The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Category : portraits of a moment

Morning Cafe

The dawn streamed through the glass door of a quiet cafe, guiding my fuzzy mind to the row of perches set before the supporting breakfast counter. By memory, I stumbled along the beam of daylight until there were no more stools, and then shifted myself mechanically back one index, to the last spot.

It may have been comfortable. But most importantly at this sketchy part of the morning, it was solid.

And so was the counter.

And after some hazy conversation with the chirpy waitress, the warmth and aroma of steaming coffee slid in between my hands, and I wrapped myself around its aura.

Gradually, the cafe’s sights and sounds came into focus. First the counter, worn wood-grain with scuffs, and cuts that rendered it precisely perfect for its function. Only one small flaw, a chip where the glue had failed way over there in the corner disturbed this perfection. I reached and slid the bowl of sugar packets over it. But it didn’t help. I knew it was there now, and covering it up just made me think about it. I uncovered it to let it breathe with the rest of us.

The waitress suddenly was standing before me on one hip, pad and pen in hand, as if she’d just spoken and was waiting for my response. My response was a raised eyebrow. From that, and memory, she scribbled a copy of the last three days’ breakfast order, and punched the slip of paper into the order-wheel and spun it around to the kitchen.

The CLUMPCLUMPCLUMP of the bussing cart with a bad wheel lumbered its way behind my over the tile, punctuated by the sudden, eager sizzle of meat and potatoes on the griddle from behind the window to the kitchen. The exhaust fan droned tirelessly pulling air out and spreading the aromas of breakfast around the neighborhood in a smoky rain of onion, and bacon flavor. A disheveled head raised itself from his bed of trash bags in the alley out back,  taking it all in with the quiet joy of a desert landscape drinking in the rain as if a drought was over – until the pangs from his belly reminded him that his money had gone to a bottle. He reached fearfully into his breast pocket to make sure it was still there, and to refresh his hazy wall of protection from the world of pain around him.

Inside, oblivious to this conflict, I opened the gates to my mind, and took in this fresh new day, sorting and placing and knowing the things around me, listening to the patter of a half-dozen conversations around me, listening to the sounds of life, feeling the stream of daylight still casting sideways from the horizon. Life took its place in this new day all around me.

And only that one, virtually imperceptible hole where one man had sealed himself out from it, so near to me in the alley behind, disturbed the perfection of worn, used people and things serving their purpose. One dot of silence poked through where there should have been a voice niggled unrecognized in the back of my mind.

– The Mighty Viking

A Word About Art

If I may wax a little philosophical about Art:
I’ve taken this photo from my trip last week, and removed the color. I then brushed it back in selectively as I saw fit.

It gave the photo some extra meaning to me to do it, and more importantly, the task at hand gave me a chance to ruminate on the meaning I was seeing.

It was a fairly simple process, I wouldn’t say much skill was required. You’ll see that I’ve only re-colorized some of the flags. This was done with intent that I discovered as I worked. I originally intended to recolor all of the flags. But it struck me that the story of our country is far from ended, and those who come after us are still coloring the purpose and meaning of America.

The inspiration for that came in the action. And what I want to say about Art is this: That it is the process of finding meaning – maybe for others, but maybe only for yourself. It is a way of learning, a dynamic process that can only really be taught within the construct of action. It is a very specific, unique method of learning about meaning in life.

And this is why it is important for Art to be included in schools, and deserves a higher degree of deliberate inclusion.

I find it harder and harder to accept that the gradual disappearance of Art from curriculum to be a simple lack of understanding of its value. The more I know about the process of Art – real art that is – the more it feels like it has been intentionally repressed and/or perverted into something with the same name, but without the same power to define ourselves. I don’t entirely know why, all the scenarios I can come up with are very, very dark with implication.  I hope I’m wrong.

But one thing I’m sure of: Art is a part of being Human. Parents, encourage your children to think – not just about a proper end product, but to FEEL the process of creating, to understand it’s effect in them, and to give it its proper place in their makeup. We can’t rely on schools to do it.  We can’t rely on our fractured society to do it.  Art WILL be created.  Whether it nourishes us or bleeds us of our strength depends on both the Artist’s dedication to awareness of inspiration, and the vision of us all to perceive meaning.

There. I don’t think that was too bad, was it?

Now go color something.

Drinking in the Moment

So there I was, rolling along through the Van Duzer Corridor between the Oregon Coast and the Big City – Portland. The curves were tight, the pace was low, and I was driving a 40hp 1965 VW. It was a nice crisp autumn morning, and I was feeling fine.

There was a decent line developing behind me, but I wasn’t worried. I knew I could go no faster, and that quite frankly, no one else should be going faster either. I decided to just bask in the day, drink it in, enjoy the scenery, and not worry about the angst-ridden drivers behind me. The car count behind me got up to 5. then 7, 9, 12 cars. But still, I wasn’t worried.

As we exited the tightest curves, and approached the first of a couple brief passing lanes, I could see a 1990 Dodge Shelby about 4 cars back, jockeying into the oncoming lane. He was in a fine kettle, flashing his lights, blaring the horn, weaving out aggressively as if he were going to pass anyway. I smiled. I knew his kind. None too smart, driving a lame car with stuck on effects to make would-be purchasers think they were getting the full Shelby Treatment, when in fact it was nothing but a K-car underneath.

But I understood his angst too. It was a great road to go blasting down, living one’s fantasies of Nascar, or Formula 1 racing, imagining his name in lights beside the greatest racers of our time. And here was this little Beetle – my Beetle – slowing him down. I understood.

But I answered to a higher power. I drove the speed limit, and just drank in the moment.

The moment we hit the straight stretch – even before the solid yellow line disappeared, he did what I knew he would do. He did his best to light up his tires, jerked his car out into the oncoming lane, and bore down on me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a competitive guy, and this car closing on me in the rear-view mirror sparked an instinct in me. But still…I smiled. I even chortled a little inside. It was a beautiful day. And it was about to get even more beautiful.

Shelby Sam went flying past me – had to be doing at least 80 as he scream past, arm extended over the car, violently flipping the bird at me with one hand, working the horn with the other, looking more at me than the road. I have to admit that there was, at that moment, just a twinge of sympathy. Not much, just a hint of it. I recovered quickly.

As he roared past, and reached the point where he wanted to pull back in front of me, his car suddenly jerked back and forth. It had been exactly at the moment that he realized that in front of me was a motorcycle cop, and that he was about to overtake that cop going 90mph. He lit the tires with his brakes, skidding a little back and forth, and then just froze. He couldn’t pass. He didn’t know, suddenly, how to slow back and pull in behind. He was just stuck, mentally, out there in the oncoming lane, doing precisely 55mph.

The motorcycle cop gesticulated to him. With a gracious sweep of his hand he invited the Shelby guy to pull in front of him, and then over. It was such beautiful gesture, kind, understanding, magnanimous. They slowed on the shoulder as one, lights blinking, horn silent.

And as I overtook them on that beautiful fall morning, I offered the best I had, a double tap of a Volkswagen horn. It’s chirpy perkiness brightened up an already glorious morning. And behind me, every car that had just witnessed the moment double-tapped their horns in succession. It was a Noble Moment of solidarity from we drivers.

19 years later, I’m still chuckling.Scan10002

The Dreariest Day of the Year

I notice that some people make a tradition of wishing others a happy New Year,and fill the ether

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 with resolutions about weight, conditioning, removal of bad habits, attainment of good ones,

And wealth. It always seems to come up that we hope wealth for ourselves and each other.

Well, this just doesn’t make sense to me. I personally have never been wealthy in the traditional sense, and the sense that I did believe myself to be wealthy usually revolved around the beginnings of relationships – marriage, the birth of children, etc., not so much annual observation of the single most dreary day of the year.

Dreariest day of the year?” you challenge, most incredulous, thinking of all the parades, and fireworks, and football, and honeyed hams and confetti. Mounds of confetti.

Ayup. Dreariest. Day. Of… the… year

Granted, I love sitting around eating deviled eggs, and lolling on the sofa chatting it up on the internet, watching two football games at once, texting my kids stupid football jokes in cities far away from myself. But this day, here in the Northern Hemisphere, long has a reputation of being – if you happen to be one of the 3 people in the hemisphere without children, wife, cell phone service and satellite hookup, or tickets to a parade and/or bowl game – a traditional day one week after the festive familial joy of Christmas, the last fervent strains of the Hallelujah Chorus finally fading into wallowing echo in your head, the shrieks of children and grandchildren getting EXACTLY the useless gizmo they so desperately wanted – (take a breath here) This day, finally clear of all the hoopla, the cleanup and recovery after the hoopla, sitting quietly in your chair sensing the sudden vacuum of noise and bustle.

Is the first moment you wake up and realize with a chilled foreboding, “It is winter”. No, not the Charles Dickens Christmas winter, not the Currier and Ives sleigh-bell-festooned joyful celebration – no – just winter. Cold. Pale. Heatless, lifeless, devoid of the things we warm-blooded creatures have managed to learn to live without, but not to live without pining for. The sky is a pale blue, the sun barely mustering into what should have been a mid-morning azimuth before stalling, barrel-rolling over backwards and diving for airspeed just to make sure it can make sunrise tomorrow. That distant, cold orb that in summer sucks the sweat out of our brow, browns our skin, fries eggs on the sidewalk, begs to be let back down in its bed and sucks the life from our marrow by the gloom of an ice-clouded sky. There is no hope for tomorrow, it will be dreary too. If you’re lucky, the excitement will be how much snow piles up during the next storm, or how high the river might crest. But we are old now, and do not get out of school for snow.

And so on this dreariest day of the year I cannot bring myself to lie to you, to pretend that I can wish with any hope a happy New Year. The best I can offer is that you have an entire year. Yes, that’s it. May you have a 2014, in its full entireness.

Live it.

Pace yourself.

Take this festivity that we’ll make tomorrow, and squirrel some away, that you can pay it out over the next few months, while the dreary season lasts.

When Spring comes to us, sit on the grass, and feel it growing beneath you.  Spend a cold morning curled up over a bulb of crocus, or hyacinth (heck, both if you were smart) and watch it come creeping out of the half-frozen ground into life, ahead of everything else in your garden.  Make friends with it, even if it leaves your knees stiff, and your insides shivering.  It is good form as a host to welcome the first comers of a journey.

And when the Plum trees bloom, and the dogwood springs overnight into a dazzling white explosion, stand beneath that tree, even if it is but a small one, and look up through the blooms at the sky beyond, be it a brilliant spring morning, or soaking your face with the showers that must come – look up, and let the growing power of the sun, filtered by the dogwood’s testament, caress your face in its promises, in its tears of joy at return, and it’s beaming face of a friend well-met again. That is it’s only job. Let it fulfill it’s destiny by bringing you hope in the wake of this dreary season.

And when you look out on your lawn, and realize it once again needs a trim, go quickly before you get your mower, and roll in the grass like a week-old foal. Your old, tired legs are no worse that that foals gangly, uncooperative underpinnings – go get in the grass. And then call your son or daughter from across town, or across the state, to help you get up again. Stay there until they arrive, and feel in their arms the strength that once was yours. Relish the passing of this strength. And hold the wee grandchild’s ears to your lips and whisper to them that someday they too will be strong – because grandma is making them oatmeal cookies this very moment.

When the rains have slowed for a few days in mid-spring, go into your garden with a spade, and turn over one shovel-full of earth. Drop that shovel-full onto the paving stones beside the garden, and with the help of someone very small, get down there and count the worms. crumble the earth – find all you can, and put them in a plastic cottage cheese container you cleaned out and set in a cupboard for sealing leftovers. Let this one go. fill it with worms, and a little soil, and count them all out of that shovel-full. When you’ve finished, put the dirt back, put the worms on top, and together count how long it takes them to disappear again. Count loudly enough for the neighbors to hear. It’s important to let your gardening competitors hear how lively your worms are, and how smart your grandchildren are. And…It is one more thing for you to know.

When the rains of June come, and the wildflower patch you planted in a box alongside your house has gone wild with color, call your daughter and see if she’s had any contractions. If she even hesitates to answer, put your wife in her car with the bag you’ve packed for her, and launch her like a torpedo, to answer the hesitation before it becomes fear. Take the wee ones to the river, and play in the rocky river bed, letting your bottom bounce with the current over the rocks while they ride you like a fishermen’s dory, screaming “Shark, Shark!” in high-pitched fear of such magnitude that they squeal with laughter. Wade beside them on your hands in the shallows against the rushes, and point out the frogs, staying close to make sure no one actually eats a pollywog.

In the heat of July, and not a moment before, haul yourself out of those shallows, and let your drenched body dry from beginning to end in the midday sun. Call out the shapes of clouds out loud, even if the grandkids have long since gone home to their mommies and daddies, pick up your cell phone and text your kids the pictures of the clouds, and tell them to pass along what you see. Make sure and do it while they are at work, late morning, when they are fully aware of just exactly how much longer they have to spend indoors today. And don’t feel guilty for a second.

As the golden hues of August begin to emerge, drive to the nearest wheat field – especially if it takes several hours. Step into the stalks along its edge, and feel for a moment the solidarity of the whole field’s worth of individual plants whenever a breeze rushes by. Sway with that wheat, and remember to yourself how to bend – remember to do it amongst friends. Text one or two of them a picture of where you’re standing, and explain why. And thank them.

The fruit harvest of late summer will soon come. Begin to visit orchards just to see how they are being tended. If they’ll let you, lie in the shade of a peach tree, and spy for yourself a nicely developing fruit, and contemplate that fruit. Think of it, sliced and in a bowl with cream. Listen to its succulence. Make sure you know how to make a good crumb crust for the cobbler. Quietly, and vividly, remember the feel of your grandmother’s hands holding yours, teaching you to pare and slice a fruit into a bowl – remember how she smelled, and how her voice warbled in those last years as she told you that you could have another cookie from the counter. Remember where she lies, and go pay your respects.

Go far away in September. Wherever you are – don’t get caught there in September. Go, feel the road beneath your wheels, and the hot wind in your face.  Chase the line between earth and sky until you fully grasp the magnitude of the horizon. Aim for it. You’ll know when you’ve gotten where you’re going when you don’t know where you are, exactly, and realize you no longer want your phone to tell you. Oh…and find a different way home.

When October starts to whisper in ominous tones the impending winter, take its warnings seriously. Let the instinct to gather, to harvest, to make sure you know your neighbors, fill you. Visit your neighbors, especially if they are much older than you. If they are well, they will fill your arms with blackberry jam, and apple butter, sealed with wax and love that no longer has children to be sealed for. You are now that child. Be the child, and bring whole-wheat toast you made yourself, pop it into their toaster, and share the first jar of jam right then and there. If they are not well, they will have no jam. Bring your own. Tell them about how much you loved your own grandparents, and let them be yours for the moment. And leave the rest of the loaf of bread when you go.

When the first real storm of the fall hits, go out into it, and feel its madness. Let the wild winds foment around you, tug at your spirit, try to take you away from where you are, to places they can only whisper promises to. Hold the wind in your hands, wrap your grip around its hard pull, knowing you can’t hold it, knowing it can’t take you. Strive that futile challenge to its limit – and then with all your heart release it – letting it ascend again back into the heavens, but bearing your scent, your struggle, your mark upon it.

And as, once again, the Christmas music starts again, and families gather, and remind each other they still belong, let whatever familiarity you have be lent out freely.  Push, pull, or drag the joy of Christmas with you through the next holiday, and in it’s afterglow, look back again.

If you can remember its’ beginning, you either did very well, or very poorly. Whichever you did, rejoice, because in the end, what matters is not your wealth, nor your happiness. It is enough to have had a complete year, One Full Turn around the sun, and in that turn, to be able to say, “I lived it”.

Breakfast Symphony

It isn’t much, this writing I do in the early morning.  I sit in a small, hometown restaurant, sometimes filled with locals and truckers.  They tell local stories that don’t mean to say much, but in the end, says everything that needs saying.  Other times, like today, I’m in before the regulars, to say my good mornings the the cook, who has my order memorized but politely asks me anyway.  With a click of her pen and a swoosh I find myself in muted solitude, as the waitress doesn’t come in for another half hour.  The morning itself sees a break, and strikes up a conversation.

This morning begins with a low, soft song of the reefers, an exhaust fan over the griddle, and eggs, potatoes, and meat frying and crackling in the grill.
Like every good song, it is also a story.  I hear the punctuation with the metallic scrape of the spatula across the griddle, the staccato rapping of its hard edge chopping, another long scrap, and the sudden flourish of freshly sizzling food.
The coffee pot begins its morning crescendo, a light but powerful chatter of drops.  At first there is nothing more than the thin tinkling of drops against the naked glass, and I find myself leaning in just a little, to catch the delicate trill.  slowly though with the patience and timing of a Master, it broadens and deepens into a torrent of hot liquid pools.  The humble Pyrex is transformed, as I sit across from it, to a full throated percussion piece, and I close my eyes as the movement pulls together in powerful finale.
And there, in time with the sweeping crest of my own emotions, the music quiets, and allows my imaginations a space to be, to reflect, and to allow my joy at its beauty bask, and cure in its own light for a moment.
 The plate’s gentle clunk onto my table, and the swirl of coffee into my cup bring me to the next movement of this extraordinary symphony: The Aromas.

Requiem for a marmot:

The red-brown rodent held his body in tense anticipation on the edge of a wide, flat rock. To the left and right he could not see it’s end, but 50 feet straight ahead was a high spot, perfect for basking in the midmorning sun.

He prepared for this scamper across open ground with the same ritual he always did, its refined tradition having kept him safe for three seasons. He saw no reason to change his habits now. He held stone-still, he listened for the foxes and weasels, and watched for the shadow of the hawks that had taken so many of his family. The only shadows were of the behemoths swirling past with such mind-numbing speed that he couldn’t comprehend their arrival or departure, only that fleeting moment when they were just suddenly there. But they seemed a benign species, never taking predatory interest in him. And so he worried not at all about them.

He focused even more sharply on his objective, and on his awareness of his enemies. They were crafty, and his only defenses were stillness and speed. The time for stillness had come to an end. Now, his body taut and ready, he brought forth every ounce of speed he could muster to reach the wall and return to invisible stillness in the warmth of the sun. He burst into motion.

Julia Cartwright fumed at the wheel of her ancient brown Datsun station wagon. It’s sides suggested wood paneling, but closer inspection revealed that it was an illusion created by a combination of rust, sun-fading, and a million tiny scratches. Her angst, always compounded by the stress of driving this dilapidated car, was fanned by the prospects of the afternoon shopping invitation from her sister. Her sister’s life was perfect, from the new car, to the trim lawn surrounding the pristine driveway that her own car would have to infest while they drove The Perfect Car to the mall. She loved her sister, really she did. But she always felt this internal animosity towards her success, with an undertone of cynicism at the compromises in principles she always assumed must have accompanied them. Her own stance of eschewing fashion, luxury, and comfort had not given her the sense of satisfied peace she’d always believed it would. And now she drove – not to the mall but to her sisters Perfect Driveway, where they would stash her car while they went out in public together. Just once, she thought, she’d like for her sister to say, “hey, your car is a classic, and it has such cool bumper stickers. It gives off such an aura.”

But the only aura it gave off caused the mechanic to furrow his brow, when she could afford him. Its rusting body’s return to its natural state would have been better to allow to happen in a deserted field. But her chosen profession and ideals didn’t allow for a better option. so instead she drove it onward anyway, in sullen compromise. Usually she avoided the thoughts that came when she thought too hard about it. But visiting her sister had a way of digging up the emotions out if the compost bed they sat in to rot. The atmosphere in her head was rank with its volatile aroma as she sped as best she could down the highway.

20 scampering steps into his dash, the marmot suddenly felt an unseen weight, pinching and then smashing his tiny body into the strange, black rock. In an instant his body exploded, his guts bursting through a a widening hole rent in his abdomen by the inconceivable weight of the speeding behemoth. His body rolled five times in that one second, his bulgingl eyes fixed on its rear bumper. A faded sticker was the only witness to his passing, his squashed lungs quivered in vain to breathe just once more. It spoke its ceaseless Utopian message as an impromptu eulogy and benediction as the light faded from his eyes.

“Visualize World Peace” it intoned.

And bowed an amen as it disappeared over the horizon toward a Perfect Driveway, to hide its social shame.

Where the Rubber Goes

Usually what you see here is a story, and today is no exception.  Except today, there are no words , just photos and music, a look back at the life of one simple part of a machine, and its significance.

i do a bit of riding my motorbike, and this weekend, my rear tire came to its noble end.  Installed a year ago, it has gone above and beyond the call of duty.  So I put together a slideshow with music, to celebrate its passing.

 

Does it sound strange to eulogized a mere tire?  Perhaps, but our mourning and melancholy, our celebration of life, death, and re-birth, is not for the fallen, or the departed, but for ourselves, who remain to find new life, and new meaning as the world around us changes.  relax, let go, and embrace the next, yet unknown adventure

.http://youtu.be/KlGUWf6Qi54

 

 

 

 

This Sunday morning began, as do many of the weekend mornings around here – slowly, with my wife and I bringing online our various faculties – awareness of our children’s status and location, the reason for the Odd Gait on the way to the bathroom, the most appropriate contortion required to correct said Odd Gait, and creating the illusion of presentable appearance. The latter generally comes in stages, as we come to grips with the level required. On a Sunday, “Functional and decently enrobed in Fuzzy Things and comical T-shirts” is the norm. “Functional” generally means glasses, coffee, and something to keep the hair out of our eyes.

From my entry to the Submarine Service in 1983 until a few years ago, I had maintained short hair, but a few years ago I woke up on my normal haircut day wondering to myself, “Why am I going for a haircut? I don’t even like haircuts”. And so, on that brisk December morning 5 years ago, I stopped. It has created endless mirth and/or derision with the kids and wife, but it’s my hair, and it’s length is my choice. My wife threatens to cut my hair in my sleep sometimes. I threaten to beat up her relatives with the jawbone of an ass. And thus…the hair grows.

This morning I had the early morning duty, and so was well ahead of her in the process of coming to grips with Sunday. Fuzzy things: check. Comical shirt: check. Coffee: double-check. Hair-thingy: check. And I was well on my way to my Sunday morning station, waffle-making in the kitchen.

This week was Strawberry Waffle week, and so I headed to the basement freezer to retrieve a bag of berry sweetness. Alas, I found the stack of ruined food in a bucket, barring the opening of the freezer door. My wife told me about this bucket two days ago, and asked me to take out to the trash. Seems one of the kids had raided the basement, and left the freezer door open long enough to created a frost-laden tomb for most of our stores as the freezer had valiantly tried in vain to freeze an extra 1200 square feet of space, and a path to melted freedom for that which rolled out of the freezer during the invasion, which then marched on in the great circle of life to “rotted food” status.

I shoved the offending bucket aside with a fuzzy-cloaked foot, and came up against the Tomb of Ice. Fortunately for me, right next to the freezer is an area I use for working, and a crowbar happened to be sitting there. I snatched up the tool with biblical flare, and applied what turned out to be the only appropriate tool for the Philistonian strawberry freezer bag. The usual butter-knife-as-a-lever approach would have never worked, the strength of the foe was too great. As it was, my hands spent long enough inside the freezer to go nearly numb – completely numb on the right side. When the top bag sprang free of its frozen bonds and bounced its brick-like weight onto my foot I was so proud of myself. I started back up the stairs with crowbar and strawberries in hand, and the bucket of rotting food went quietly back to forlorn decomposition.

It was in this state that I first met my wife for the morning. She had gotten as far as the coffee pot, but no further. She took one glance at her battle-weary husband ascending from the basement with the crowbar gripped victoriously in his left hand, and her eyebrows shot up in a way incongruent with her level of awareness. The poetic “first waft of coffee in the morning” moment made ubiquitous by endless coffee commercials…they never show these moments. These are the harsh reality – that wisdom is truly bought by moments when your shocked and overwhelming response is slowed by a mouthful of hot coffee, and the physical restraint required to contain that coffee gives you an aire of wisdom and tolerance.

There was one other area that I was ahead of her on this lazy Sunday morning. My hair was safely out of the way, held by my own, non-glittery plain brown hair-thingy. She realized this as I walked past her to put the crowbar on the counter, and the frozen berries in the microwave. As the microwave set busily to warming the berries, I sauntered into the living room, and she apparently launched a covert attack, tracking down and grasping to steal the hair-thingy from the back of my head. By all accounts, her pre-caffeinated state caused three misses before she finally grasped the swinging ponytail.

At this point, caught totally unaware, all my submarine training came to bear fully on the attack at hand. I wheeled around to pull my hair from her grasp, and simultaneously pulled her close by circling my right arm behind her. The sudden movement floated her fuzzy things just enough that my hand slipped under the comical t-shirt and met her bare back. This was, you may recall, the hand that spent the most time in the freezer just moments ago, and was still numb.

Her reaction to my hand caused the hair-thingy she had managed to slide off my hair to become immediately available for my retrieval. Also available was the munition of a non-verbal acoustic assault that defied several laws of physics, and made me blink. But I held tight, basking in the sudden warmth my numb hand felt, and the unexpected intimacy of we two, in our fuzzy things and comical t-shirts. The desperate panic of a moment ago was punctuated with an intensely quiet, focused moment between us, and our lips clung to each other until the cold in her back sent her kidneys into cryogenic stasis. And then, looking deeply into each other’s eyes, we watched…to see which of us would flinch first…which would make the dive for the hair-thingy lying on the floor four feet from us.

Her eyes darted first, and I let her go. It has long been an accepted fact in our relationship that she is quicker than I. I never really had a chance. I threatened her relatives, but she pointed out that the ascribed Ass’s jawbone was already flailing the air in a futile soliloquy, and the matter was dropped in uncontrolled mirth. She had her hair-thingy. She had her strawberries. And, she had the last laugh.

And I? I had a tub of decomposing food in the basement, a free-flowing mane of hair, a warm hand,

…And a coffee-flavored kiss from a queen wearing fuzzy things and a comical t-shirt.

I win.

 

 

A friend of mine’s brief description of her morning reminded me of things I love about Autumn, and inspired the following.  It’s still early in the season, but never too early to write about coffee!

The cold grey gloom of the dawn sky matched perfectly with the tarmac and smooth steel beams reflecting in the tungsten lights, to create a cloud of gloom over a small group of people huddled around the airport coffee shop. They stood, mindless, still dazed by the bustle of the early morning security gate check, vaguely hoping to collect themselves with a cup of something warm. The gigantic windows opening to the twin terminal wings presumed to give patrons something to look at. On this morning, grey planes on a dark grey tarmac with a weeping grey sky backdrop was more than any human wanted to endure.

She arrived on this gloomy scene with the stoic anticipation of a traveler embarking to tropical places. The anticipation that had fueled her excitement for a week now slowed, like a semi toiling over a final grade before the descent into the big city. She was fleeing the gloom, but it stood there, in her path, weaving it’s coils around her mind. Her last thought as she stepped up to the entirely-too-perky-for-this-morning-can-I-get-something-started-for-you-does-it-show-that-I’ve-already-had-six-cups-of-my-own-brewed-to-perfection-coffee Barista was that surely they must have something to help. Her foggy mind deflected most of the Barista’s assault, but she realized she could now read the menu. Or at least one line of the menu. Pumpkin Spice Latte. That would do.

The bustle behind the counter swirled, in stark contrast to the rest of the coffee lounge. Wide padded benches under a fifty-foot ceiling invited people to take in the airport experience in three-dimensional grandeur, to forget about the world and become part of it all at the same time. People sat, lost in their paper, in slow conversation, in gripping determination to make it out of there. Others, who were further into their morning coffee rituals, talked in small pockets of conversation, becoming aware and then trying to distract themselves from the growing dreariness outside. She found a seat open between two of these groups, conversation on one side, sullen silence on the other, and dropped down just long enough to unload her bags, and to hear her number from behind the counter. The dissonance between the sudden relief of unloading and having to get right back up again made her forget herself. She left her bags momentarily unattended, realizing this with a pang of angst as she reached out to the counter for her coffee. The sudden fear of non-compliance disrupted her so badly she nearly abandoned her reach to rush back to her bags, and fought down the panic by focusing on the warmth of the cup. She sat back in her seat again, sighing with relief that no one called security, and tucked her purse and travel bag close against her left hip, nesting them between herself and the end of the bench. She checked the time, mentally gauged just how relaxed she had time to get, and then settled in to her coffee and surroundings. Her awareness of the gloom outside returned.

 

Her internal commentary slowly turned to the irony of traveling to the tropics on a cold autumn day like this, and she inhaled deeply of the aroma curling from the cup. She found herself transported through a magic portal, suddenly thinking about the things yet undone for winter – the next leaf-raking, the turning of her garden, and draining her garden hose and packing it into its winter place in the garage. Another sip of her coffee enveloped her mind, flavoring her thoughts with notions of how things should be in this season. She thought about November, and how things would be when she returned. Slush on the night streets, lights glaring off the wet pavement. She thought about the blanket of leaves that would lay overher small yard, covering it up to its chin for its winter’s sleep. The bustle of costumed children trampling up to her door on Halloween echoed in the back of her mind. Her cat’s warmth as she sat in the evening reading, and being with this companion, while the winds of November howled in vain outside. Her favorite chair and side-table, with books she liked, called to her from through that portal. She found herself hoping she wouldn’t miss it.

She inhaled deeply of the thick spice steam that lingered in the cup after the last was gone. The grey of the morning brightened from its predawn gloom , she could begin to see the pattern of the rain outside on the tarmac. And with the smell of autumn still swirling around her head, almost…almost she turned back to the exit, to hail a cab, and to go check on the sleeping bulbs in her garden.

Not free yet

Departing the I-5 corridor in Olympia to the west in favor of Highway 101 to Port Angeles is much more than just an exit from the freeway when traveling on the bike. A gradual but gratifying process begins to empty me of the chaff of life. From the very first sweeping right turn at exit 104 that slings me under the interstate and onto the side highway, I feel something leaving me, some palpable entity whose inertia has prodded me like an unwilling goat for the last hundred miles, leaving me with an illogical sense of haste I cannot understand. I can sense it, still moving northward on the freeway I just left, every moment an ever-widening gap between that thing and I as it searches first for me, and then for some other easy victim. I have shaken it from my path. But I’m not free yet.

 

Three exits on this short burst of new freeway, and then the busy intersections and traffic of the city fade, extra lanes disappear, and after a few short miles are nearly completely gone.  Rural scenery replaces strip malls, and as the buildings disappear, so does an entire level of stress. My mind begins to slow. But I’m not free yet.

 

For the next half hour a greenway rolls past. In the open air of the saddle of the motorbike, a full azimuth of the arching foliage welcomes me through a kind of gateway. In autumn, this stretch of road is brilliant orange, red, and yellow, interspersed with the deep green of spruce, fir, and cedar. It has been nine months since I last traveled this path. If you’ve experienced it, if you know that autumn display, it stays with you forever, even here in the height of summer, and it colors your view with anticipation of another season. The road continues like this, passing through a couple towns, skirting one using a bypass, and then leading into the wilder country. But I’m not free yet.

 

After passing Shelton, the road shrinks to two lanes, and I feel like I’m stepping out of one world into a different one, that seems at once smaller, and larger, than the confined domineering existence of the city. Every mile I travel, another pound of tension drops off of me, like loosened shackles. The narrow road weaves beneath my wheels like a tightrope walker’s line, I push the bike along it, balancing and dancing its path as if a rebirth awaits me at the other end. The Olympic mountain range drives upward powerfully to my left, into snow capped jagged peaks which from this close range I only glimpse occasionally through the dense forest, but I can feel their presence. The smooth, soothing waters of Puget Sound rest gently just to my right, the road wending along its shores squeezing in between water and mountains. Vacation homes line the shores in some places, in others old bridges span across marshes, where the rivers caroming from the heights of the mountains finally spread out into individual streams so numerous and dense in places that the land becomes a marshland network of creeks. Fishermen work this shallow delta, and I smile to myself to see them again, as if they were cousins I’ve known all my life, and am returning to. But I’ve never met them. The bike reminds me to ride on. I’m not free yet.

 

Soon, all that’s left is the occasional house, with long-forgotten equipment in and around rotting barns, shoulder-high grasses hiding clumps of iron that used to be a crane, or a water truck, or an old sawmill bandsaw, waiting for someone to stop long enough to listen to the tales of long ago. So many tales to be told. I want to stop, someday, and listen to their stories, because I feel that I’m among friends again, but I am fleeing today, and cannot stop to ask for cover in their undisturbed appearance. Not yet.

 

The road leaves the shore, and winds its way up through a pass. The road peaks, drops through a series of blind curves through a wide ravine that suddenly opens into a new valley, yet another distance from the city. This place feels so removed from the city that it cannot be felt at all. Small farms here grow their hay and crops with the wild abandon that the rain forest climate provides. Soon, just like the replanted clear-cuts that cover over completely in two seasons on the vast mountainsides above, the last traces of my having been in the city have been cleared from my mind, and overgrown with fond memories of these places. But I’m not free yet. Not quite.

 

I turn aside from the highway, and ride a short distance up a road I only know for its penchant for going nowhere particular. It is a secret road, and I’ve only traveled a mile up its length, ever. And that is precisely the distance I travel now, to a wide turnout that commands a view of the valley and the mountains beyond. I stop the bike on the roadside, kill the engine, and wait. I look up to the craggy peaks that I can just see, knowing what is there, waiting for it to come. The wind whispers in the trees. A bird busies itself in some discussion at the bottom of the ravine beside me. The gravel crunches as I turn my foot for balance, still sitting on the bike, waiting. And then it begins. A commanding, colossal silence that is more than an absence of sound washes down the mountain, crossing the narrow valley, roiling towards me as if it will tear me apart. And it will. I relax, and take the wave head on – it thunders over me like a collapsing wave. I drink it in, this deep quiet, letting it fill me up, push out every hint of the chaos and insignificant chatter that has been raging in my head, until the separation between the silence and me no longer exists. I am no longer just myself. I am free.

 

Somewhere in me a smile forms, and a joy without words flows out of me with a force greater than myself. Here, on this back road to nowhere with nothing but a motorcycle, I am at home again.