Wheatfield Near Fort Pierre, South Dakota. Photograph by Robert Clements

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Somewhere Near Tomato Can Buttes

Yesterday, on one of our road-trips up north, we had a traffic event. Robert, who knows how to keep a cool head during interesting vehicle shenanigans, managed to keep us on course. He has written a beautiful piece on it that I would like to share with you all. 

Robert Clements, Artist and Photographer.

Somewhere down the road from the Tomato Can Buttes we hit a bump. A cattle guard, a metal grate in the road to keep livestock on the right side of the fence and to allow vehicle passage without having to open and close gates, had settled about 18 inches lower than the surface of the road.  Muddy road, speed (40 mph maybe) and driver distraction equals Big bump. I didn't yell "Hold my beer & watch this". I did yell. Something like 'hold on' and maybe a 4 letter word that means oh-oh. 

No damage to humans, animals or vehicle. That was a surprise. What did happen was all the stuff on the dashboard in little pockets & trays designed for keys & sunglasses flew into the air and dispursed itself into other places around the pickup. This 'stuff' was several years worth of specimens, souvenirs and samples of nature & events. I'd like to think of myself as more of a naturalist rather than psycho-billy artist who has never met a rock, bone or feather that I didn't like. It's probably a distinction that matters little. 

Tomato Can Buttes and Two Cottonwoods.

Among the stuff that went into the air with enough dust to nearly set off an asthma attack were some rattlesnake rattles, more than I thought I had. Baculite segments. Green Calcite (I haven't found the yellow calcite yet) petrified wood, rose quartz, prairie agates. A bead & horsehair Navajo tchotchke,  lots of chips, flakes and broken arrowheads. Rose petals crumbled unto dust, from my mother's funeral.  The jaw bone from a jackrabbit or prairie dog. Four inches of a 6-inch garter snake that had the misfortune to be outside when winter hit. Perfect freeze-dried preservation, though the colors had faded from its time on the dash.  We'll see where the missing parts turn up. Mica. Part of a turtle shell. Crystal, bones and rocks I don't know the name of. An iron concretion that looks like a puppy dog footprint. 

Dashboard treasures from the Plains and Prairie. 

I can't always remember where my glasses or keys are, or why I walked into this room, but because I mostly remember the very moment and place, including the temperature, light and smell where I picked up each of these items, I'm much less fearful of the future. 

Maybe even comforted.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

I Miss My Girls

No photos on this one because there are too many to post and because this post has to do with the heart, rather than the eyes. It has to do with people who knew me before electronics, before cyberspace, before the use of personal computers, when all we had were land phones and we listened for our favorite songs through the crackle of AM radio stations.

It's Saturday, and I'm missing my women friends back East, is all. I have made a few friends here, and they are dear to me, but oh, how I miss women who really know me, have known me for a long time, and like me, anyway. And oh, how I love them. "And later, nighttime songs came back again," sang Carlie Simon. "But the singers don't compare to those I knew...".

If you looked carefully, back then, you would see a motley group of young girls with thin, filly-worthy bare legs and grubby skinned knees, galloping in a herd through the neighborhood cemetery. I miss those women who praised imagination as life in its highest form and had complete faith that, whatever we wanted to become, so it would be. I miss our faith, our awkwardness, and our complete and utter allegiance to one another.

I'm thinking of those women who have made me laugh so hard that a trip to the bathroom came too late, and we didn't care. We laughed harder, is all. As teenagers, we sat around kitchen tables steeped in the wonder of our astrological signs - I wanted to be a Scorpio back then - and consulted Ouija boards for conversations with ghosts who inhabited our houses and our minds. We went to movies that held us spellbound long after we left the theater. We had overnights in which I would wake up, hear my friends breathing, and know that all was right with the world. We went to the local coffee house and pretended to ignore the boys that we longed for with all of our hearts.

I'm homesick for the women I've cried with over deceased pets, the unfairness of parental dictates on our behavior or lack thereof, bad breakups, the deaths of President Kennedy, John Lennon, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and so many others, the absolute tragedy of a dead bird, the fear and loathing of not being cool, and the loyal and indignant comfort offered after humiliating situations that we thought we would never get over.

On weekends back East, I lived alone. Every weekend I visited at least one friend for coffee and conversation, for walks and talks and validation, for comparisons on our relationships or lack thereof, for dog time, cat time, theater time, time, time. Somehow, during those short hours, we solved, resolved, or redirected the pathos and paths that made up the emotional trajectories of our lives. We got through everything intact for the most part, and with the understanding that someone out there believed in us like no one else ever would or could.  

When I was writing my novel in my little house, I would come out after several long sessions with pretend people, dazed and wondering where everyone went. It always feels strange to enter the world again, after leaving it to perform what is essentially magic with your mind. But I could always call a girlfriend for lunch, or a chat, or just to make a connection that would tell me that life was running on most of its cylinders, that their children and/or spouses were fine, and that the real world was functioning without me in it for a while. They were the ones who were most excited when the novel was finished and released. I miss those celebrations and I miss celebrating their triumphs.

We all need that. At any age.

Robert and I talk about how it's harder to make friends at our age. Everyone is busy and they have their own lives. And we live in a new place that is remote and people are far flung. For lunch, for instance, the women I know travel 50 miles or more to enjoy one another's company. We don't meet often, and it's special when we do. Lunch lasts for hours. As it should.

Here, I'm meeting my friends as an adult. At this point, we've solved most of our more melodramatic situations and we've learned how to manage. We encourage one another, and help out when we can. We have developed mountains of coping skills and strength and we have our own families to shelter our dreams and our sorrows. Hours once spent spilling secrets and drinking tea or wine have dwindled to the amount of time it takes to be interrupted by a cell phone call. We are more guarded, because we should know better by now, I guess. I don't know. I still feel 14 sometimes, with its aches and confusions. And that's when I miss my women the most. It was my choice to live here in this strangely beautiful place, and I love my partner.

All that has nothing to do with how I miss my women.

On this day before St. Patrick's Day, I raise an crystal-etched filled glass with good red wine to cherished memories and rock-solid friendships that go back before the beginning of who I am now, here, writing on a laptop in a small college town in this big state where, when I shout out my heart's desire, I hear an echo most of the time.

I would rather hear the voice of my oldest friend who hates the phone, the voice of my friend who still has honey-blond hair and a love for animals and fantasy, the wise counsel of my friend with the deep voice and the wicked laugh, the soft voice of my friend who listens like no one else, the humor and toughness of my friend with the greyhounds, my beloved pearls, my New England sister, my friend who lives somewhere near Seattle, my six-grade girlfriend who had a dog named Skipper, my ever-missed Lovie, Hadley Raymond, and so many more. We can reach out and touch each other whenever we want. We can call, email, Facebook, text, twitter, hash tag, and/or do some Face Time or Skype.

I just wish, with all of my heart, that I could hug one of them, right now.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Bird Feeder

This is how he works.

I make an impulse buy of bird food at Safeway, figuring I'll begin to feed the birds. I bring it home and put it down by the boots and coats in the mudroom of our house. He comes home that night and sees the birdseed.

"Do you want me to build you a bird feeder?" he says.

I hesitate. I'm used to doing things by myself and I can buy a bird feeder at a hardware store. Or get a hammer and nails and pound one together. That probably would never happen, but I'm an independent, two-fisted, I-Can-Do-It-Myself Maine woman and I could do it if I wanted to do it. After pausing, I say, "Sure," and forget about it.

I visit the gallery one day. "Want to see your bird feeder?" he says. Okay, why not. I follow him to his work area, where I look for some small rough-wooded contraption that he's glued together, but that isn't what he's doing.

What he's done is to take a piece of PVC pipe and attach it to the underside of the plastic top of a plastic bucket. He then has drilled holes into the bottom of the PVC pipe so that we can fill the hollow pipe with bird seed and it will dribble out of the holes into the bucket top feeder. He has a plastic cap that fits over the hollow PVC, bird seed-filled pipe. This cap will protect the bird seed from possible marauders.

The bird feeder.

To keep out the squirrels and the weather, he has fashioned a cap from part of an old tin ceiling to protect the bird food. Then, he affixes steel rods with little hooks on the end for perches, along with wooden chicken-terayaki sticks that circle the feeder so that the birds can perch while waiting to eat.

Old tin roof from a ceiling for the cover. Metal and wooden perches for the feeding birds.

We ponder how to hang the bird feeder, which has a triangular handle. He was originally going to hang the feeder on a chain link, up high so that the deer won't shoulder their voracious way into the seeds and scatter them all to kingdom come. I nix the chain link idea because it sounds heavy and cold and cumbersome to handle, because, after all, this is my idea and I will be the one to take care of the seed.

So, he fashions a pulley-operated, slim, but strong green rope with which I can raise and lower the feeder.  He screws a cleat into the tree we've selected to hang the feeder on, so that I can wrap the rope around it to keep the feeder aloft.

How I raise and lower the bird feeder.

We fill the feeder and pull it up for its maiden voyage. Then I sit in the living room and wait. In an hour, I'm impatient and bereft because the birds aren't using it. Any birds. "They're used to their own places," he says. "They'll discover it." And they do. The first bird I see flit onto the feeder, grab something within a millisecond, and dash away with it is a black-capped chickadee. The chickadee-dee-dee is Maine's state bird. I take this as a sign that my South Dakota feeder has Maine roots.

Now, a feisty group of dark-eyed juncos is enjoying the benefits of the fruits of his labor. One piggy blue jay landed briefly, but the tin-ceiling is too low, and it didn't stay long. It gives me great pleasure to watch the birds enjoy the food on these cold, snowy days. The dog and I go out every morning to fill the feeder and to scatter more near the bushes where the juncos hang out.

And I'm astounded at his creativity. The way he thinks amazes me. The bird feeder, and the practical use of seemingly disparate materials he used to put it together, reminds me of what Picasso did with a bicycle seat and bicycle handle bars.

Pablo Picasso, Bull's Head and Horns, fashioned from a bicycle seat and handle bars.

It also reminds me to let him in. To answer "Yes" when he suggests that he build something, or do something, or cook something for me, instead of pausing to wonder if he thinks that I'm too stupid to do it myself. Or, in its darkest form, wondering if his offer is a trick that will somehow come back to bite me in the butt.

How about this? I can accept his offers, and attach them to something completely foreign to me, like cooperative partnership, turn my heart upside down so that it holds what he has to offer, cover it with trust, and lower it so that I can fill it with patience and love, along with millet, peanuts, and sunflower seeds. Then, I can raise it up again and wait to see what lands there to feed so that it can digest the sustenance and strength it needs to take flight.