Sunday, March 30, 2008


At the college where I worked in Boston, our second floor office had glass doors which opened onto the metal balcony/fire escape. In warm weather we'd often leave them open for fresh air, and would stand on the balcony during breaks enjoying the view of trees and brownstones. One day in 1991 as I stood out there, a grey squirrel leapt onto my thigh and clung there momentarily. I shook him off but he followed me back into the office where a clever coworker used a trail of pastry to get him back outside again.

The coworker was a great young woman from Italy with enormous integrity and one of the few people I'd socialize with outside of work, going out for small group dinners which continued as members of the group moved on to other employers. Occasionally I'd wish we were closer in age.

Many moves and jobs later, early on the morning of July 1, 2006, I walked outside and heard a clanking sound. Turning toward the noise, I saw a squirrel dragging a trap across the sidewalk as he ran under a car parked on the street and jumped up onto the rear axle. I grabbed a broom, towel, gloves, and box and tried to encourage him out in the open but he wouldn't budge. Although I could reach part of the trap, I didn't want to cause him more pain by using it to pull him out, or risk getting the trap hopelessly tangled with the car.

I called a wildlife rehabber who lived nearby and she quickly arrived. We made our plan to free the squirrel, then grab him to see what treatment was necessary. As I held onto the chain immobilizing the squirrel, she was able to scoot under the car, reach the trap and pry its jaws apart. As soon as he was free, the squirrel wanted nothing to do with our plan and quickly raced up the brick wall of my three story apartment building with his useless leg flopping behind him. We were disappointed that we hadn't caught him and expected that between his handicap and the possibility of infection he probably wouldn't live long. However, I was happy that he would at least die free without having to drag pounds of metal around after him.

This afternoon I looked outside and saw that squirrel, his leg now gone, eating from a loaf of French bread a neighbor had put out for the wildlife. I whooped in delight and quickly broke up a few slices of seedy whole grains bread and tossed them out. The squirrel, who had climbed a tree when I opened the window, quickly descended, his stump jerking as he moved or when it bumped the ground, and ate a few pieces of my bread before returning to the crusty loaf. This was the best thing that happened to me today, and I knew that we'd done a good deed on that morning almost two years ago.

Yesterday, I received an email telling me that Boston coworker has stage IV Hodgkins lymphoma, and among many other things, I thought of the squirrel on my thigh.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spring Snow

The plan was to stay in all day to cook and continue reading Planetwalker, a book which will figure in a future post. When I raised the blind and saw it snowing with a couple inches on the ground plans changed. I hadn't heard a forecast so I checked the weather which predicted flurries, but radar showed a long arrow of Lake effect snow coming off Superior with the east wind. I didn't think I'd be as lucky as other parts of the state which got over a foot a couple days ago, but I'd enjoy whatever came. On with the boots and I hurried out.

At the best of times, the beauty of a snowstorm is ephemeral before the wind and sun remove it from tree branches and humans sully it and push it out of the way of commerce. In early spring with more sunlight, the silent whiteness remains even more briefly. Knowing that each storm could be the last til next winter adds extra appreciation and gratitude to the moment until the joy approaches that felt during the first good storm of the season.

We'd had a couple big storms in December which remained on the ground all winter, but not much accumulation since and little opportunity to be outside as the snow fell. The early morning Sunday, with the bonus of being a holiday to most people in the area, made the streets particularly still as I walked through the new powder. My ears heard a euphony of crows which seemed to indicate they were enjoying the weather along with me and, with my eyes closed and the human world quiet, reminded me of ravens deep in the woods. Ahh, corvids, another worthy topic.

The previous day also brought unplanned pleasure as recent writing about musicians led to hours of music: the latest releases from Kristofferson and Cockburn, followed by oldies by War and Harrison. Kris's reflections on approaching the end of life and Bruce's politics made me head back to simpler times and older music. At some point during freshman year, my roommate and I each chose a theme song: his was Neil Young's Southern Man, mine was War's Gypsy Man. I wasn't actually a big fan of the traveling I did even back then, though the wastefulness of it didn't cross my mind at the time, but I liked the song for the music and this line:

I'm searchin' for a brand new world
To make and call my home

I finished up with George's Living in the Material World, which was one of my favorite albums. Its repeated variations on the theme of rejecting mainstream values in favor of seeking peace, humility, wisdom, and spirituality; its expression of the frustration and pain which comes from the clash embodied in the title--back then, these made me feel empathy for both the millionaire rock star and myself.

The music still spoke to and for me, but I don't know that I've gotten much further after an extra thirty years of searchin' and seeking. The material world has gotten worse by my values and I still feel every bit as uncomfortable living in it. But sometimes, for a couple hours in the snow, with only the sound of the crow, I know how a human should be in the world, and believe that someday they will be again.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Tides of March

I saw the first ship of the season on the Lake this weekend, the Mesabi Miner headed to Marquette (wondered if I could hitch a ride since taking the bus to Marquette now involves a 20 hour scenic tour of Minnesota and Wisconsin). I enjoy watching them, wouldn't mind working on them, but I'd rather watch the Ice.

I sometimes feel like a critter who hibernates in the summer; I'm encountering more people on my Lakewalks as temperatures rise and snow melts and I'm getting wearier, sleepier without the recharging effect of those cold solitary hours. The creek trails I used to walk every day have been overrun by people who feel no need to obey leash laws, and sick of encounters with charging barking dogs I gave up those hikes a couple years ago.

Government, industry, and land/animal exploiters always said that radical environmentalists and animal liberators would lead to someone getting shot. They were right. Paul Watson, head of Sea Shepherd, got shot by someone on a Japanese ship but was ok due to his bullet-proof vest. Disclaimer: Though I don't think whalers or the Japanese Coast Guard are above this act by any means, I also wouldn't be totally shocked if this turns out to be a publicity stunt by Watson. But more importantly, due to the efforts of Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace, Japanese whalers killed only about half of the whales they intended to kill this season.

Have been reading some Thoreau natural history and longing for those woods and my walks in them. Also reading my encyclopedia (still on A), making more frequent visits to check on the peregrine falcons downtown,
thinning my possessions, temping and interviewing a bit, and happily eating penne with asparagus, basil and olive oil. Received an update that Cassie the cow continues to do well listening to harp music.

Dan Fogelberg died back in December and I didn't really feel much about it. Although I never saw him live and stopped buying his music decades ago,
back in the mid 70s when I was going to college in Illinois his music was omnipresent in the dorms as it was his home state. As I traveled back and forth between Illinois and Boston, I sang along to "It looks like you're gonna have to see me again, Illinois." I still have those early albums and they bring me back to those people and places, but when I listened to one of his greatest hits collections last week, it was a couple of his later songs, one about his father and the other about a chance meeting with an old lover which tugged at the heart and memories the most.

We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to now
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness
But neither one knew how.
(Dan Fogelberg, Same Old Lang Syne)

The other big running into an ex song from the 70s for me was by Harry Chapin, another dead singer, but this time one I was lucky enough to see perform once shortly before his fatal traffic accident in '81. Of course back in the 70s I'd had no ancient relationships leading to gut-wrenching chance encounters, but I was a big R/little r-omantic and imagined that I could easily understand the feelings. Today I think the power of the songs has little to do with the lost relationships, and much more to do with the lost years.

Oh, I've got something inside me
Not what my life's about
Cause I've been letting my outside tide me
Over til my time runs out.
(Harry Chapin, Taxi)

And though I felt a little more pain at the death of Harry,
so much closer to the years when his music mattered to me, than at the death of Dan, it was another singer's earlier death at the peak of his career which was the only time I recall actually crying over a musician's death. I may have been stunned by Lennon's assassination in my 20s, but it was Jim Croce's plane crash in my teens which really got to me. There were no heavy attempts at profundity as from Harry and Dan; Jim's songs just seemed to come from a straight-forward likable and funny guy. Listening to the three of them these 3 1/2 decades later, it's Jim's simple music which holds up the best for me.

'Cause I've had my share of broken dreams
And more than a couple of falls
And in chasin' what I thought were moonbeams
I have run into a couple of walls
But in looking back at the faces I've been
I would sure be the first one to say
When I look at myself today
Wouldn'ta done it any other way
(Jim Croce, The Hard Way Every Time)

P.S. I love the sound of crow caws in the morning.