Friday, January 28, 2011

The Scoundrel Could Have Needed a Step Stool

Salsa the Wonder Filly has nudged up in height a bit recently. The naked eye  --  when carefully focused  --  can detect a hair’s breadth of growth. I think.

My husband and I are overly keen in our observations in this regard, like parents following an adolescent daughter around every second waiting for the first sign a training bra is in order. Salsa’s daddy was an “anonymous donor” who hightailed it out of Dodge before he could be seen in the daylight, so we don’t have any idea about half of her genetics. I am 5'11, and I’m thinking it would be just my luck  --  the one horse I’ve got that is obedient and sweet will grow to a size suitable for being ridden by circus monkeys.

So Doug and I scuttle up and down the fence line, stopping often and rocking back and forth from the knees to adjust our vision.

“I think I see something! Do you see something?”

“I think I do. Unless she’s standing on a hill, her hindquarters are higher than they were a month ago. I’m sure of it.”

“No worries then. She’s going to get taller.”

“You bet your sweet banana treats she is.”

We brace ourselves for the day our little girl stops munching grass, turns to us, blinking, and says, Excuse me Mom and Dad. A little privacy please?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sniper Fire

I am tapping a finger to my chin. The sickle-shaped claws of my mind are extending and retracting, slowly  --  an unknowing flap of feathers has drawn their attention and made them ready to sever something as if of their own accord. I am weighing words like gun powder, harmless enough in the wind or on the scale, but in skillful hands, capable of delivering mortal wounds.

To write, or not to write, about the most despicable woman I ever knew?

She is perfection for my purposes, for the mission of this blog, which  --  you may not know up to now  --  is purely my attempt to exercise old writing muscles. Peaceful farmscapes and the unexpected hijinks of the animals are safe fodder for meeting some sort of regular schedule, sure as sunrises and puppies to deliver words and chuckles. Trust me, they will be back, but this space has the equivalent of a movie's NC-17 rating  --  for its uncertainty of topics not even imagined yet and so impossible to classify for the reader in advance.

How delicious then, to have this character from more than a decade in my past come back into view. My grown daughters were in a stream-of-consciousness banter when they landed on the memory of this woman, an "authority figure" from their childhoods, and burst into laughter.

See her:  a bouncing spill of blond curls, the hairstyle sometimes long and sometimes short but otherwise never changing in her nearly 50 years. (She discovered a long time ago the value of the blond flounce  --  the effervescent flag whipping in the wind of the male periphery.) The only other innate physical attribute worth mentioning is the one that magnetizes some women to her side, so in awe are they of an impossibly diminutive figure. This she has covered in a dark, fake tan and flashy jewelry; horse teeth she learned from a young age to handle by hiding them in plain sight. Smile big, smile often, and perhaps people will think they're just another set of cubic zirconia adornments.

So diminutive and blond, she speed walks (honing in on victims like a bullet) and ticks her butt from side to side, enough to notice, but not so much that anyone could with perfect confidence call into question her motives. (She has found a church where good manners and good intentions allow grace for a broad expression of such "gifts.") Feigning innocence, she blurts in front of groups whatever is most likely to hurt or embarrass or make a timid person cry.

"How dare you tell everyone here your dream about walking on the ocean floor  --  Mary here had a child die of drowning 10 years ago!"

"You know, according to Leviticus a birthmark like the one your baby has is the sign of the devil."

"NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. NO!" (Interrupting a solemn ritual and marching herself through the crowd, to accost one individual. A woman, of course.) "You are supposed to be focused on Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior, and it doesn't matter that you got cold. Take off that coat!"

Group IQs can be gleaned by whether a table full of partygoers leans in toward her as she approaches, or away. Intelligent, confident, or talented people fall away from her like rich people from a smelly beggar  --  you will not see them in her close company. But imagine the women who join the bullet of her to become the "Church Torpedo," as I call them collectively, fanning out behind her as she moves to keep other women in line. Horse Teeth leads the charge, cornering a lone female not to her liking, and doing all the talking:

"You say you don't love your husband? You've filed for divorce from a good, God-fearing man? Well let me tell you what you need to do. You need to get your ass home and give that man a good country fucking. Right girls? Am I right?"

*  *  *

To write, or not to write, about the most despicable woman I ever knew? You see the dilemma. What a great character for someone who is exercising her writing muscles. But it is also true that words are capable of delivering mortal wounds, sometimes most worryingly, to the reputations of their writers. One could be seen as jealous, petty, the pathetic victim in a given scenario. Even if the writer could successfully protest, but not too much, that she is none of those things in a certain case, just an observer, don't negative sentiments reflect most of all on the person who has them?

What to do, what to do.

I'll be sure to let you know what I decide.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Leaning on a Shovel

Yesterday, after scratching around for a few Sunday morning hours trying to think of a project that would actually satisfy, Holly and I burst out the back door and ran for the garden tools. The temperature had risen to about 40 degrees, I’m guessing, in a short window between nighttime temps in the 20s. Eyeballing the ground from the kitchen window, we decided maybe, maybe it could be worked, and we were off to create a new bed for a perennial herb garden.

Oh this particular daughter of mine, how she understands the ancient call to get outside and make hay. She misses her work at Heifer International’s Overlook Farm in Massachusetts, having recently completed a five-month internship there. Her knowledge of farming and food pathways rivals mine, easy.

And to think I was the butt of a family joke for a long time, after picking the girls up from high school and remarking about a black mound of topsoil as we passed, “Look at that beautiful dirt.”

Dirt you say, Mom? Dirt? How about mildew, or garbage? Entrails, perhaps?

Within the last few weeks, 23-year-old Holly was the one driving us somewhere, absentmindedly, when her eyes lit upon another mound of compost-rich soil. Forgetting herself, she murmured, “Look at that beautiful dirt.

Kids say the darndest things …

* * *

Whoa there, friend:  erase all those notions of blooming azaleas and spring birdsong I’ve conjured with the mere mention of working the dirt. Here in Brumley Gap, the azaleas are not dead but they look it, and Doug, with his heart of gold for the smallest creatures, clears snow and tenderly spreads black oil sunflower seed to keep the birds from starving. Last time I wrote, I conveyed a reluctance to trust a burgeoning sense of well-being based on better weather, this being only late January. Christmas is recent enough that I almost feel I can turn, look over my shoulder, and see it.

Count me among those who believe there’s very good reason so many of the world’s cultures have arranged winter festivals, including Christmas, to fall around the time of the winter solstice. Even forced merriment works as a cultural adaptation to keep humans, in fits of dark winter depression, from following the example of lemmings. Pass the spiked eggnog, please. Or just the spike. I am thinking of adding some pagan traditions to our family holiday next year, to increase the beneficial effect, or at least to keep us busier in our attempts to survive until the days get longer. Admittedly, our tradition in recent years has amounted to me saying, “Hey somebody. Get a branch from the yard and stick some stuff on it.” But I rather like the Incan idea of ceremoniously tying the sun to a stone. How hard could it be?

Any harder than Holly and I stretching ourselves, physically, between the height of winter and the height of spring?

The ground did turn over under our shovels yesterday. We shed our layers one by one as we warmed to our own movements, beginning with down parkas. Then darkness came; snow fell; our unfinished project iced up, as though miserly Old Man Winter could not concede even that one small patch of ground. The shovels are still leaned against the back fence, dusted with frozen water crystals and cause for the neighbors to wonder if we know what we are doing. We do. In actuality, we are loath to put the tools of spring back in the shed. Our herb garden waits, and we wait. In short sunlit intervals, we will continue turning dirt, smothering the sleeping, unwanted weeds with plastic, lifting the plastic and spreading compost  --  to await planting after the danger of frost.

Old Man Winter grows weaker by the day, and what choice do we have, but to make that good enough for now?

None whatsoever.