Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Alarming Truth of Fall

“We all live with the aim of being happy; our lives are all different and yet all the same.” Anne Frank

Technology will be the death of me; I kid you not.

I was sound asleep the other night when off in the distance I heard a soft chirp. As I was asleep, I couldn’t really register what I was hearing or how it connected with my dream (the subject of which I have absolutely no recollection). I do vaguely recall hauling out a jack with which to pry open one blood-shot eyeball and, glancing at the clock beside my bed, noted the time was something “foggy past midnight.” That’s about as clear as I could make it out.

After a few minutes I heard the chirp again and this time I squeezed my eyelids as tight as I could (as if that would simultaneously close my ears – such is how my mind works at the wonky-weird hours of the night).

My wife nudged me and said, “It’s the smoke alarm.” I think she expected me to do something with the information, but without a whiff of danger in the air, my brain blinked “Does Not Compute,” and sent no instructions to either my joints or my muscles. Being fluent in Neanderthal, I responded with, “Um hum, snort.”

I did my best to ignore the twittering chirps which seemed to be taking place every ten minutes or so. God has gifted me with a tremendous amount of patience (sometimes known as Sloth, my favorite Cardinal Sin), as well as an age-related decline in hearing, so I tossed and turned for several hours whilst simultaneously disregarding the relentless chirping of the smoke detector.

Finally, I had no option but to get up and address the matter. That I was forced to do so was the result of two things happening at once. First, I knew I had performed a number of minor electrical repairs in the house after we moved in, so having smoke detectors in good working order is critical, and secondly, the call of nature by then was also chirping.

So I crawled out of bed and quietly crept through the house, closing the bedroom door behind me (so as not to awaken the love of my life); turned on some lights (which really are quite blindingly bright – more so than me – at 3:00 a.m.) then stood in a stupor while I awaited the next chirp so I could find the bleedin’ smoke detector through a technique known as pseudo-echo-location (as I knew my eyes would not be functioning for another few minutes).

Once it chirped, I remembered where it was, so I opened the coat closet and pulled out the little kitchen step ladder (which unfolds more loudly than normal when one is trying to be quiet), stepped up to the chirpy little ceiling hugger, opened the battery hatch, and removed the 9 volt corpse from its vault.

There, that should stop the chirping I thought to myself. Oh pity the fool who suffers to think at 3 a.m. The alarm chirped cheerily in response and put an end to any notion of serenity.

So I traipsed over to the cupboard where we keep all our batteries, pulled down the plastic bin with its wide array (and alphabet soup) of energizers and found what I needed. I pulled it out of its zipper bag (yes, we are disgustingly well-organized neat freaks), climbed the ladder, slid the battery into place and, voila, finally got to enjoy the sound of silence.

By this time, of course, I was wide awake and have learned that returning to bed and sleep is seldom a viable option, so I made myself a pot of coffee and, having turned off most of the lights, enjoyed a cup of go-go-juice in the quiet semi-darkness of very-early-morning and thought:

There was a time one changed batteries on smoke detectors every six months and used the time-changes from Daylight to Standard and back again as their chief reference point. But these days, Standard time is a substandard four months; from now on I will have to simply rely on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes to attend this very important duty.

Lesson learned: don’t be a Chirp-skate. Please replace your batteries now throughout this, our valley; the sleep you save could be your own!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Reading Leaves

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Will Rogers

The tree outside my front room is changing. The tender leaves of summer are giving way to duller shades of green while those well-past their prime have morphed into various hues of orange, gold, and brown.

Every now and then a falling leaf catches my eye. I look up to see if the momentary flit is that of a bird or a bug, but more often than not, it’s the drop of a leaf that’s lost its cling and taken one last adventure, flying off on some autumnal fling.

I chanced to ask the tree what she thought about fall and she smilingly replied, “It is only in letting go that I am able now to grow.”

I had always assumed a significant level of wisdom resided in trees (wooden you know it). They grow slowly for the most part; they have no axe to grind. Like dogs, they bark (but ever so quietly); although many are Branch Managers, they’re humble and seldom bossy; they seem to be introverts who know well enough to leaf one another alone with their thoughts. It’s no wonder I like and appreciate trees.

Since the Maple was kind enough to answer my initial query, I wondered if she wood mind carrying on a brief conversation, as I am always eager to tap into all the wisdom this world has to offer, and this was a tree-mendous opportunity standing right here in front of me.

Although I can be a blockhead at times, I knew better than to beat around the bush, for I figured Ms. Maple might bore easily, so I went out on a limb and dared ask her about her take on the Meaning of Life.

She sighed (or maybe it was the wind blowing gently through her boughs), “Life is.”

“Life is what?” I pressed, like a plywood manufacturer.

There was a great pause, and she simply repeated, “Life is.” Her voice was soft and gentle, although a bit raspy, like the voice of a smoker. Perhaps this Maple has some Ash in her genes, I thought.

I didn’t want to push my luck regarding this investigation; if she was satisfied to tell me twice that the Meaning of Life is simply “Life Is,” then I should be satisfied and move on. Perhaps there was another way I could put my question that wouldn’t make me look like such a sap barking up her trunk. Maybe I could get to the root of the matter another way.

“Last month,” I continued, “my wife and I removed a ton of ivy from some of the trees out back. We were concerned the vines might do them harm. Do you worry about things like that?”

The Maple stood by silently, perhaps deep in thought, perhaps knot. I couldn’t tell, but after a few moments she sighed and replied, “Ivy lives. Why worry? Life is.”

I considered her words and knew instinctively that she was right. The ivy has as much right to live as the Maple. Yes, we may prefer the tree to the vine, but we are human and not divine. Even if the tree should choke and die, it will continue to live, returning its substance to the earth, and from the earth on to the vines, mosses, fungi, worms, and such what-not.

I thanked the tree for her time. I was amazed by how much wisdom was encapsulated in those two simple words, “Life Is.”

It certainly is. I’ve always appreciated nature, and especially what she has to teach the rest of us mere mortals. We like to think we’re so smart, and yet it seems our best thinking gets us into the worst messes imaginable.

Nature is humble. Yes, each creature (whether mineral, vegetable, or other life-form) strives to survive, but ego never gets in the way. The cat that misses catching the mouse doesn’t berate itself for being slow or stupid; it simply looks around for another chance at a meal.

Perhaps humanity would be well-served to ratchet down its delusions of grandeur and the monstrosities of its dog-eat-dog cannibalistic ego run-amuck.

It shouldn’t take a 2x4 alongside the head to figure out that “Life Is” really is enough for all of us here in this, our valley. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Autumnal Chalk & Squirrels

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven – John Milton, Paradise Lost

I woke up this morning and wondered what the day was going to be like. My first instinct was to unsleep my phone and check out the weather app for time, temperature, and expected highs and lows, but then decided, instead, to open the drapes covering the slider and checking the weather the old-fashioned way – by looking outside.

The sun hadn’t quite made her appearance as yet; the skies were pretty flat, like the well-worn gray of an old fashioned black-board. I caught the momentary whiff of chalk-dust being inhaled – the gift of a memory’s dance with the present.

Back in the ‘60s, teachers often rewarded the day’s most honorable student in class by letting them take old chalkboard erasers across the asphalt playground to the boiler room where eager young lads and lasses could enthusiastically whap them against the brick exterior of the old and venerable Whittier Elementary School (in Seattle). Sadly, I did not have many opportunities to smack erasers against the walls of that ancient institution of lower learning – but when I did, there was no greater joy, not even in Mudville.

Such were the memories that flooded my mind as I looked outside. The sun had not begun to even try to crack open the dawn in the murky darkness, and yet there was enough light to see the air was crisp and clear, and while there was likely a layer of low clouds hanging overhead, it did not appear we would be in for rain – at least not for a while.

I grabbed a cup of coffee – the nectar of life – and returned to the slider to enjoy the slow emergence of the day. Glancing down, I observed a squirrel make her way across our deck. I wondered if she was expecting a handout, or if she was even aware of this human standing still against the glass door and watching her every stop and start. She paused and turned her head ever so slightly, looked me in the eye, returning glance for glance, shrugged her shoulders and went back to foraging the deck for whatever it is squirrels like for breakfast.

I thought about offering her something from our cupboard but, for the life of me, couldn’t think of anything that would be good (in the healthy sense of the word) for squirrels. The fact is, there isn’t much that would probably actually qualify as being good for human consumption either (too much sugar and sodium), so I set aside that thought for now. Besides, I did not want this squirrel, or any critter, for that matter, to become a pest, begging for peanuts or crumbs or bread, or things like that.

Then I looked up at the hummingbird feeder that hangs above the deck.

Hmm. Why is it OK to feed birds and not squirrels? How do we humans justify our inconsistencies?

A lady working her garden once told me (when asked), “The difference between a weed and a flower is nothing more than a weed is a plant that grows where you don’t want it.”

Is it the same for humans? Do we consider some people to be weeds – communia colligentes zizania – and others to be flowers, worthy of cultivation and care?

The Good Book tells us that the human family was created in God’s image (even if we may not always act like it or look like it or even feel like it). Hmm.

After a moment of pondering I returned to my morning squirrel-watching, but she had apparently moved on. I couldn’t blame her. Philosophy did not appear to be high on her list of things to do. I suspect she really didn’t care what I was thinking. I doubt she considered herself “less fortunate” than the birds who could access our fake nectar-dispensing bottle.

I believe she simply followed her nose wherever the Great Squirrel inspired her to go, and delighted in all Manna of tasty morsels found along the way.

I looked over the neighbor’s house and watched the sun begin to break open the dome of heaven in the East, took another swig of coffee from my mug, and smiled at the simple pleasures of Fall in this, our valley.