Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pacing in La Paz: Mexico 1990

I'd taken the bus down from Tijuana, from Baja Norte into Baja Sur and stopped in La Paz--the capitol of Baja. The ride had been interesting, going along the sea and then crossing through a strange bouldered desert, then the Gulf of California, then back into a flat desert full of cacti and vultures and odd towns, then into La Paz.
after a bit of walking, I found a nice moderate place on a side street. It wasn't far from the main town, not far from the beach. I was hungry and tired. I was uncertain of myself. I was alone in Mexico.
What should I do?
I knew I should go out and explore. Get some food, see what was what, meet some other humans. But I didn't want to. I don't know if I was strung out or scared or just--as I said--uncertain, but all I really wanted to do was stay in my room and pace.
Just walk around in circles and get ahold of myself.
Oh, I chided myself. Here I was in my first solo destination in Mexico and all I wanted to do was hole up and be strange. I felt bad, I argued with my desire. Yet, ultimately, I gave in. I decided that, if it's what I wanted to do, then I'd do it, Mexico or not.
So, I did that. I paced my little room, thought my thoughts, decompressed and aclimated the way my brain and emotion was telling me to aclimate.
And . . . it worked.
It wasn't too long before my confidence and sense of adventure returned. I did go out. I went to a meal along the beach where two or three waiters kept bringing me all these little bowls of condiments or side dishes and I didn't know what I was supposed to do with them (EAT THEM!) and then, after, I wandered the town looking at the houses and the seaside and stopping in a bar where the TV was on and some locals were discussing the politics of the TV. "Tu eres un politico?" I asked, not sure what the hell I was really saying and the guy looked ta me, smiled, and said no. I don't know what he thought, if he thought I knew what they'd been saying (which I didn't) or if I was just some idiot interrupting their day. But at least I'd stuck my neck out and said something.
So, maybe the pacing about wasn't so bad. Maybe I had to walk out the confines of my cell before tasting the freedom outside.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Davidson Park and the Dog That Wasn't Mine: Champaign 1994

Since I stayed home with the two girls when they were babies, toddlers, little kids, in spring summer and fall I'd take them around to the parks in their stroller. At that time they watched a movie called Totoro, which they loved. In Totoro two young girls would find acorns (among many other things in the movie) and so, as I walked them in their stroller, both little blond-headed girls riding in the cart, they'd look for acorns. And there were plenty. Because if nothing else, Champaign had some wonderful trees. I'm talking great big oaks, maples, catalpas, tulip trees and many other big hardwoods--but especially oaks.
One park that had tons of these big trees--maybe the prettiest park in the city--was Davidson Park. It was off Church Street, up a ways from Miler Street (towards downtown) and was a very pleasant walk to get to. The park had some grand homes around it--all under leafy shade with big yards--and the place itself was a nice smallish horseshoe of a park, a round drive around it, with swing set and slide and jungle gym. It also had those huge spreading mature oaks and maples and sycamores all among it: lots of shade and birds and acorns to find. The girls loved it--but then, they loved about anything at that age. I probably appreciated it more then them, but it made a fine destination for a stroll. And, on the way back, you could stop at Hubers and buy them candy from the window.
Anyway. One time while we were there, a dog showed up. It wasn't a big dog, also not a small dog. It was rambunctious but not as puppy. It was a bit troublesome but also a rather comical dog. It ran around and tried to engage my little girls in play, but I found the dog (not a stray, you could tell) to be too rough for them, so, we left. But as we left the park--the girls in the stroller--the dog followed us.
The girls were fine, so I made no effort to shoo it away. But as we walked down Church--before Hubers and the candy--a youngish guy came walking towards us and he had a dog and his dog was on a leash. Well, the troublesome dog trotting next to us ran right up to this guy's dog and began yapping and nipping and just plain teasing the leashed pet. When we got up to them the man looked at me, giving me the evil eye.
Ah! He thought it was MY dog!
"That's not my dog," I said and strolled right on by. And the guy, realizing he'd been giving me the evil eye for naught, went about trying to shoo the dog-that-was-not-mine away--without too much success.
I was glad I had babies.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Kitty Cat Stone: Champaign 1995

When we first moved into the little rented house on Miller Street there was an old man who lived in the house directly behind us. As I did yard work and as a couple of years passed, I talked to him a bit but never really got to know him. He lived alone and kept to himself, as best I could tell. I did notice that he had a cat. This was a big Tom cat, orange and long-haired. The cat--like the old man--kept to himself. It wasn't a mean cat or a nice cat, it was your classic independent cat.
Well, while in that house, we had our first child and then added another and we went about our business as a young family. We had two cats--M.R. and Jack--and then Jack got run over by a car on Church Street and then we had one cat who was low on the totem pole of attention because Fru and I had our baby daughters. But later on I did notice that I didn't see much of the old man anymore. I still saw his cat, but not him. Then, from our next door neighbors (who'd been there forever) I found out that the man had fallen ill and had been taken to live with his daughter in Ohio (or maybe Indiana). I believe that he then died--but am not sure. Yet, his cat was still around. No one had come to take him.
So, being who I was and still am, I started leaving food out for him. He appreciated that and got over his fear of me and would let me pet him and would come to see me when I was out in the back yard. And then winter came. The big Tom was still living outside and seemed to have someplace to sleep and keep from being frozen and I continued to feed him. But then the hard part of winter came--a big snow, below zero temps--and I thought, okay, I better get that cat inside somewhere, maybe my garage.
By then he trusted me enough to let me pick him up. So, after feeding him in the evening, I did just that. No problem. But when I went to take him inside our house, he didn't want to. He didn't scratch or bite, he just struggled a bit and showed his fear and displeasure, but I took him in anyway. I put him in the garage. He did not like this at all. I can't recall if I kept him there all night or what, but the cat felt that he had been captured and so I let him go, go out into the snow and frozen world and he appreciated that. And so for that winter and all the rest of our winters in Champaign, that was the arrangement: he was an outdoor cat no matter what.
Because we had little kids and because we had glass French Doors that opened up to our back yard and the big Tom would come up to those doors and sit there and look in and wait to be fed, we had to name him. So, I named him Kitty Cat Stone. The girls called him Kitty Cat Stone and we even had a song about him which I'm going to sing for you right now . . . (Joking--we had songs for everything back then, dumb little ditties that the girls loved). Anyway, I did end up building this gawd-ugly cat house for him so he at least had some shelter to sit in in the winter as he waited for me to feed him, but he was living somewhere--under a house or in a shed--that kept him alive in the winter. It was not unusual to wake up on a cold-bitter-cold snowy morning and turn on the light and see Kitty Cat Stone standing there at the window with ice sickles all around him. (Sort of like that.)
The thing was, we also had a squirrel that came to the back door to be fed. Her name was Lula and she would eat from your hand. The squirrel was not afraid of the cat and sometimes both of them would sit right next to each other and look into the house. Both were hungry. I don't know why Kitty Cat Stone left Lula alone--he was much bigger than her--but such is the nature of free food. I also recall that, being a cat, sometimes he would vomit up his food and it would freeze there on the porch and then, then, the starlings would find it and have a feeding frenzy over his frozen vomit. Yum!
When we left Champaign I informed both next door neighbors about Kitty Cat Stone. I gave the woman next to us what cat food I had and the gawd-ugly cat house. She said she'd feed him, as did our other next door neighbors, the Christians (or something like that). And then we moved away, down to South Florida where there was no snow.
It was a few years later when Fru's sister--who lived in the same neighborhood in Champaign by then--sent us a clipping from the local paper, the News-Gazette. It was a photo and the photo was of a big orange cat on a porch in the snow, taken just down the block from our old house.
Of course it was Kitty Cat Stone. He was still alive. He was still living his independent life in the snow.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Leaving Vancouver: 1967

I could be wrong about the year. It could have been in 1966, but I think it was the winter of 67 that we packed up and left Washington and moved to Tennessee. My father had bought a brand new 1966 Ford Falcon Wagon--a dark metallic green--and after the moving vans had come, we all piled into that car (seven of us) with a multitude of belongings and we took off. Must have been 67.
It was still winter, so we took the southern route through California with stops at Yosemite and San Fran, Los Angeles and across through Arizona (must have stopped at the Grand Canyon, but maybe not that trip) and into New Mexico. It was one of the classic long car trips of my childhood. I do recall wanting to see Albuquerque because my best friend back in Vancouver (Joey Hanes) was from there.
The whole trip was full of long rides and adventure. I usually rode in the very back, among blankets and boxes, sacks of snacks and suitcases. I had a little spot burrowed out there along the back window and side window, a comfortable nest where I could watch new worlds go by as Father drove. Of course it would be illegal now, but back then you just rode whatever way you wanted and no one used seat belts. We stayed in motels mostly--small places, sometimes a Holiday Inn which we considered to be extravagant, a luxury resort. My father liked to drive all day and into the nigh, he liked to get going before the sun rose sometimes. I do get that trip mixed up a bit with all the other long trips we took, but I do recall specifically a time in Texas.
In Texas--the panhandle, I think, around Amarillo--we were up before dawn. I was in my cubbyhole in back and I remember, distinctly, the sunrise. It was a big fat orange sunrise with the empty lonesome highway and that endless nothing nothing land all around and the sun came up and lit it all, showering it with pinks and grays and requisite purples. Orange and yellow and the beginnings of blue. And it struck me. I was nine or ten or whatever and it hit me that this was a beautiful moment. Not just the sunrise, the the sunrise in Texas and the way I felt, the texture of the moment, the context of the trip and the unconnectedness to any home or place or community. We had no idea what Tennessee was or expectations. We as a family--at least how I see it--had only ourselves and our slim belongings and the car, had motels and new horizons. We had only the moment.
Man, that was a long time ago. I don't think I can even conjure up any of that feeling--that feeling of childhood and being in my family, that world of brothers and sisters, of toys and newness. That long passages of time. Maybe I can get that feeling--I mean, I can remember it, I just can't feel it.
Anyway. We moved from Vancouver and most of us regretted that. We didn't know at the time, but we did regret it soon enough. For a very long time I considered Washington State--the Pacific Northwest--considered Vancouver to be my home. Though I'd been born in South Dakota and was there till the age of five (or almost the age of 5), Vancouver was home. I don't recall being sad about us leaving. I remember walking home from school and thinking: "I'm moving to Tennessee!" I was excited. But I--we kids--didn't say Johnson City, we just said Tennessee. We had no idea. But we left. We'd done it before--a big move--and we just went along with this one as well. We were kids. But that long drive was something. That move. I grew into a new consciousness on that trip--I became more aware of the world, the innate beauty of the physical world but also the inner beauty of my own nomadic existence--on that morning in the Texas panhandle.