wishing things were different. (In an alternate universe I am a perfect person.) When I first set the hives up I was stung a couple of times. One hand blew up like a balloon, stayed that way for days, and itched beyond consolation. Bee stings had never done this to me before; it was unsettling. I next worked the bees a couple of weeks later; the result was pretty much the same. The third time ditto, tho maybe the localized reactions were less. At least I wasn't falling over and turning blue. So, for weeks I have just wandered past the hives to see that business was going on as usual and ambled away.
A hive is made up of two 'deeps', boxes with deeper frames in them where the brood lives and some honey is stored. Above them comes the 'supers', 'shallow', smaller frames full of honey in due course. A deep filled with honey is difficult to lift, especially from a ladder, so shallows are added.
The first shallow is for the bees, a winter food supply. The shallows above that are taken off and the honey spun out and jarred late in summer. The eighth of August and I had still not put on the first shallow. It has been a marvelous year for them. I am sure they have multiplied many-fold, and finding no room in which to expand have swarmed and sent large buzzing balls surrounding the original queen off into the woods seeking a new home. I am not supposed to allow that. I should be adding supers so that the colony can expand internally. It isn't that I mind if they swarm; beekeepers mind because every swarm is a new colony lost, and a colony of bees is worth hundreds of dollars in honey production. But they may not do well in the winter here, and I would be sorry for that. If a swarm can take hold in the wild, a dicey proposition this far north, and produce enough honey to get it thru the winter I am all for it.
So, I added a super to each hive, and the bees will fill them quickly now and have a winter's food layed in. No honey for us, but healthy colonies. That will be fine with me. I was stung 5 times this go-round, despite long sleeves and masking tape and gloves to go with my hood. The stings aren't bad, just the afterwards. The little guys burrow into any fold that leads to skin; I can feel them walking on me under my outfit, thinking about stinging me if I make a wrong move. I do; they do. Twenty-four hours later and the stings are much better. Less local heat and swelling and itching this time. Maybe I will gain some tolerance and can work them properly.
Another visitor arrived, and I greeted it with hesitant optimism; bugs are by nature deceitful. I wasn't sure what it was, but named it the Rainbow Ladybug. A very striking little creature that was just covering my plants; iridescently busy. A short bit into this cautious happiness I was told that I now suffered an infestation - can there be a more nasty word in the English tongue? - an infestation of Japanese Beetles. I like Japanese movies, and history, and their arts, but this sinister little beetle turns leaves to lace. Now I run about doing my organic duty by squishing them flat, thumb to index finger. Two things stand out: they have hemoglobin inside them and must be approached with caution as they take wing and are gone in an instant. They fear dismemberment and death as much as the next man.
The Z spent an entire month with us; we took her to Bangor to catch a troop plane dawn on Saturday. It is nice having her here, but the state of suspense engendered by the fragile nature of airline schedules and the way travel plans can break and topple is disturbing. She rushes about the house talking destinations and flight times, darkly muttering connection points. She was supposed to be in Croatia most of July, but a canceled flight out of Rio ruined it all. And then instead of three weeks in Hawaii she got four weeks in our backyard in Maine - a sobering experience according to some. I look at this near-chaos that envelops her and tell her I would rather pluck weeds than see the world; we look at each other and neither quite understands the other. But having her around is a lot of fun. She is sort of like my oldest friend.
Other travel plans have succumbed to caution. Our autumn trip to England has been as of now, supplanted by a road trip in Snooky to the West Coast. I will feel much better traveling like a turtle, with my home on my back, even if it means facing the mean roads of the Golden State. Highway hypnosis doesn't draw me like it used to. Ara and Natty have a house near San Francisco where, I hope, we can park Snooky and venture forth on small expeditions to see all Pat's kids and buddies. We think of going west along the southern portion of Canada in early October and then coming back on 80. Nothing is completely firm, but I feel good about this. It feels as if things will be in my own control to some extent, and we have no real time constraints. A friend will watch house, Sgt. Rocky, and all the various birds. I will get to go by Wisconsin and see Stuie.
Another childhood friend has fetched up short with an ailing partner. An old friend of Pat's. I think this is what turned the venture into a road trip west. I rather cringe to think of those old enough to be 'the last man standing'. That man looks to me rather frail and bleached; he is in the park feeding pigeons. Do I really want to be him? May the pigeons go shit themselves - that's what they do anyway.
We are alive, alive, alive, alive - like a ticking clock, the heartbeat and breath, cycling; a nicely felt stability in cycles. We can count on them, extrapolate, make plans. And then the subtle shift. I won't go into what precedes the subtle shift; a good dozen CSI shows do that in lurid abattoir-fashion, leading us to believe that mechanical means are fate's preferred method. We will skip that messiness. The subtle change simply occurs - and we are not alive: no need to repeat the phrase, the cycle is over and no longer thumps comfortable alone, we are changed, i.e. dead. Now, you don't want to think about this too much. It will give you a headache, or maybe a nosebleed - UhOh! Ebola precursor?? OMG, we are fucked.
So my hand drops from the keyboard to just below knee-height and meets (meats?) with warm fur. It is the Cinnamon Butt of Compassion, always seeming to be waiting for my hand to drop. It is the best cup of Peet's coffee, a jelly donut, the anodyne of the ages, most placid comfort. It is a Boxer butt, and I count on it like I count on oxygen content in the next inhalation.
I have been thinking a lot about dogs lately. There are certainly those mysteries that should rivet my attention: the meaning of life, the nature of god, what part of us is, and then is-not, so that we are here one moment and gone the next. But these are mysteries that I have no hope of even beginning to approach. If some answer exists I doubt that I have enough mind to wrap around the explanation, and I simply will not accept any faith-based additives to my already murky thinking. With dogs it is different. There seems to me a really deep mystery, a trans-species mystery, a place where we meet, canines and humans, that is silkily tangible, but it slides just to the side when we ask 'why?'. I touch a dog and something seems to pass between us, something more that just a nostalgic memory of the 'perfect boyhood'. There is inside me something that is 'dog', and I am sure there is something inside dogs that is 'man'. I don't know how to put it any better. The connection is so real and so elusive. It seems like something that would be immediately apparent if I just knew how to look at it. How to frame the question? It is slick with the oils of contiguity.
If you are a scifi fan there is an author who approaches a line of thought that is related. He postulates men who assist other species into sentience. David Brin is the writer and I recall liking his Uplift series a lot.
The editor gives her stamp of approval on the foregoing. Is it the product, the last few paras, of me growing morbid as I age? Or is it the result of composing in the throes of a sinus headache? Both, and maybe the heat, too. We thought Maine was going to be cool, at least cooler than it is this summer. I will omit the pics - too hot to go out and shoot them, and just bid you all a pleasant journey and a soft place to rest. don and pat and the ubiquitous butt, etc.