Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Fruit Stand: A Magpie Tale

It began as a simple camping trip with friends.  The day they left to return to town, I ventured into the local village to pick up a few supplies for my last night at the campground.  The fruit stand beckoned me with its hand written signs:  "Fresh Peaches" and "Sweet Corn."

After I pulled off the road, it seemed strange that there weren't many baskets of fruits and vegetables on the table.  Most of the tables were filled with root-bound flowers in old pots. A dilapidated building with a tin roof stood behind the sad array of produce.  Equally dilapidated and misshapen additions were attached to the sides, much like the pop-up campers back at the campground.  Chicken wire covered what was left of the windows.

As I selected a small basket of peaches, the old woman who came out of the even older building rattled off a litany of what other fruits and vegetables were available.  Look at the onions... no soft spots on those. The muslin dress, sprigged with tiny blue flowers, hung loosely on her. Tomatoes are nice and ripe... $2 a basket.  Both her hair and body were wiry and one of her front teeth was missing.  Nectarines are nice and sweet.  The remaining teeth reminded me of yellow and white sweetcorn.  We have fresh picked Silver Queen inside, $4 a dozen.  She kept talking as she transferred the peaches I selected to a brown paper bag.  Give the money to the boy. 

I turned and saw a slightly younger man I hadn't noticed before. Likely her son, if the matching dentition was anything to go by.  His hair was a dark blond and was cut unevenly.  The overalls he wore had large pockets to hold the bills and coins I handed to him.  He and his mother looked like they'd just stepped out of a Dorothea Lange photograph, while I felt like I'd just stepped into one. 

Fresh sweet corn inside.  Perhaps I could use a few ears of corn after all.  My son would enjoy that for dinner when I get home tomorrow night.  So, is your son camping with you?  He's working this week, but will be home tomorrow.  There's some summer squash over here... got both yellow and green.  No thank you, this will be plenty enough for tonight.  Kids these days don't get enough fresh air.  Yes, camping is great for kids.  The corn is inside the building.  Were you caught in that thunder storm last night?  Yeah, that was pretty wild!   How old is your son?  Twenty two.  Did you say he was camping with you?  She falls into step behind me as I move closer to the building.   

I wandered into the building after the young man.  There was even less inside than there was outside.  No corn in sight, but then it was hard to see anything in the gloom.  The boy will have to bring it out for you... it's in the back room.  Old fruit crates stack the walls as though they're the only thing holding them up.  So, you say you're camping by yourself?

As I sit on an old fruit crate, staring at the door in front of me, I wonder again how I came to be in such a predicament.  The lock stares back at me, the scratches that I've made on it mirroring the blood vessels in my eyes.  There's nothing to do but sit and wait.  The muslin dress, sprigged with tiny blue flowers, hangs loosely on me now.  It's getting hard to remember what I wore the day I stopped at the fruit stand so many months ago.  Loneliness does such strange things to people.

* * * * * * * *

Willow over at Life at Willow Manor  has been providing inspiration for bloggers with her photo prompts on a site called Magpie Tales.  Be sure to check out the other fabulous writers participating in Magpie Tales this week.  You'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Phantom Canyon: Reprise

Summer time means vacation time, so I'll be leaving you with a few oldies but (hopefully) goodies this week while I venture out into the woods of Upstate New York.  If I'm not back by Saturday, send help

Phantom Canyon (or The Worst Camping Trip Ever)

Back when I was fresh out of college, I moved to Colorado for a year with my boyfriend. (Who later became my husband and later still my ex-husband.)  While we were living there, my sister and brother came to visit us.  Being young and adventurous, we decided to go camping together up in Phantom Canyon.

Now, Phantom Canyon is exactly as it sounds.  Picture, if you will, a rock strewn dirt road clinging to the side of a mountain with a sheer drop on one side of the road.  There's room for only one car on the road at a time, so in the unlikely event you meet a car coming the other direction, one of you has to back up until you can find a spot wide enough to pass by each other.  There are no actual campsites, but rather a few sparsely scattered areas where you could pitch a tent.  (If you actually had one.)

Intrepid campers we were not.  We had three sleeping bags for the four of us and no tent.  My brother insisted he was hearty enough to use just a bed roll made up of a couple of old indian blankets we had around the house.  So, we packed the car (an old white BMW 2002) with the sleeping bags, bed roll, water jug, two boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese and a pan to cook it in, a can of green beans, matches, a cooler of Dr Pepper and a bag of marshmallows.

We cheerfully set out on our journey on a warm, sunny day in early June.  The road up the canyon, as I indicated, is a tad bit treacherous without 4-wheel drive, but we were undaunted. We'd already made the drive up the canyon before several times, just not loaded down with four people and camping gear.  We hit bottom a few times, but this was to be expected.  After about 40 minutes, we saw a clearing that might accommodate our car and suffice for our campsite.

We parked the car off the side of the road and carted all the gear to the clearing.  Out came the sleeping bags, the bed roll, the water jug, the two boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese and the pan to cook it in, the green beans, the matches, the cooler of Dr Pepper and the bag of marshmallows.  We started to set up camp and were quite happy with the location we found until we heard the buzzing of insects.  You name an insect, it was there.  Swarms of mosquitoes, gnats and some bees made our beautiful campsite uninhabitable.

So, we once again packed up the sleeping bags, the bed roll, the water jug, the two boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese and the pan to cook it in, the green beans, the matches, the cooler of Dr Pepper and the bag of marshmallows.  Back into the car we squeezed, only to find that the car had overheated on the rough ride up the canyon and wouldn't start.  There was nothing to do but wait for the car to cool down.  By this time, the sun had warmed the air sufficiently to make the interior of the car rather warm.  In my great wisdom I decided it was the perfect time for a cool, refreshing Dr Pepper.  I proceeded to pop the top on the can, only to have it explode in a spray of amber colored, sticky droplets all over the inside of the car.  Everyone was drenched and screaming as the soda dripped back down off the ceiling.  Needless to say, I was not the most popular person at that moment.  We were now all hot, tired and sticky and the car still wouldn't start.

Forty-five minutes later, after we were all done glaring at each other, the car started and we were once again on our way.  We drove further up the canyon for about another 30 minutes until we came to another clearing.  To get to it you had to follow a steep path down from the road.   We started getting out all the equipment again.  Yes, the sleeping bags, the bed roll, the two boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese and the pan to cook it in, the green beans, the matches, the cooler of Dr Pepper and the bag of marshmallows were carried down the steep hill.  The last thing to come down the hill was the jug of water, which my brother proceeded to drop about half way down.  The water came flying out of the jug and my sister started screaming at my brother because she needed the water for her contact lenses.  (Never mind the fact that our two boxes of Kraft macaroni & cheese were going to be a little crunchy to eat with no water to boil the macaroni.)

About the same time, one of us noticed that the steep path we'd been traversing up and down was covered with poison ivy.  Many expletives were invoked before we started talking civilly to each other again.  At long last, we had our camp set up.  We made a fire ring from rocks we gathered, started a fire with deadwood we found, laid out our sleeping bags and bed roll near the fire, and started to cook our evening meal.   There was just enough water left in the jug to make the macaroni & cheese, although it did taste a tad bit gritty from the dirt that clung to the opening of the water jug.

As night began to fall and we were roasting marshmallows over the fire, we began to contemplate the many wild animals that lived in Phantom Canyon, including small mountain lions.  We figured the rattlesnakes had all gone to their dens for the evening.  Nonetheless, we did discuss the merits of circling a rope around your sleeping bag to keep the snakes out. Whether that was an old wives' tale or whether it had actual merit was a moot point, as we didn't have any swell cowboy lariats anyway.  All the same, the more we thought about the mountain creatures and the darker and colder it got, the more nervous we became.

That's when we came up with the great idea of the rocks in the pan.  It seemed obvious to us that if we heard something approaching we could simply shake the rocks in the pan to make noise and scare away whatever it was.  Everyone agreed it was a brilliant plan.  So, we all snuggled down comfortably into our sleeping bags with the rock filled pan next to us and prepared for slumber.  Unfortunately, our sleeping bags weren't as warm as we anticipated and we all started to shiver.  About the same time, we became painfully aware of all the small rocks we were sleeping on top of.  The more uncomfortable we got, the more sleep eluded us.  Even the beautiful night sky failed to relax us.  Finally, we all covered our heads and tried our darnedest to fall asleep.

After what seemed like hours, a rustle began nearby.  The sound of sticks snapping came next as the creature neared.  Being cold and shivering and sure that whatever was out there meant to bite any exposed hand that came out of a sleeping bag, we all pretended to be asleep in the hope that someone else would be brave enough to shake the pan.  Two minutes passed, five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen. Still no hand was seen making the supreme sacrifice for the good of the group.  Twenty minutes later, someone ventured to whisper, "Are you awake?"  Immediately we knew that we were all cowards and had been avoiding being eaten alive by a mountain lion, all the while hoping that one of our camp mates would provide a tastier treat for the vicious creature.  (Yes, we really cared deeply about each other.)   Upon making a pact that we would all look out on the count of three, we were amazed to see that this time we all came through!  We had done it!  We had faced our fears and faced down the creature....  which, as it turned out, happened to be a steer.

Range cattle are very common in the mountains and it never occurred to us that the thing that was approaching could be a very large, but very docile creature rather than a blood thirsty devourer of humans.  The rest of the night was spent leaning up against an old stone wall and stoking the fire until the sun rose.  When the dawn finally arrived, no one spoke as we packed up the sleeping bags, the bed roll, the empty water jug, the pan minus the rocks, the empty cooler and the trash.  In fact, I don't think any of us spoke to each other again until about six hours after we finally arrived back home.

Rarely have I been so miserable while camping.  And I've never again gone camping with my sister and brother.  Go figure!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pajama Day: Reprise

Summer time means vacation time, so I'll be leaving you with a few oldies but (hopefully) goodies this week while I venture out into the woods of Upstate New York.  If I'm not back by Saturday, send help!  In the meantime, here's another little tribute to the Wonder Dog...

Pajama Day

Pajama Day is a cat lady's dream.  Imagine... waking up to a day in which there are no pesky employment obligations, no creditors lurking at your door and no relatives planning to visit.  Your social calendar is completely empty.  Household chores are unnecessary as you don't plan to wear clean clothes anyway, you can live off any leftovers in the fridge that haven't yet become science experiments and you couldn't give a crap whether your house is clean or not.

What do you do first?  The obvious thing is to go back to sleep, which you do until the other inhabitant of your home, the trusty canine, decides it's time to go outside and increase the number of land mines in the back yard.  This is brought to your attention by the tapping of doggy toenails, which should have been trimmed long ago... except that he would rather bite the hand that feeds him than have his nails done.  (He obviously doesn't understand the allure of French tips.)  You try to ignore the pitter-patter of large feet until the whining begins.  Soon you realize the whining is not due to the dream you were having about work and you become more fully awake.  Again, you try to ignore the signals by putting a pillow over your head.  When the whining finally erupts into a full-fledged bark, it's time to give up and get up.  (Cat silhouettes are much more accommodating... they never tap, whine or bark.)

As long as you're up, you might as well start brewing the coffee while the dog does his thing.  In the spirit of generosity, you provide food and water for him as well.  While doing this, you naturally spill water on the floor, slip on it and strain your bum knee.  Limping to the door to let the dog in, you realize that you should probably ice the knee, so you stop off to put an ice pack in the freezer to chill. Upon opening the door of said freezer, all the boxes of Lean Cuisine that have been crammed inside slide out and fall on your unshod foot, creating a new shot of severe pain to go along with the pain shooting through your knee.  This means it's really time to get off your feet.  You finally make it to the door and the dog comes flying in past you, (bumping into your already sore knee,) to get to the delectable taste treats you've left in his bowl.  These are scarfed down in about 3 seconds and he turns to you with a pleading look that says, "That was lovely, but what else is for breakfast?"  On your way to the recliner you throw him a rawhide chew which is consumed by the time you lean back in the chair.  The whining begins anew, so being a thoughtful pet owner you lean over to scratch him behind the ears to relieve his angst.  This results in a new pain... this one in your back where a nerve exposed by a herniated disk gets pinched from leaning over the wrong way.  Back to the fridge to put in another ice pack.

This time the cold emanating from the freezer reminds you that you have to pee.  You hobble up the stairs with one hand on your aching knee and the other hand supporting your aching back.  Once seated upon the throne of relief, you realize there are only two sheets of toilet paper left on the roll.  (Had you cleaned the bathroom like most people do on a Saturday morning, you might have noticed this before settling down.)  As you attempt to rise, you find you can't because of the pain in your knee and back.  Meanwhile, the dog has begun to whine again because he misses the scintillating conversation you'd been having previously downstairs.  Grabbing hold of the sink with one hand and the toilet paper holder with the other, you pry yourself up painfully, hobble into the spare room to procure a new roll of paper from the bulk size package sitting there and return to complete your task, which has become much more urgent.  Glorious relief is at hand and soon it's time to once again grab onto the sink and toilet paper holder to pull yourself back up off the throne.  This time the toilet paper holder snaps off the wall, falling on the remaining toes that weren't attacked by the Lean Cuisine.  New pain shoots through your toes.  

It's becoming abundantly clear that the dreams of a relaxing pajama day are not going to materialize. The only thing left to do is to pop half a bottle of Advil, dig out a pair of earplugs from the bedside stand, pull the shades and go back to bed.  Finally you drift back into an uneasy slumber... until the tapping begins again!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hickory in Wonderland

It's quiet around the old homestead today.  Hickory the Wonder Dog has gone to Wonderland.

Hickory came to us as a puppy when he was only eight weeks old.  When we got him, he had a bald spot on top of his head and a scar down his face.  He was the last of the litter to be spoken for since he was deemed "defective".  But I'm a sap for the underdog and that made him all the more lovable to me. 

The bald spot grew larger and the vet determined it was a dermoid cyst, so Hickory had to go through a major surgery to have it removed when he was a year old.  Which also meant the had to have the skin from his neck pulled up and grafted onto the top of his head.  From then on he always looked kind of like he had a bad toupe! 

The cyst was not the only thing that grew.  Hickory was a large, economy size dog, topping out at 130 pounds.  Yeah, that's a BIG dog!  But then, we're big people, so we suited each other.  The living room already seems huge now, without him sprawled across the floor.

His home away from home was out at Shamra's house, with his best friend, Sadie, the cats and the chickens.  I never had to worry about putting Hickory into a kennel for trips because he was always welcome there.  He spent hours roaming with Sadie in the meadow and going swimming in the pond.  (Sadie hated the water, though, and would look at him with distain when he would mosey on over next to her to shake off the pond water.)  Shamra's family dubbed him "Big Daddy" and loved him as much as we did. 

We said our final farewells after his back legs gave out and he was unable to get up.  Hickory's last night was spent outside because he couldn't get back up the steps into the house.  Since it was raining, I made a little tent out of tarps and spent the night with him.  It was our last campout together.

I petted him through the night, keeping him as comfortable as possible until the vet came the next morning.  Then I held him as he relaxed into his final sleep.

Hickory saw Vlad and I through life's ups and downs... accidents, surgeries, death, divorce and unemployment... always maintaining a steady, loving gaze just when we needed it most. 

We'll hold him in our hearts always and trust that he's happy now in Wonderland.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Imagine a warm summer day.  The breeze is blowing across the hills of Upstate New York.  A crowd begins to gather.

Tents are set up...

Plenty of places to lounge around...

Wet towels flap in the breeze...

While the wind blows away the rain clouds...

The tree house is a nifty place to keep an eye on things...

And a tree swing provides a quiet respite...

The band sets up in the barn...

Food, friends, libations, music, good times.    


Talk about the dog days of summer...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Playing With Fire: A Magpie Tale

Life was much simpler when we were children.  We'd get up in the morning, throw on some clothes, get some breakfast, then head outside.  We'd spend our day playing in one of the long defunct outbuildings, trying to lasso our donkey for a ride, wading in the creek, exploring the barn, or going fishing with a safety pin attached to a stick with a piece of string.  Pirates, kings & queens, sorcerers, cowboys, witches... you name it, we played it!  Sometime around noon, Mom would call us in for lunch, which most often consisted of grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup and Art Linkletter's radio show.  Then we'd head back out to play until supper.

After a long day of fantasy play, it was no wonder witches sometimes entered my dreams.   My brother and I shared a room across the hall from my parents, while my sister had her own room.  But when we got scared by things that go bump in the night, it was my sister's door we'd knock on.  Since it was not in her plan to host annoying younger siblings, she begrudgingly let us in... but made us sleep in her closet.  We'd wrap up in the blankets that we brought with us to wait out the fear.  Hanging on the hooks above our heads were huge petticoats made of tulle... de rigueur for little girls of the 50's.  Perfect tinder for the candles and matches my sister gave us for light in the otherwise dark closet.  My brother and I would huddle together, mesmerized by the candle flame flickering up toward the waiting petticoats.  Amazingly, we never burned the house down during those 1001 Closet Nights.

Being a "good girl", I never played with matches beyond my sister's closet.  But my brother was just getting started, continuing to experiment with matches in our playroom closet downstairs... until the day the flames caught hold.  Somehow, my mother managed to put out the flames before the entire house went up in smoke.  (Living far out in the country, the fire trucks would never have made it on time.)  But an entire closet full of toys were charred beyond recognition before the flames were finally put out.

Sooner or later, we were all tempted to play with fire, either literally or figuratively.

Unfortunately, we never knew who was going to get burned.   As we grew up, we just became more of who we were back then.  Today my sister is an uber-organized, successful businesswoman who is undeterred by setbacks; I still tend to turn inward and long to hide in a closet when experiencing self-doubt; and my brother crashed and burned, eventually ending up homeless and without means of support.  Sadly, he's the one who played with fire and lost. 

* * * * * * * * *

Willow over at Life at Willow Manor  has been providing inspiration for bloggers with her photo prompts on a site called Magpie Tales.  Be sure to check out the other fabulous writers participating in Magpie Tales this week.  You'll be glad you did!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pfffft.... Help! (Theme Thursday)

This week the gang over at Theme Thursday chose "Help" as the prompt du jour.  Pop over to see who else is playing.  You'll be glad you did!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Now, you may think that my sojourn into the realm of camping last week was totally idyllic and it was.  But in true CatLady fashion, it was not without incident.

All was well until the morning of departure, when I woke up to the sound of a thunderstorm.  No problem.  I've packed up in the rain before.  But damn... the humidity!  Killer!  I hate to sweat, so I was not a happy camper, literally or figuratively.  By the time I was finished packing, I had to unpack my pack again in order to find clothes that were not soaking wet with sweat.  Otherwise, I couldn't bear to be in the same car with myself for the 180 mile drive home.  I managed to find a skort (so very stylish) and a clean t-shirt in the bottom of my bag.  I was left with wet shoes, but those were easily removed for the trip.

It was an enjoyable drive and the miles passed quickly as I listened to a David Sedaris book on tape.

All was well until I was a half mile from home.  As I was rounding a corner on the expressway, the camping gear- and kayak-laden car swerved suddenly.  WTF?  It wasn't even windy or anything!

100 yards down the road I discovered why I had swerved... flump, flump, flump, flump.  Pfffft!

B...l...o...w  O...u...t!

Not to worry... I'm a she-woman.  I know how to change a flat tire.  Simply unload half the crap in the car to get to the spare tire.  Unload the other half to get to the jack.  Pry off hubcap.  Loosen lug nuts....  loosen lug nuts.... loosen...  Damn!

When in doubt, call AAA.

That is, call AAA if you have any juice left in your cell phone after a week of camping.

Double Damn!

Stand by side of road looking helpless and thanking the goddess that you managed to find the clean skort and t-shirt to put on so oncoming motorists can't smell the damsel in distress from a mile away.

(Paula/Pauline... it's basically the same.)

Wait approximately 5 minutes, debating whether to just walk home...
Notice neat white truck, pulling off road just ahead...
See friendly looking man in painter pants start walking toward damsel in distress...

Help is on the way!  I'm saved!

From now on, all my painting needs are going to be taken care of by Ryan and Sons, House Painters Extraordinaire!    Kind, courteous, manly men, ready to help at a moment's notice. 

Life is good!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Love Apples: A Magpie Tale

Nothing says "summer" like ripe, red tomatoes. 

Tomatoes were a staple in our garden when I was a kid.  After harvesting, those that didn't go immediately to the dinner table were sliced, diced, pureed, and then "put up" into Mason jars.  We'd end up with enough to last us through the coming year.  Those tomatoes that didn't ripen up by the end of the season were turned into my grandma's special green tomato relish.  In later years, I'd ask my mom for green tomato relish for Christmas and she thought I was crazy, but there's nothing finer.  

Growing up in Iowa, a typical summer dinner would consist of mounds of corn on the cob and sliced tomatoes, both fresh from the garden.  Nothing else, just those two items. The tomatoes were first scalded with boiling water, so that the skins would separate and could be magically peeled off.  Then they'd be cut into thick slices.  Mom would serve them up on a big platter.  My brother and I ate ours with sugar sprinkled on top.  My sister and parents ate theirs with mayonnaise, which was always served in a little glass bowl with a silver base.  I always thought of that as "the mayonnaise bowl".

Sliced tomatoes were also turned into bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, another summer favorite.  Again, the mayonnaise bowl was put into service.  When we were going through my mom's things after she died last month, I came across the mayonnaise bowl.  It was one of the few things that actually reminded me of my mom, and of long, summer days when life was simple and good.  Tomato days. 

No wonder they call them Love Apples.

* * * * * * * *

Willow over at Life at Willow Manor  has been providing inspiration for bloggers with her photo prompts on a site called Magpie Tales.  Be sure to check out the other fabulous writers participating in Magpie Tales this week.  You'll be glad you did!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Life's Tough All Over

I had a tough week.  Here's how it went...

8:00 to noon - Wake up, pee, wash face, brush teeth, make coffee, sit in hammock & read.

 World Without End

Noon to 1:00 - Get dressed, forage for food.

1:00 to 2:00 -  Paddle around the islands (there were a thousand to choose from) in my trusty vessel, Yellow Tail.

2:00 to 4:00 - Drink beer, relax in hammock, read, take nap.

4:00 to 5:00 - Float on inflatable raft with cheesy paperback novel.  Bounce up and down as big boats go by.

5:00 to 6:00 - Lay in reclining lounge chair, drink Dr Pepper and read some more.

6:00 to 7:00 - Go for another paddle.  Observe wildlife.

7:00 to 9:15 - Make dinner over campfire.  Eat, relax, read some more.

9:15 to 9:30 - Watch sun set.

9:30 to 11:00 - Read in tent while enjoying a glass (or two) of wine.

11:00 - Enjoy amazing stars on walk to bath house to pee one last time.  Lights out.  Listen to water and night sounds.

Wake up next day and repeat.

Yeah, it's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Blue: Theme Thursday

This week the gang over at Theme Thursday chose "Blue" as the prompt du jour.  Pop over to see who else is playing.  You'll be glad you did!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Jesse Fuller composed San Francisco Bay Blues, but of all the artists who have covered it over the years, it was Richie Havens who actually brought the blues to the song for me.  Fuller was an amazing guy, performing as a one man band with his own creation, the fotdella.  But his original version of this particular song is a just little too chipper, in my mind, to be considered the blues.  Fuller makes me feel way too perky when I listen to his version.  I much prefer the rich, mellow sound that Richie Havens brings to the song.

Kudos to both artists, though, for bringing this fabulous work of art to life.  So, what do you think?  Here's the YouTube link for Fuller's original version, since embedding was disabled:
Related Posts with Thumbnails