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New Years Resolutions Through the Back Door

Well what do you know? Here it is the 7th of January already! 2020 is well and truly under way, and I’ve revamped this P1030134post from the archives because it’s a post that I need to re-read for my own benefit every year, and I hope it will be something to encourage readers as well.

The gym was overflowing with New Years Resolutioners yesterday when I went to do Kettle Bells; all around the world new diets have been begun. As soon as the New Year hangover wears off gazillions of gloomy people are signing on to Dry January; people stop drinking, stop smoking, begin learning Spanish or French, people promise to take better care of themselves, spend more time with good friends, waste less time in front of the telly, read more, exercise more, write more, and the list goes on. On January 7th the universal urge to be ‘better’ in the New Year is nearly palpable in the soggy English air.

And I’m behind somehow, as I have been for the last few years. New Years Eve passes me by in a daze and so does New Years Day, and in the midst of it all I have this vague notion that I should do something, or at least think something profound. That urge to reflect on what has been and plan how the New Year will be better is always there, but somehow ends up subsumed in the immediacy of everything else going on as the old year hear hammers down to the wire and the new one barrels over me.

Hope and excitement at new beginnings is so much a part of our human nature that the end of a year and the beginning of another one can’t help but be the time when we anticipate, plan change, and dare to dream of what wonderful things we can bring about in the next year. In fact there’s a heady sense of power in the New Year. I think it’s the time when we’re most confident that we can make changes, that we really do have power over our own lives. It’s the time when we’re most proactive toward those changes, those visions of the people we want to be. I think that’s because it’s the one time of the year when there is a clear delineation between what has been and what will be – even if it is really rather arbitrary.

Before I actually began to sell my writing, back when I dreamed of that first publication, back when there seemed to be a lot more time for navel gazing than is now, I was a consummate journaler. I filled pages and pages, notebooks and notebooks full of my reflections, ruminations and navel gazes. And nothing took more time and energy than the end of Sleeping woman reading181340322466666994_IswNAb85_bthe year entry, in which I reflected on how I did on the year’s resolutions and planned my resolutions for the next. This was a process that often began late in November with me reading back through journals, taking notes, tracing down some of what I’d been reading during that year and reflecting on it. Yeah, I know. I needed to get a life!

By the time New Years Day rolled around, I had an extensive list of resolutions, each with a detailed outline of action as to how I was going to achieve it. I found that some of those resolutions simply fell by the wayside almost before the year began — those things that if I’m honest with myself, I know I’m never gonna do, no matter how much I wish I would. Others I achieved in varying degrees-ish. But sadly, for the most part, a month or maybe two into the year, that hard core maniacal urge to be a better me no matter what cooled to tepid indifference as every-day life took the shine off the New Year.

It was only when there stopped being time for such ginormous navel-gazes and micro-planning that I discovered I actually had achieved a lot of those goals that were my resolutions simply by just getting on with it. As I began to think more about how different my approach to all things new in the New Year had become the busier I became, I realised that I had, through no planning on my part, perfected the sneak-in-through-the-back-door method of dealing with the New Year. The big, bright New Year changes I used to spend days plotting and planning no longer got written down, no longer got planned out. Instead, they sort of implemented themselves in a totally unorganised way somewhere between the middle of January and the middle of February. They were easy on me, sort of whispering and smiling unobtrusively from the corners of my life. They came upon me, not in a sneak attack so much as a passing brush with someone who would somehow become my best friend.

All together, I’ve written more that a half a million words this year. Needless to say, I’m my own harsh taskmaster. I’m driven, I’m tunnel-visioned, I’m a pit bull when I grab on to what I want to achieve with my writing. No one is harder on me than I am – no one is even close. And yet from somewhere there’s a gentler voice that sneaks in through the back door of the New Year and through the back doors of my life and reminds me to be kinder to me, to be easier on me, to find ways to rest and recreate and feed my creative self. I’ll never stop being driven. The time I’ve been given, the time we’ve all been given, is finite. And that gentler part of ourselves must somehow be a constant reminder of comfort and forgiveness, of self-betterment that comes, not from brow-beating and berating ourselves, not from forced regimentation, but from easing into it, making ourselves comfortable with it. We, all of us, live in a time when life is http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-abstract-black-white-writing-pen-image20156020snatched away from us one sound-bite, one reality TV show, one advert at a time. Often our time, our precious time is bargained away from us by harsher forces, by ideals and scripts that aren’t our own, and the less time we have to dwell on the still small voice, the deeper the loss.

So my resolution, my only resolution every year is to listen more carefully to that gentler, quieter part of me, to forgive myself for not being able to be the super-human I think I should be, to settle into the arms of and be comfortable with the quieter me, the wiser me who knows how far I’ve really come, who knows that the shaping of a human being goes way deeper than what’s achieved in the outer world, and every heart that beats needs to find its own refuge in the value of just being who we are, of living in the present and coming quietly and gently and hopefully into 2020.

 

Doing the Gingerbread Man

Holiday sweets that I promise won’t add extra calories of your celebrations, but guaranteed to make your holidays a little naughtier.

 

 

It might have been too much mulled wine, or perhaps a sugar high from eating damn near as much of my holiday baking as I … well as I baked. It might have been just a longing for a little bit of that holiday magic I remembered from my childhood. Whatever it was, on a whim, I decided to bake gingerbread men. I mean why should kids have all the fun. I was alone over the holiday and I had decided that I was going to make the best of it, that I was not going to feel sorry for myself. I was going to have a good time if it killed me, and that good time involved making, decorating, and eating gingerbread men.

The recipe I found online not only promised that my ginger bread men would be tasty, but that they would also be chewy. My mouth watered at the thought. I had all the ingredients, and in my cupboard I found red hots for buttons, dried cranberries for lips and slivered almonds for eyes, plus I had several tubes of icing in primary colors all ready and waiting to spiff up those men when I took them out of the oven.

The recipe was supposed to make sixteen gingerbread people – gender of your own choosing, but I never was great at following a recipe. I reckon they’re just guidelines anyway. Instead of the requisite sixteen biscuit boys, I opted for one giant, macho, gingerbread man, one that would fill the entire cookie sheet. By the time I had the dough mixed up, I’d switched from mulled wine to Prosecco. Truth be told, most ginger bread men were entirely too unmanly for my taste. I intended to create a testosterone charged, hunk of a gingerbread man, one that would seriously make my mouth water and give me something to wrap my lips around. I wanted my big GBM – something that size had to have a name — to have bulging biceps. I’m a commercial artist by trade because it pays the bills, but I’m artsy fartsy by nature, and well-shaped biceps and decent pecs and abs sculpted from liberally-sampled ginger cookie dough were not beyond my artistic abilities. Strangely enough the more Prosecco I sipped, the more creative I became. In no time at all I decided GBM didn’t need red hots for buttons because GBM wasn’t going to wear a shirt. I was having visions of Magic Mike by the time I got down to GBM’s trousers. I had plans for a little blue frosting thong with just enough pouch to cover GBM’s junk. But then I decided maybe I didn’t want said junk covered. After all this was a private performance for an audience of one. “It’ll be much easier for me to eat you and taste your yummy gingery goodness without frosting,” I said to my creation. “Besides who needs all those extra calories?” I could almost swear I heard a low throaty moan, but then more than likely it was my own. I raised my glass to my buffed biscuit boy feeling a bit like Dr. Frankenstein in her laboratory as I polished off the glass, rubbed my hands together and went to work on making sure GBM was … um…err … anatomically correct.

When a girl has her hands on a man’s cock, and she gets the feel for it, the shape of it, the way it responds to her touch, well how can she not get a little wet, a little squirmy, a little hot and bothered, and who would have thought that was true even with a gingerbread cock? I’ll admit I took time out from my efforts for a little browsing of the internet researching just exactly how I wanted GBM’s cock to look, making him wait on the table unformed and unfulfilled while I checked out schlongs online. I decided to go for heavy, somewhere in between flaccid and semi, resting languidly against GBM’s golden tan belly so as not to obscure the view of his weighty balls.

I remember as a little girl secretly pretending that my Barbie and Ken were fucking, even though poor Ken didn’t have the equipment for the job. I only ever did that when my rather conservative mother wasn’t home, and even then I felt guilty. Not tonight though! Tonight I felt empowered. Tonight was all about indulgence, all about my fucking pleasure, and here I was making it up to poor Ken by creating right proper, and proportionately substantial, bits for GBM, shaped to suit my very active fantasy life. For a long time now, my sex life had been solo, so my fantasies tended to be doozies. That meant I saw and heard sexual innuendo everywhere in everything, and eating a hot gingerbread man was just too delicious not to fantasize about.

When I finally got down to serious hands-on with GBM’s meat and two veg, my buzz was way more than alcoholic. I was the queen, I was the creator, the dominatrix, I was GBM’s goddess and he lay before me passive and obedient to my will. And then the true artist in me came out. In my imagination, the feel of a cock became almost tactile. I imagined a man asleep not yet aroused to my touch. I imagined sliding close to him, under the blankets, all naked and needing, needing the feel of maleness — of maleness needing me back. In my mind’s eye, I traced the silken smoothness of hard growing beneath soft. I cupped the weighty sac, slightly cooler to the touch, full and tight, resting in my hand. My mouth watered anticipating the taste of maleness, ginger and spice and everything nice, everything so fucking nice.

“Run, run, as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man.”

“Oh trust me, my little humunculous, you don’t want to run from me, not when I have your cock in my hand. Oh yes, I can see that smile on your face. You can’t fool me. I know what you want, and when I’ve made it so hot you can’t stand it, I’m going to eat you.”

I would have considered taking a break to tuck my set of shiny love balls up inside me, to jiggle and tease me while I worked on my creation, but I couldn’t leave him alone in such an unsatisfied state. Instead I stood at the counter hunched over his prone body, shifting from foot to foot, pressing my thighs together. The heady smell of ginger and heat flaring my nostrils and filling my mouth with saliva as I touched and fondled and formed the cock of my dreams. Lust heated the kitchen far more than the oven did. Sweat trickled down my spine, and thoughts of Pygmalion, in love with his own creation, thoughts of breathing life into grain and spice, leavening and oil connected me to an age old story of wanting, needing to create something to love, something that would love me back, something that I knew intimately because I had touched him as no one else had or ever would. Even in my state of arousal, my state of need, I found myself waxing all Biblical to GBM, with my slightly enebriated, more than a little bit self-centered version of Psalm 139.

 

For I created your inmost being;

I knit you together on my kitchen counter.

 You are fearfully and wonderfully made,

Even if I do say so myself

 

In the heat, I had shed my shirt and jeans, standing before my man in my red Christmas knickers and bra with a sprig of mistletoe in my damp hair, anticipating some serious mouth action when GBM was complete. At last, pleased with the shape of him, I got down on my knees and tuck him on his non-stick surface into the oven raising my arms to the heavens as I shut the oven door and steamed the glass all but shouting, “live, damn you! Live!”

Okay, now I know this sounds insane, but the second I did that, there was a flash of lightning and the electricity buzzed popped and crackled, and then went out, leaving me in the dark with GBM in his super-heated prison. But never fear, my oven is gas, and while I lay half naked curled on my side with my fingers in my panties, GBM got hotter and hotter and more and more ready, and I swear, his cock got bigger and bigger. Okay, yes, I know that’s the result of baking soda, but you gotta remember, I was in an altered state, I was just this side of Nirvana, I was having a religious experience.

Perhaps I passed out. Perhaps I really was temporarily traipsing around Nirvana. I had to be dreaming, though, because when the lights came back on the oven door burst open and wow! GBM crawled out all bronze and rippling and fully grown. Some parts of him were way more fully grown than others. And what do you think? The first words out of his mouth were, “I want to eat you, my lady, and then I’m going to fuck you.”

I always figured I’d be a beneficent creator, so I laid back in front of the oven and let GBM open my legs and run his hot, gingery, very talented tongue all over my juicy landscape. And just when I was writhing and grinding and guiding his ginger head closer to my itch, he pulled away, and I got my first look at that magnificent spicy, bronze cock, raised for the occasion.

The heat of him all but scorched me raw as he shoved his sizzling thickness up inside me and began to hump and thrust, filling the whole kitchen with the spicy, humid scent of sex and ginger – some of it his, but a good bit of it mine. He rode me until I knew I’d have bruises on my ass, and I didn’t care. I wrapped my legs around his floury ribs and met him thrust for thrust, slipping and sliding up and down his well-buttered torso. When I came, he pulled out and straddled me, holding his heavy staff up to my lips. “Eat me. Eat me now,” he said. I barely managed a few delicious licks and sucks down his gingery length before he came in buttery, spicy purts at the back of my throat. “I heard you love cream fillings,” he managed as he exploded again and again until butter and ginger and crème ran down my chin and onto my tits and I sucked and slurped and mewled like a kitten. How could anything taste so good?

“There. That’s better, isn’t it?”

I came to feeling a little singed around the edges and looking up into startling brown eyes. I blinked, not sure but what I was still dreaming, then I blinked again as I took in the total package, looking up into an outdoorsy tanned face with strong cheekbones and a slightly crooked nose that looked as though it might have been broken at one time. There was a full-lipped smile and a dimpled chin and the whole lot was topped off with bed-headed ginger-bronze hair and matching stubble.

“What happened?” I managed through a parched throat.

“You had me really worried there for a minute,” his voice was a toffee rich baritone I could have eaten with a spoon. “I think it was some sort of an electrical surge, or something. I heard it from outside and saw this bright flash of light. When your door was standing open, I feared the worst.”

“I was baking.” I did a quick glance at my oven, then did a double take only to find that the cookie sheet was empty and smoking heavily.

“Mm,” the man said, glancing first at the recipe for gingerbread men on my phone, which now lay on the floor next to me. Then he stood, grabbed a potholder and pulled the empty cookie sheet from the oven with a hearty chuckle. “What happened, did your gingerbread men run away?”

“I guess maybe he did,” I replied, looking around the room, as he offered me his hand and helped me to my feet. “I did threaten to eat him, after all.”

“Him?”

“There was just one. A big one.” It was then that I noticed my state of undress. “Oh god, I’m sorry. It was, well it was really hot in here, so I …”

“It is, hot.” He said, the smile twitching at the corner of his lips as he looked away to give me a little privacy. “Could have been all the heat that caused the electrical surge.”

“I’m sure that was it.” I replied.

“I’m Nick, By the way,” he said, still keeping his eyes averted. “I just moved in next door.”

“Janet,” I replied, zipping my jeans and turning to face him. “Welcome.”

He shot me a quick glance and when he saw that I was decent, he offered his hand. “I was just delivering a little Christmas cheer.” And then he gave me a flirty little grin that made me feel hot all over again. He nodded to the plate of gorgeously perfect gingerbread men setting on the table. “Perhaps these’ll make up for the one that got away.”

“Thank you. I had my mouth set for gingerbread men.” Then I added quickly, “sometimes my imagination runs away with me.” I looked around, half expecting GBM to be peeking out from behind the pantry door. “With the size of the one I made though, I imagine he’d still be gooey in the middle.”

“Gooey in the middle is all right as long as he’s hard where it counts. Oh God, I can’t believe I said that.” He ran a hand through mussed ginger curls.

“Well you can hardly be blamed under the circumstances,” I replied. “What with finding me in my underwear all sprawled on the kitchen floor in front of the oven.”

He looked around. “You don’t suppose he has something sinister in mind, this giant runaway gingerbread man of yours, do you?”

“I did feel a bit like Dr. Frankenstein when I was making him,” I said. “It’s possibly he’s now out on the street running amok.”
“If the villagers all turn up with torches and pitchforks later tonight, we’ll know why,” he said.

“Best be vigilant.” I put on the kettle and nodded him to sit at the flour dusted kitchen table, still wondering what had happened to GBM. “So what do you do for a living, Nick?” I asked.

“I just opened a bakery down the street. While I do seriously delicious cookies and cakes, my specialty is breads.”

“Oh my God,” I dropped into the chair next to him, feeling like I’d just stepped into the Twilight Zone. “You own The Ginger Bread Man?”

He raised his brown eyes to meet my gaze, and a smile split his face. “Yup, that would be me.” He pointed to his hair. “I am the ginger bread man.”

 

 

Happy Holidays to all of you and all the best in 2020!

 

Stuck and What Comes After

Like most writers, my first thought of being stuck is always in relation to my work, though I seldom get writers’ block. While I do have a lot of unfinished stories, most have been tucked away because I had other more pressing projects, or the energy just wasn’t there for them at the time. Some get finished, some don’t. Others have evolved into something else entirely or have been cannibalized by still other stories. Even if I am stuck in some part of a story with a plot logjam, almost always a good long walk will help me figure out what to do to move forward.

 

But being stuck in story is another animal entirely. Stuck is the starting place for a lot of great novels. When I got to thinking about it, it seems to me that stuck is the starting place for most archetypal stories. It certainly is the starting place of the hero’s journey, which is the ultimate story plot, because stuck is quite possibly the scariest place of all — standing on a cliff with toes curled over the edge oblivious to the peril.

 

Stuck often takes the form of the perfect life, the ideal happy-ever-after being lived out day to day. While in the real world, that may be what we dream of and hope for, in fiction, there’s the reason why the happy ending is, in fact, the end of the story. What comes after the happy ending, from a reader’s perspective, is boring.

 

The subtext of happy ever after beginnings is “hold on to your hats, shit’s about to get real.” Our hero or heroine is stuck, and they are about to get unstuck in a really brutal, horrible way. In happy at the beginning stories, spouses die, are murdered, run off with someone else, kids are kidnapped or killed, great wealth is suddenly lost, in fact everything that matters is lost. That shattering point of becoming unstuck is where the story really begins. It is the being kicked out of Eden that we readers have been waiting for. Living the good life does not make for interesting reading unless maybe in a how-to book.

 

The second kind of stuck in story happens when the main character is truly stuck in a rut, same old same old, bored now, want out. This kind of stuck involves the hero or heroine of the story wishing something would change, wishing they were anywhere or anyone else. They are waiting, desperately waiting, for their life to begin. The story starts when they get their wish, and it turns out to be way more of a challenge than they bargained for. They are well on the path to discovery and adventure that will change them forever, if it doesn’t kill them first. It’s only at that point we readers have a story worth reading. And that’s the point at which we writers strive to make readers willing and happy to take that leap with our characters.

 

Whether the character is happy with his life and then loses everything or is bored with his life and then has change thrust upon him, the story can now begin. Enter chaos!

 

While stuck is the jumping-off place from which the real story begins, once that happens, it’s chaos that rules the day. Nothing is easy, nothing is orderly, nothing is safe. The driving force of the story is the mess that keeps getting messier and messier until the hero or heroine muddles their way through and out on the other side to their happy ever after, or at least their happy for now. At that point, there are two choices for the writer. Either consider the tale finished and write THE END, or make a sequel that tears away the stuckness of a happy ever after and cast the poor hapless character back into chaos for round two.

I wonder sometimes if, for the “bored now” characters, stuck is hard to endure because stuck isn’t the natural state of things.  For those characters basking in their happy lives, there’s always a neurotic dose of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Either way, stuck doesn’t last because life is in flux, and everything about it is in
motion. Nothing stands still for very long. The journey is cyclical, not static, and moving from stillness into chaos and back again is as much the shape of our natural journey as it is the shape of an interesting story. That being the case, it’s not surprising that readers love to live that journey vicariously, magnified, larger than life. And we writers love to write it for the very same reason. We see ourselves in that cycle, and on some level, even from the safe distance of story, we feel right at home.

 

Ordinary Moments, Extraordinary Memories

As February begins I am constantly reminded that my dear sister, Nancy, was to have spent the lion share of this month with me, as she did last year. We were already well into dreaming and scheming her visit when she passed away. As this archived post will reveal, though I miss her terribly, my life is filled to the brim with wonderful memories — most involving adventures and lots of laughter. Strangely, or maybe not so strangely at all, it’s the random memories that stand out for me, the moments that were extraordinary in their ordinariness. This walk we shared several years ago in the dry canyon behind her house is a classic example of sisterhood for us.

While I miss her dreadfully, I find, to my quiet surprise, that she has left me with a wellspring of joy and love to large and deep for me not to want to share stories of our times together. If there was one thing Nancy Thomas understood it was that the empty holes caused by loss and sorrow can only be truly filled with love and laughter and celebration amidst the tears. I hope you enjoy Two Sisters Walking. And thank you for allowing me to indulge in those joyful memories.

 

Two Sisters Walking

‘Look how all that water’s soaked in since the rain,’ I point out to my sister as we
descend into the Dry Canyon that runs through her town in Central Oregon’s High Desert. Yesterday the rock bed of the shallow spillway looked like a small lake. Now the puddle is reduced to a birdbath for the scrub jays.

‘The rocks are porous,’ she says. ‘Volcanic. Even with a day and a night of heavy rain, it all soaks right in.’ Along the side of the paved path, the soil looks as dry and dusty as it always does, but looking out at the vegetation that’s usually varying shades of kaki and tan and burnt umber everything now has a shining patina of green, and the tiny purple flowers of the low bronze plants, which neither of us can name, carpet the desert floor with color.

A rock chuck gives a sharp high-pitched chirp from somewhere nearby and a scrub jay calls from the juniper tree above us. I catch a flash of iridescent blue in the branches and a flutter of wings. I love this canyon. It’s truly one of the treasures of Redmond Oregon, and some of my fondest memories and best ideas are associated with walks in this
canyon on my annual visit with my sister. The canyon, which was formed by ancient volcanoes, used to be the city dump a long time ago. Now it has a paved walking path the entire 3 ½ mileas well a dog park, a playground and several sets of steep steps into it from street level. It’s wide enough in spots that you can completely forget you’re surrounded 2015-05-03 10.28.11
by a town on both sides at cliff-top level, and there’s now a bridge spanning the canyon in graceful concrete arches. I love that you see the occasional deer in the canyon and even occasionally there are mountain lion sightings. I love that the canyon feels like a wild place in the middle of a town of 27,000. But I also love that there are still a few places along the rocky edges where you can find the rusted-out corpses of cars and baling wire and other twisted metal heaps, now mangled beyond recognition, but certainly an inspiration to my imagination. I love that the canyon and the cliff tops that surround it are an incredible blend of wild high desert and human detritus from as long as people have lived on the cliffs above.

As we head into the canyon, a runner passes us, ears muffed in headphones. ‘That’s a tall drink of water,’ my sister says.

‘Where, I say,’ looking around for a large bottle of water, maybe strapped to the man’s hip.’

‘The guy. He’s tall.’ She nods in his direction. My sister has a way with words.

I laugh and watch him as he trots down the walking path, his miniscule running shorts flapping in the breeze. ‘You don’t even want to know where my thoughts go with that,’ I say.

She sniggers, ‘Probably not.’

I’ve already tried out my ideas for my recent mountain lion in the canyon story that I posted last week on my blog, so 2015-05-13 16.14.04she’s not at all sure how her ‘tall drink of water’ may inspire me.

We walk in silence until we get to the bridge. From there on the canyon widens out until there are places where the trees and rocks hide the housing developments that line the cliffs above on both sides. We’re looking for a crow’s nest I spotted a couple of days ago when I was walking the canyon by myself. The sun was at the wrong angle for me to see inside the hodgepodge of dried sticks stowed into a crevice in the rocks, but the two attentive adults squawking and flapping on the ledge suggested there was a family. Today with this side of the canyon wall in shadow and us armed with a pair of binoculars, we can see that, indeed, there are at least five crow chicks, who look only days away from fledging. We watch in delight the caws and chirrups and furious exercising of young wings until one of the adults notices we might just be paying too much attention to the kiddos and hovers threateningly above us making loud threatening calls. We both decide, observing the poop-spattered side of the cliff below the nest, that it’s best to move on before mummy or daddy drops the bomb.

‘I’ve never seen a nest of crow-babies,’ I say, looking back over my shoulder as we continue on toward the stairs. The part of the canyon walk we do is the wilder end. It takes about two hours round trip and involves the ascent and decent of two sets of stairs – one about sixty steps, the other 109. Good for the old thigh muscles. We walk to the end and turn
back along the canyon wall on an unpaved path that undulates and weaves in and out of the rocks and trees. This is my favorite part. I could be in the woods for all I know, especially with the twitter and chirp of birds around us. Three California Quail cross in front of us with their top knots bouncing jauntily. A golden mantle ground squirrel scurries into the rocks. There’s just enough water in the little brook that passes beneath the trail to trickle softly.

For a long time we don’t talk. We just walk and take it all in. When we’re together, we usually talk a lot. We make up for lost time, but the canyon is a place where we’re silent as often as not because it’s such a great place to hear our thoughts, to listen for inspiration, to feel glad that we chose to walk instead of stay put in the house. I’m thinking about a story that the walk has inspired. I don’t know when it’ll happen, but when we do talk, we’re approaching the end of the walk, up behind the trailer parks, back out on the rim of the canyon. The place is sort of a no-man’s-land. I suspect that if expansion in Central Oregon continues, it may easily be turned into a housing development, but for now, it’s just there. There’s a huge mound of earth, maybe eight feet high, with a shovel thrust down in the top of it. I know for a fact that it’s a place where the kids 2015-05-14 15.17.26from the trailer park play, but in my mind the shovel is there to bury a body. My sister looks at me askance as though she might be worried just a little bit about the twists and turns of my imagination as I take pictures of it and tell her my story idea.

‘There’s a dead skunk over here,’ she says, motioning me over. Her mind has it’s own strange twists and turns. ‘Stunk to high heaven last fall.’

‘It doesn’t smell so bad now,’ I say, looking at the desiccated heap of flattened skin and bones that I would have missed completely if she hadn’t pointed it out. ‘I want some pictures.’

She steps back and watch as I take pictures of the delicate skull and teeth, visible above the dusty remains of the pelt.

As we step back onto the dead-end lane that leads out of the canyon and back home, there’s an old pickup truck that’s been sitting there, my sister tells me, for months. The back of it’s loaded with a fascinating array of junk. ‘It looks like 2015-05-13 16.49.46
someone was moving and then just deserted everything,’ I say.

‘It’s been ticketed by the police for being left, and then the ticket blew away and it’s still sitting here,’ my sister tells me.

I start taking pictures again. ‘Maybe the owner is buried beneath that mound of dirt back there,’ I say. ‘Maybe there’s foul play involved.’

‘That looks like a rodeo dummy in there,’ she says peering into the bed. And look, there’s a bottle of some kind of prescription drugs in that stir-fry pan.’

I look around to make sure no one is looking and start taking pictures while I tell her my story idea. ‘I think the guy will be running from someone and this is as far as he gets before he gets caught.’

‘But why would he have a rocking chair in the back and all that cooking stuff?’ She asks.

2015-05-13 16.45.52‘I don’t know, I’ll think of something. Maybe he was a rodeo clown, maybe he had gambling debts?’ I keep snapping pictures feeling slightly guilty for doing it, but not that guilty.

‘There was actually a pair of lacy women’s underwear laying behind the truck at one time. Bright pink.’ She remembers.

‘Seriously?’

‘Yup. That sounds like something that might interest you.’

‘The plot thickens.’ I say. Someone with a couple of dogs comes up out of the canyon behind us, so I, quick like a bunny, stuff my iPhone back in my pocket and we head on.2015-05-13 16.20.55

‘You want coffee?’ she says, as we stomp the dust off our feet on her sidewalk. ‘I want coffee.’

‘Me too.’ I follow her into the house, taking off my boots and pounding them over the rail of the porch to rid them of
dust.

‘I’m dying of thirst,’ she says.

‘Better get you a tall drink of water,’ I reply.

She gives me a dirty look and starts the coffee pot.

 

Dark Days and Birdies

(Archives)

The darkest day of the year has come and gone. From now on it’s a slow, teasing progression toward spring and glorious sun-filled days. But even the dark days bring their own pleasures.

Every year in early December, something wonderful happens in our back garden. The wagtails return! We’ve had a pair of pied wagtails over-wintering with us for the past four years now. I’d like to think they come because they’ve developed a warm spot in their little birdie hearts for us, but I know they really come for the shredded cheese.

 

Wagtails are insectivores, and these two lovelies, whether they are the original pair who first visited us on that dreadful winter four years ago or some of their descendants, have probably come down from Scandinavia to winter here in South England. They come here because there are certain kinds of insects that survive in the moss on the roofs of the houses and every time the temperature warms slightly, they come out briefly. It’s a day to day existence for the wagtails, and I can’t imagine how any of them actually survive, so I put out shredded cheese, which they love.

 

I associate Christmas with a huge influx of birds in our back garden, and it’s a time when I feel closer them and am more sensitive to their needs. Though food is the obvious need – fat balls for the general population, mixed seeds and nuts for the tits and doves, currants for the blackbirds and of course shredded cheese for the wagtails (though the starlings and the magpies also love the cheese and currants) the big draw during the coldest days of winter is the birdbaths. People might not realise birds have no source of fresh water when everything is frozen. Imagine nothing to drink when the weather is cold, no place to bathe.

 

Every morning, as soon as it’s light enough to see, we go out and fill all the feeders, spread currants and cheese for the blackbird and the wagtails and then we tend to the two birdbaths, clearing out the ice with hot water. When that’s done we go in to have our own breakfast. Our dining table is in front of sliding glass doors that look out into the back garden, so every morning during the bleakest days of winter, we are rewarded with an feeding frenzy and a pool party.

 

We live in a wonderful symbiosis with our avian friends. We keep food and water available for them throughout the coldest darkest times and in turn we’re rewarded with a close-up and personal view of the natural world we wouldn’t otherwise get. The blackbird perches on the retaining wall and stares in the window at us if there are no currants for him. The wagtails show up out of nowhere when they hear us filling feeders. They’ve learned there’ll be cheese.

 

Through December, we’re all waiting for the daylight, waiting for the sun to return. We’re all waiting and longing for light and warmth and new beginnings. Through those darkest months, I marvel at how the birds survive the bleak harsh days when there seems to be nothing for them to eat, nothing for them to drink. I know that lots of them don’t survive. I know that when the temperature dips below zero, whether or not they survive the night can depend upon how much they’ve been able to forage the day before. The difference between survival and death is such a fine line. And every year I’m astounded and amazed by their tenacity, by their will to survive the dark days.

 

In the spring, the wagtails go back to Scandinavia to breed and the bird population in our back garden changes, and the dynamic changes. We get fledgling starlings and blackbirds and the whole garden becomes a nursery for the next generation. But there’s something magical about those winter months, the dark cold days, the times when the closeness I feel is a deep admiration for the ebb and flow, for the push to hang on one more season, for the deep powerful urge to survive and bring forth the next generation. I watch the starlings fluttering in wild abandon in the birdbaths, the water freezing on the edges even as they bathe. I watch the wagtails and the blackbirds treading frozen ground, eating cheese and currants, their feathers fluffed to nearly twice their body size to keep warm, and I feel that somehow, I’ve become a part of something so much greater than myself and my little understanding of the world. This is the gift I receive every year in the dead of winter, and it’s a gift that I treasure long after the sun has returned and the Dawn Chorus has begun in earnest and the wagtails have flown north.

 

Happy Solstice, everyone! May all the gifts you give and receive be gifts that touch the heart.

 
© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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