Tuesday, August 29, 2006

 

In Which We Are Consumed By the Orange Monster...



This week is the first full week of school.

Oh, the trauma.

The Brownie rode the bus to kindergarten.


bus


Oh, the drama.

There was much gnashing of teeth and wailing.

First, by Thomas, because he had agreed to ride "the baby bus" with his sister, to her great comfort and his embarrassment.


06school

Then, by Her Lovely Self, who spent days prior undergoing strange weepy phases when she would talk about how she didn't know WHAT she was going to do with herself now. During the 180 minutes every morning that she would now be by herself.

Finally, and hardest to bear of all, was poor Blaze.


sadog


Thomas started riding the bus the fall Blaze first came to live with us and I remember well the shock and horror on that poor dog's face when he watched us walk Thomas out to the giant orange vehicle (back then, Blaze barked at any large truck, especially UPS trucks and buses, and most especially if they stopped near our house) and voluntarily put him into the gaping open mouth of the massive orange monster. As soon as the bus rumbled away, Her Lovely Self started bawling ("My little boy! Riding the bus!") and Blaze just lost it. He started slamming his head against the screen door, breaking several of the screws that held the glass panel in place on the door. But what I remember most is his look of utter, open-mouthed disbelief. He appeared to be on the verge of speech, his look of stark incredulity was that human. I half expected him to say, "Have you lost your fucking mind? LET'S GO GET HIM!!!"

Well, I kind of thought two years of watching Thomas successfully embark and disembark from the bus would be enough to mellow the dog out, but this fall, it was a whole new ballgame.

To start with, the Brownie was just a little anxious about starting school. She woke up around 4:30 and he little body thrummed like a tuning fork full of tension. Dogs are really good at picking up that anxious vibe and Blaze--who reveres the Girl above all others--more or less attached himself to her for the rest of the morning, even following her into the bathroom (which was kind of funny, because we have a small bathroom downstairs and both of them can't really fit, but never mind). Blaze didn't know why his girl was nervous, he just knew she was and he was going to stick close to face whatever trouble reared its head.

And sure enough at 7:50, we heard the familiar decelerating rumble of the bus and you could almost see the lightbulb go off over the dog's head. His eyes widened and he looked at me as if to say, "No fucking way. That THING is coming to take her?!?"

Interestingly, once she actually saw the bus and saw her brother ready to go and even saw her classmate Andrew--the sticky little popsicle sharing Romeo from down the street--the Brownie realized she was about to have something fun happen. So there was a round of tearless hugs and kisses. And in the sudden lightness of the moment, I made the supreme mistake of bringing Blaze out on his leash, figuring that if he saw how happy the Brownie was to ride the great orange monster, he might be okay with it.

Well, Blaze was okay with it, all right. As soon as the bus driver opened the door and the Brownie stepped off the curb, Blaze threw every ounce of his 50 pounds of dog fat against the leash, catching me off guard and nearly tearing my hand off at the wrist. Before I could stop him, he got loose and bounded aboard the bus ahead of the Brownie. There were squeals of surprise and delight--most of the kids on the bus know Blaze very well. And I thought this might have calmed him down, but in his state of mind, he must have thought he'd stumbled on a massive plot to kidnap every child in the community.

Then the bus driver--a big but jovial man whose name I have not yet learned--stood up from his seat and started to make a joke--"I don't think you have your bus pass, big fella"--when Blaze rounded on him and lunged, forcing the big man into his driver's seat. Then Blaze did something I haven't seen him do in ages: he very gently, deliberately sniffed the poor bus driver's crotch, as if to say, "I gotcher bus pass right here, monkey boy, and if you step out of line, it's coming with me."

This all happened in a few seconds, understand, and then I was aboard, physically picking Blaze up and carrying him to the house, squirming and growling at me in a way that suggested he was not going to be speaking to me for a while. He whined and made his Most Pitiful Face Ever,

wait3


then sullenly took up his post in the front hall.

All morning.

But that wasn't the worst part.

The worst part was what came next: the parents' meeting.

When Thomas first went to school, I was told about the parents' meeting and thought it was a joke. But it is not: On the first day of school, the administration holds a little coffee-and-donuts meeting in the gym for the parents of new kindergartners. The pretext is that you get to meet the principal and meet some other parents, but really it's just an opportunity to indulge over-emotional parents who can't let go. Because here's what really happens: as soon as the principal finishes his 45-second speech, all the parents rush to the kindergarten classrooms to see how their child is doing--their child who they just put on the bus about 11 minutes earlier.

When Thomas started kindergarten, I refused to go to this event and begged Her Lovely Self not to. "We've already said goodbye to him today. How's he going to feel to have you show up at school and then say goodbye again? He'll be just getting into his groove and seeing you will throw him. Plus, how many little kids are going to expect their moms and dads to do that every single day? What happens tomorrow when none of you show up?" I asked, using my best, impassioned voice of reason.

But despite my tough love approach, Her Lovely Self went that year anyway. And thank God, Thomas was so besotted with all the interesting things in the classroom he didn't even notice his mom. However, HLS did report that quite a few kids--and parents--had big, soppy emotional breakdowns in the classroom that could have been totally avoided if they had just left well enough alone and waved goodbye at the curb.

You'd think the school would have learned its lesson, but there's a fine line between insanity and tradition, and thus it was that this year, it was announced that there would be yet another regular coffee-and-donuts meeting for new parents. I couldn't believe it.

Imagine it. Imagine two buses full of 5-year-olds driving out of a cookie-cutter middle class suburban development, followed by a forty-car convoy of minivans and SUVs, all driven by slightly emotional mommies and daddies, trailing their children to the school, where they can work themselves and their children into full-blown emotional crises. It just staggers the mind. Truly.

Which is exactly what I told the Brownie at 4:30 that morning, when she asked if I was coming to see her on her first day.

"Mom came to see Thomas on his first day," she pointed out.

"First of all, I'm sure how you even remember that because you were only 2 years old. Second, MOM went. I didn't go. Don't you want to spend the time getting to know your teachers and make new friends?"

The Brownie nodded, but her face was already quivering. "But I want YOU to come too Daddy."

Oh crap, I thought. But I said, "Honey, I have to go to work. You really don't want me to come. I'll just be in the way."

She clasped my big hand in her little perfect ones. "Please, Daddy. Puh-lease? Please come? I want you to see my classroom and meet my teacher. Please?" Then she thought of something else. "And I promise I won't cry or anything."

Oh fuck, I thought. ""Honey, I really--"

"Pleeeeeeeeease?" she begged.

"No," I said, trying to put maximum tough love in my voice. "I really can't, baby." Because if YOU start crying then I'LL start gibbering nonsense and singing the stupid song we made up about how if Blaze were just a little smarter he could be a kindergartner and that won't be good for anyone, I thought.

"But I really WON'T cry. I MEAN it!" she insisted.






Luckily, there were no lasting psychic scars. Since that first day, there have been no further tears, the Brownie has been riding the bus with new friends and enjoying school and reporting much fun with her new table mates, who are all chatty types who are jealous of the Brownie and her wonder dog Blazey.

Who, by the way, still isn't speaking to me.


wait2


Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

 

In Which I Dream of Spiders Past...

Well, of course it wasn't a heart attack. But you know, my heart was going pretty pitter-fucking-pat.

The reason? Potassium. Or lack of it.

Aside from being the official mineral of the banana, and one of the anchormen in the nutrition label on the jugs of Gatorade I regularly consume, potassium also happens to play a pretty key role in regulating heart function. When it doesn't show up for work, you get wacky heart rates and weird-ass blood pressure fluctuations, such as the kind I was experiencing. It's not entirely clear why the young nurse thought I was having a heart attack. Nor is it clear to me why my body was sweating almost pure potassium, but it must have been. Because when the blood tests came back, I had significantly less than the average living human body should have.

Which would explain why the next nurse who came in made me swallow two enormous potassium pills roughly the size and thickness of doorknobs and then plugged me into two IV bags packed with potassium laced fluid.

Eventually, a doctor showed up and he filled in some of the blanks for me, but as to why my body was going on a potassium strike, all he could tell me was that spider venom was some freaky shit (I'm paraphrasing here). It affects everyone differently. Some people drop dead. Some people feel a little queasy. Some people develop the proportionate strength and speed of a spider and go around laboring under the idea that great power and great responsibility are somehow inextricably linked. In my case, he figured that instead of my kidneys shutting down (organ failure is a fairly common result of spider poisoning, but which organ is anybody's guess, I guess) or my liver going bad, or my heart just, you know, stopping, I suffered the biochemical equivalent of a traffic signal getting crossed and somebody in Bloodstream Control got the message to dump all available potassium.

At least, that's the Reader's Digest version. I have a tough time keeping some of it straight, partly because I was still trying to will my heart to stop beating so fucking fast, but mostly because they pumped me full of Benadryl and then--because the bites still felt like someone was jabbing needles in them--topped that off with a morphine chaser.

I'm fairly certain I've never had morphine before. I would remember if we'd met. After my brother shot himself in the foot 15 or so years back, he was inflated with enough morphine that he could've wafted above a Macy's parade, but he hated the stuff. Said it made him nauseous and cranky (perhaps overlooking the fact that drilling himself in the leg with a .45 caliber bullet might have played a small role in those sensations). Well, as is so often the case, my brother was dead wrong.

The second the morphine hit, it was as though I had been gently melted in a tub of butter and slowly poured into another body, one that did not have an aching ankle, a sore hip, and a pain in his ass. In fact, for a while, I'm pretty sure I had no ass to speak of whatsoever.

Well, this is all right, I thought.

And then the next thing I knew, I was totally unconscious.

I woke up about three hours later, still feeling just fine, thanks, although I was mildly surprised to find a telephone in my hand. Apparently I had called the office and informed my assistant that I would be taking a late lunch and then proceeded to tell her all about the poison spider bites--taking pains to include the fact that one of the bites was lodged in my left buttock. I could have told her a lot more--it was really pretty fuzzy there for a while--but she relayed the buttocks-free version to everyone I was meeting with that afternoon and so, instead of having a fairly full Friday, I had a little nap in the ER and--in between coming up with the occasional epitaph--thought back on all the times spiders and I have crossed paths, not always to the best result of either of us. Of course, long-time readers already know about my assault by the famous Miss Muffet spider at Storyland, and I've mentioned my death-defying encounter with the spider that liked me well enough to bite me 22 times. On both legs. While I slept through the whole thing. But as I lay there swimming in dreamy little cobweb of opiates and antihistamines, I thought of two other incidents worth mentioning:


The Human Spider:

Okay, so this one isn't my story at all, but BB's due for some payback. A few months before I was born, my mom caught my brother gazing out the window of our old house. He appeared to be chewing something and even at the tender age of two, BB was already an accomplished food thief and a bit of a chunky monkey. My mom went over to the windowsill and expected to catch him munching a cookie he had filched from the pantry. But no...

Instead, my brother was picking dead and semi-dead flies out of a spider web and thoughtfully munching them. And in the instant it took my mother to scream like an extra in a slasher film, the spider whose pantry my brother had been raiding suddenly came out of a dark corner of the sill to see what the hell was going on. Evidently, it was not one of those spiders that came equipped with Spider Sense, because it--like my mother--was completely unprepared for the next moment. That was when lil BB deftly plucked him off his Web and ate him alive.


The Sprite Spider:


So BB and I and 12 and 10 respectively, playing around in the yard of an old house my parents have bought as an investment (it ended up turning into a complete money pit, but that's a story for another time). Out in the back, resting in the center of a beautiful web strung between two pine trees, my brother and I discovered a huge green and yellow spider, his body as big as my thumb. My dad called them garden spiders and although they were the biggest spiders we had ever seen, they were relatively harmless. To us, anyway. Less so for the grasshoppers and houseflies my brother and I routinely trapped and tossed onto the web. Sometimes our little personal spider god ignored our offerings. But every once in a while, he'd scuttle for the helpless grasshopper or fly struggling in his web. And before you could say "H-e-e-e-l-l-p M-e-e-e-e!!!" that big-ass spider was wrapping that poor bug up to go. It was totally fascinating, an amazing (if slightly coldblooded) exploration of the natural world.

And no doubt we'd have spent the rest of the summer happily fattening that spider up. But one morning, my ham-fisted brother laid a grasshopper too close to the spider and that big eight-legged sucker climbed straight onto my brother's thumb.

BB spun around much like the grasshoppers had when the spider ensnared them in his Web, shrieking and wailing before finally flinging the poor spider to the ground.

We looked down into the grass, somewhat sadly. We had come to think of the spider as our pet, and there he was, lying on the ground, two or three of his eight legs at odd and useless angles, like the bent aerials of an old TV antenna.

But the spider still moved. And it seemed to both of us that he was moving towards BB.

"Get him! Get him! Do something!" my brother cried, as if I were a trained spider wrangler. Neither one of us was interested in squashing the poor guy, mostly because we were squeamish little shits and were nauseated at the idea of feeling such a big spider squish under our sneakered feet.

But we couldn't very well let him suffer either, so I came up with a quick solution. On the porch nearby was a 16-ounce glass Sprite soda bottle, recently emptied by one of us during lunch. The opening of the bottle was just big enough to fit the dying spider. With the aid of a stick, I guided the poor thing into the bottle, then ran to a nearby spigot and filled the bottle halfway with water. For some reason, I had it in my head that finishing the poor guy off this way was the most humane method available (no doubt I had simply been brainwashed as a child. "Down came the rain and washed the spider out" indeed!).

But it worked. The spider didn't struggle at all. Just settled peacefully to the bottom of the bottle. And that was that. Except that it wasn't.

Looking back, I realize now that our first mistake was bringing the bottle into the house and setting it on the kitchen counter.

Our second mistake was not bothering to tell anybody that we had done it.

But hindsight is 20/20, you know. And in short order we had returned to our jobs (tearing out drywall on the upper floors of the house) and quite forgotten about the bottle. So we weren't even in the room when Dad came down from the attic, covered in dust and insulation and filled with a powerful thirst. Naturally he reached for the first thing he saw: a familiar green bottle filled with clear liquid.

But as soon as the taste of water hit his tongue--instead of the refreshing carbonated lemony flavor he had been expecting--my dad knew something was very wrong. He immediately spat the water right onto the kitchen floor.

Well, actually, right onto the small of my mother's back, to be accurate. She was under the kitchen sink just then, cleaning out the cabinets.

So between his sputtering and her swearing, my brother and I got a pretty quick audio picture of what had just happened. We dashed down the stairs two at a time and saw my parents sniping at each other. My Dad was still holding the bottle, trying to explain to his bride why he had just spat water onto her ass. He hadn't noticed the dark form at the bottom of the bottle until my brother cried,

"Oh no! Our spider!"


Having lived with us for our entire lives, my dad didn't need to look at the bottle to put any context to BB's words. He grasped the situation instantly, then shoved my mother aside and began retching hugely into the sink.

Yeah, that one took a while to explain.


By comparison, my stay at the hospital was remarkably short. By 5:30, my heart rate had managed to stay below 100 B.P.M. for more than an hour, so the doctor decided to let me go, but not without a goodie bag from the pharmacy that included lots of prednisone, quite a bit of antibiotics, a modest tube of topical ointment and, sadly, no morphine whatsoever. Oh well, you can't have everything.

But hey, I do have my health, which seems to have been more or less restored. The bites I described in the last post are about 40 percent smaller and less nasty-looking than what I went into the hospital with, so that's good.

Of course, I still have no idea what kind of spider it was or where it came from--perhaps it was some irate descendant of that poor spider at the bottom of that Sprite bottle--but I'll be darned if I'm giving any more of them a shot at my other buttock, so we've called the exterminator and apparently there's some sort of spider-bomb we can set off in the house.

I admit, I feel a little sad to have to go to this extreme. After all, I've read that spiders are excellent at controlling the population of other household pests, and I fear that once we rid the house of spiders, we might upset the delicate ecosphere of the house and find ourselves with another problem, such as being overrun by houseflies.

But I suppose if that happens, we could always invite BB over and offer him a chair by the nearest windowsill.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

 

In Which I Write My Epitaph...

Well, apparently I've exhausted every other possible opportunity for self-injury, because over the past four days I ended up sick. Again. I ended up injured and in pain. Again. And I ended up having an unexpected stay in the hospital. Again.

Why? Because I was suffering the toxic effects of multiple poison spider bites.

Again.

If my life is a comic book or a sit-com, I think it's time to hire a new writing staff, because it's never good when an episode repeats the same plot, you know? But there it is.

I noticed them Thursday night after getting out of the shower. Three mosquito-sized bites--two on my upper left thigh and one high on my hip--that itched like a wool sweater in a sauna. But unlike mosquito bites, they didn't just itch, they hurt like hell. As though needles--or teeny-tiny teeth--were still stuck in the bites. Also, they were bright blood red and WAY big.

By Friday morning, the three bites were joined by new ones: a constellation of four on the same leg, two big ones and two little ones, just above the ankle bone.

And, just because it's me we're talking about, there was also one--the biggest one of all--resting on my lower left buttock (just to the right of a little mole that, until today, only about 7 people ever knew existed). And it's a bite which none of us really needs to see.

I found some Benadryl cream to slather on my leg and hind parts, but it was useless. It actually hurt to put on clothes and having the top of my shoe rub against the ankle bites was pure torture.

So I dug deeper into the bowels of the medicine cabinet and found a prescription cream containing what looked like a lot of benzocaine. Being immune to novocaine, I often don't get the full effect of topical anesthetics, but thank God this cream worked well enough that I was able to cinch a pair of trousers over myself and hobble to work.

Along the way, it dawned on me that these had to be spider bites. After my last experience I had learned a great deal about spiders, such as the fact that many people are bitten in their sleep, often under their clothing (mosquitos generally can't even bite through socks unless they hit a hole in the weave, and I don't even want to meet the mosquito that can bite through the two layers of clothing I wore that night in order to score a goal on my butt). But I had more or less convinced myself that I was somehow immune to spider poison after my last encounter. Which is, of course, as stupid as supposing that surviving a cobra bite now renders you immune to rattlesnakes.

Well, you can guess what happened: by mid-morning, all the benzocaine had rubbed off and I could barely walk. My left leg wasn't swollen but the bite sites had all gone from itchy to just plain mad-bastard painful. Then my assistant--an EMT when she's not looking out for me at work--told me I looked awful: pale and sweating and on the verge of collapse.

Naturally, I drove myself to the nearest ER, on my lunch hour, figuring I could just get an antibiotic shot and maybe some lidocaine underwear or something. The triage nurse, however, seemed less interested in my spider bites, and more excited by the fact that my blood pressure was 175 over 103, and my heart rate was up above 200 beats per minute--which may explain why I was feeling so jittery on my drive to the hospital.

Next thing I know, I'm first in line for a room. Then I'm on an exam table They draw some blood, but even before the results are in, they're hooking me up to an IV and slapping an oxygen mask on me.

"Whahroodoon?" I asked through the mask.

"Just relax," one of the nurses said, although she didn't appear relaxed, as she took my pulse and blood pressure and started asking me about where the pain was. I pointed to my left leg, but she just saw me pointing to my left side and I think she thought I was talking about my left arm. Because then she got really excited and grabbed a phone off the wall and paged someone from cardiology. I heard the word "tachycardia" which just means a heart rate of more than 100 bpm.

But then the nurse who told me to relax said the initials "M.I."

Which of course stand for "myocardial infarction."

A.K.A. a frigging heart attack.




Which sounds like a terrible way to end tonight's entry, but I have to tell you my reaction and maybe then you won't feel so bad when you see those hated dots of ellipsis.

I just laid back on the bed and started laughing. And it wasn't from too much oxygen. And it wasn't a denial response to the suggestion that I was suffering a heart attack. It was simply the idea that, of all the ways to die, I just might get to die from a spider-bite in the ass. And in a flash I could see my grave. And I started coming up with all these epitaphs for the headstone.

For example, this one, to the tune of the old Spider-Man cartoon:

Magazine Man
Magazine Man
Took a hit in the can
Will the Web miss him now?
Or notice that he's...what?...hey!...OW!
Look out!
He sat on a spider, man!



Or my personal favorite, which was, simply:

He met his end. And so did the spider.


So, while you're waiting for the next installment--in which I promise you I do NOT die--I invite you all to write my epitaph based on this incident. Surely you can come up with something better than mine. C'mon, give it a shot. I might even award a prize for the best entry.

Assuming I'm still alive to do it...


Friday, August 18, 2006

 

In Which We Go Into that Den of Wolves...

Well, there I was, stucker than stuck, hanging on a smooth boulder, trying to climb up and out, or flailing my feet around trying to find a foothold so I could go back down into the Bear Cave. At any moment, I expected my mother to come peering over the boulder and say, "See? What did I tell you?"

And just then, I felt a powerful hand grab the belt lug on the back of my pants and tug, pulling me back down into the Bear Cave (and also, coincidentally enough giving me the mother of all wedgies).

I felt another hand grasp my calf and push it forward towards the cave wall.

"There's a foot hold just six inches below your foot. Let go. I gotcha," said a voice from inside the cave.

I did what I was told and slid back in. I heard something tear in the back of my pants as all my weight rested on that belt lug. And then I could feel a small outcropping with my foot and was able to let myself down.

Then I turned and beheld the face of my rescuer.


100_2358

Well, I had a closer look than that:


bb

It was a look I'd seen many times on his face, an expression of disgust at having to bail his little brother out of touble again, but also one of slight disbelief and amusement, the barest smile tugging at the ample jowls around his mouth.

"Thanks," I said. "How'd you get up here so quickly?" My brother, who is not quite at the apex of human performance, had elected to walk up the Flume at his own pace, which I took to mean that we would probably meet him coming back down. But here he was, sweating and gasping a little bit. He had obviously run to help.

When he caught his breath and pointed to the mouth of the cave. There stood a familiar silhouette that waved at me. It was the Brownie.

"She went and got you?" I asked as we both took a moment to recover.

"Oh no!" my brother said. "She called to me. So loud I could hear her above the sound of the waterfall." He paused. "And by God she's cute. She didn't yell 'Help" or anything lame like that. She just yelled 'Uncle BB, come get Daddy. He's in the Bear Cave and his butt got stuck!'" He chortled to himself while I imagined this cry echoing off the walls of the Flume, enriching the lives of the hundreds of other tourists trooping up the gorge that day. "I thought, I gotta see this and came as soon as I could. Shit, I love that kid," BB exclaimed, still chuckling.

"Hey!" someone called from above.

We looked up. There in the hole in the roof of the cave, Thomas was peering down.

"Aren’t you coming up, Dad?" he asked, and my heart sank. I had to admit to my son that I wasn't quite strong enough to climb through a simple gap in the rocks.

Thomas took the news well, which is to say it didn't really register with him at all. Instead, he looked to my brother. "Hey, Uncle BB. Wanna climb up through this hole?"

My brother just looked at the size of the hole, then gave his nephew The Look.


bb


Then he shook his head. "Sorry, kid," he said. "Not a big enough shoehorn in the world to get my ass through there."

So in the end, with the Brownie in tow, we walked up and around and were reunited with the family. Thomas told everyone in earshot how he had climbed the Bear Cave, something that not even Daddy could do.

I let him brag about it, even as we continued our walk and came to a sign bearing the legend Wolf's Den, one of the other Forbidden Places my mom had warned us away from in childhood. Still, friends who had more permissive parents had always enjoyed using it because if you went through it quickly, you'd emerge near a set of old steps that would take you back to the trail as a kind of shortcut.

wolf1

The sign reads:

This narrow one way path, involves crawling on your hands and knees and squeezing through rocks.


As you can see, Thomas was already on his way there. I followed, hoping I wouldn't have to climb up anything again. I also took some pictures along the way, to show you how narrow and close the place was.

wolf2wolf3wolf7wolf6


What amazed me was not the size and shape of the den, but the fact that Thomas led the way in near pitch blackness. This is an anxious kid, you may recall. The kind of fellow who is scared of going up to his own bedroom at night, even with every light in the house blazing.

There were good acoustics in there, and from somewhere ahead and above us, I could hear a familiar female voice rattling off a list of possible hideous fates awaiting us. My parents must have run their arthritic asses off to get around the trail to the steps on the other side of the den ahead of us.

"...I mean they call it the Wolf's Den for a reason. What if there's one in there? Or even just a coyote? What if there's a hole or crevasse in the floor that they can't see. What if one of those big slabs of rock suddenly slips and crushes him. I love him so much, I think I would kill myself if anything happened to him."

My mom paused in the diatribe to breathe and I allowed myself a smile Aww, that's sweet, I thought.

Then Mom said, "Of course, I'd be upset if something happened to MM too, but I swear if anything happens to my grandson, I'll just die on the spot. After I kill that little shit for letting him go in there." By the way, "little shit" is what my mom called me as a child whenever I did something that I just knew would annoy or scare the daylights out of her. I still answer to it, I'm sorry to say.

I'll tell you, it was pretty dark and smelly in there, just like a real den of wolves. And for a second, I flashed to a single comic-book panel, from an old story that just happens to contain my favorite line ever written in a comic book. This isn't because it's a vintage Batman story from the 1930s, it's because, as wiser men than I have observed, it's menacing without making a goddamn lick of sense.

den


Having not read that particular comic, Thomas wasn't particularly worried that this den might be summoned from the forest at any time, thirsty fangs and all. He just pressed on, feeling his way.


wolf5


Then he shouted, "I see light. I see a hole!" And when I squeezed around a corner, I saw that he was already worming his way between two massive rocks. And being my mother's child, my heart leapt into my throat.


wolf8


Suddenly I remembered every news story I'd ever heard about children stuck in wells and old mines and collapsed buildings. I recalled every "Drama in Real Life" story I'd ever read in Reader's Digest (I used to call them "the monthly amputation story" because no matter what the drama was, someone always seemed to lose an appendage) and I uttered what I have come to call The Daddy Prayer: Dear God, if something bad is going to happen, please let it happen to me instead of my child.

But my angle of view clearly fed my worry, because when I got closer, I could see that the opening was more than wide enough for Thomas. In a second, he was through the crack between the two mighty boulders and grabbing the steep wooden steps that led out of the pit and back up to the trail.

"Oh thank you GOD!" my mother cried dramatically, hugging Thomas and brushing cobwebs off of him. "This is why I never let your father go in there when he was little. I couldn't stand the anxiety."

"But he's in there now," Thomas said, confused.

My mom faltered, then became her sarcastic self again. "Yes, that's true. But he's biologically redundant now so it doesn't matter as much as it used to." BB and my dad chuckled at this. Even Her Lovely Self laughed.

WTF?

"You know, I'm only about 10 feet away and I can hear you just fine!" I called from the den.

"Well, come on then!" my dad called.

And I was coming, you know? I just didn't want to be rushed. I'm not a claustrophobic person by any means, but the crack that Thomas so easily wriggled through seemed a mite tight to me, especially since I'd put on a good 20 pounds since the last time I'd been to the Flume. I took a breath, then removed my belt pack and tossed through the hole. Then I climbed through.

And immediately my foot slipped on a wet rock and I turned sideways, bashing my elbow. I recovered and got on my hands and knees to finish my transit through the hole.

Except I was stuck. Stuck again!

Only this time, it wasn't a cliffhanger. Somehow the back of my pants seemed hooked or stuck. As it turned out, the tearing sound I'd heard when BB rescued me from the Bear Cave was my belt lug and a healthy chunk of waistband ripping loose, not only exposing a slightly indecent portion of my lower back, but also creating a flap of durable cloth that became easily wedged between some rocks on the roof of the hole I was crawling through.

Thomas bounded back down the steps to encourage me. "You okay, Dad? Don't be scared. You can make it."

Not without ripping the ass out of my pants I can't I thought.

"Don't worry about me!" I said cheerily, even as I tried to reach behind me and try to feel where I was stuck. "I'll be right along."

"Okay!" Thomas said. He grabbed by belt pack, took out the camera, snapped a picture


wolf9


then disappeared back up the steps.

I had no leverage at this angle. I pulled forward. I pushed backwards. Nothing was working. I tugged mightily on my pants but the fabric, which had torn so easily when my brother yanked on the belt lug, had obviously been torn all the way up to a stronger seam that refused to break.

Great...just great, I thought. I could imagine the ignominy of having to be rescued by park staff. And I could already see my brother giving me The Look.


bb


No, all in all, I'd rather they left me here. After a year or so, they could just rename the place "Skeleton Cave" or "Dumbass Pass" or something.

And then I heard a strange noise.

It was like a low rumbling and seemed to be coming from everywhere. Bits of rock began to fall around me, pelting me from high above. I guessed they were bits of rock falling from the two glacial boulders I was stuck between.

Holy-O Jesus, I thought. Twenty-five thousand years these rocks have been sitting here and TODAY they decide to move. The idea struck me that I wasn't just in a jam; I was about to BE jam.

I braced my elbows on either side of the boulder and pushed like I was trying to give myself a hernia. I started digging my feet into whatever rocks were behind me and shoved and shoved and shoved.

Suddenly, with a great ripping sound (and a smaller one signalling the accidental emission of human methane) I exploded out of the hole and onto the soft dirt just in front of the steps.

I turned and looked at the hole. No more rocks seemed to be coming off, nothing seemed to be moving. I caught my breath and looked up. High atop one of the boulders that formed the Den, I saw BB.

"Were YOU dropping those rocks down on me?!?" I squeaked at him, my voice a little high from the excitement. My brother just stared.

bb

"Well?!?" I cried.

bb

Then he couldn't help himself and started laughing his ass off. With a huff, I brushed myself off and clambered up the stairs to the path. Thomas was waiting and he was ebullient.

"Wasn't that GREAT, Dad?" he yelled. "That was the coolest thing ever! We climbed through caves and holes and cracks! It was SO awesome!!"

"Speaking of hole and cracks, ol' fella, you just might want this," said my Dad, handing me a lightweight windbreaker. A group of teens tromped by, pointing and tittering in relation to my backside, which was now on full display, a brand-new attraction there at the Flume.

Face red--from the exertion of getting out of the Wolf's Den, you understand--I tied the windbreaker around my waist and marched off after my kiddos, my brother's high, raucous laughter still ringing in my ears.

I'd love to tell you I got my revenge that night--putting shaving cream in his hand and then tickling his nose while he was aleep, switching out his toothpaste with Catlax--but I decided to call it even. He had saved me from the Bear Cave cliffhanger fair and square. I guess he deserved to scare me out of my pants too.

Anyway, all that really matters is that Thomas considers it one of the Best Days Ever. I think it's safe to say everyone else enjoyed themselves too.

And if asked, I just smile and say I had a ripping good time.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

 

In Which Readers Enjoy A Bit of Cliffhanger Revenge...


My GOD, but I'm homesick.

I haven't felt such yearning for New Hampshire in years. I think the kids--Thomas especially--are compounding it. Every night before bed we've been telling "membawhen" stories, going over our recent adventures in the woods of the place where I'm from.

Her Lovely Self gets sick of hearing the same stories after a while, but this is a time-honored tradition in my own family. Readers here have often paid me the compliment of telling me what a good memory I have, but the truth is, I remember so much of my childhood and the life of my family because I grew up hearing the stories told and re-told until they became embedded in my brain, probably intertwined in my very DNA. It pleases me that Thomas wants to recount his adventures in NH again and again. He clearly wants to remember, to relive, to preserve those memories forever.

Last night, Thomas and I recounted his last and greatest adventure in New Hampshire. The one involving first Bear Cave and, later, the Wolf's Den.

As the grand finale of our visit, we spent our last full day up in Franconia Notch in the White Mountains. I know most people who visit this part of the country end up here and parts of it are touristy and tatty beyond belief. But the White Mountains are special to my family nonetheless.

My mom's parents--this would be Grandma and Papa Jim who just died in January--got married in July of 1943. My grandfather was on furlough from the Army, having finished some pretty exhaustive training in Colorado with the 10th Mountain Division, and was due to ship out to Italy soon. So they got married but had no real money for a honeymoon. My grandparents had both worked at the Statler-Hilton Hotel in Boston, though, and their old boss knew the manager of a hotel up in the White Mountains. Through him, as a wedding present, they got four days in one of the charming old tourist cabins that still exist up there.

On their drive up, they would have passed through towns like Canaan and Woodstock. And that means they would have driven right by this house.


canaan


It's even possible they would have driven right by a woman sitting out in the yard, rocking a newborn while her two older children swung on the tire swing nearby. That newborn was this guy:


dad


Back then, my Dad would have been all of a month old. The family were renting that white house in Canaan until my other grandfather could finish the house he was working on, not far from the family Homestead that they would eventually come to own.

My maternal grandparents had a lovely honeymoon and enjoyed their stay so much that for years after, my mom's family spent every summer in New Hampshire, and my mom herself would eventually quit college and get a job as a chambermaid at one of the hotels up there, just so she could stay in the state full time. She loved the country. She felt she belonged there. My grandparents were slightly appalled by this and chided her for years about it, feeling that she'd gone from being a refined city girl to a degenerate from Cow Hampshire.

But in truth, my grandparents have no one to blame but themselves.

See, my Mom was born in March, 1944.

You do the math.

Incidentally, Her Lovely Self spent her first night in New Hampshire in the very same hotel where my grandparents honeymooned, although we stayed in a different cabin (I hope, otherwise, that would be just too weird).


cabin


We had just started dating and in July of 1992, I proposed we go on a driving tour of New England. Aside from a few work-related conferences in New York City and Washington, D.C., Her Lovely Self had never been any further east than Pittsburgh and had never been to New England at all. So we spent 10 amazing days, hitting every state and sampling all that my part of the country had to offer. But of everything we did, Her Lovely Self still remembers our stay in the White Mountains as one of the best times of her life.




Aside from enjoying ourselves in the scrotum-shrivelingly cold water


meflume


and on the warm, sunbathing-friendly rocks


hlsbikini2


and in that cozy little cabin, we also spent a good chunk of time in one of our favorite places, the Flume, an amazing testament to the power of nature and the beauty it wrought. I love walking on the slightly rickety, slightly slippery walkway up to the top of the gorge. I love the sound of the water rushing down. I love resting in the shade of 25,000-year-old boulders, listening to the water and, somewhere above it, the wind in the pines.

Naturally, Thomas was agog. He practically ran the 2-mile stretch up to the top.


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He loved the cascading water, the seeping walls, the cool spray. "It's like the best water park ever!" he exclaimed. "Who built it?"

"Why, God did," my father said, winking.


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Granted, unlike a water park, you don't really get in the water. The park is at pains to remind you to stay on the path. And yet there are still some exciting places to venture, such as the infamous Bear Cave at the top of the gorge. I call it infamous because it was just one of many places my brother and I were forbidden to explore as children.

My mom, sad to say, was a bit of an alarmist. Still is. She can imagine all sorts of disasters befalling her children and grandchildren. As a kid I wasn't allowed to camp out in my best friend's back yard because Mom thought I'd get pneumonia from sleeping on the cold ground (and of course, years later, when I actually got pneumonia, I delighted in pointing out to my mom that it happened while I was in hot, sunny Florida).

We couldn't climb trees and we most certainly couldn't have a tree house because we would fall and break our necks. And that was just daily mundane disasters. Take her to the White Mountains and she could imagine rock slides and flash floods and one of us slipping and drowning in a puddle of water (that's all it would take, you know). The Bear Cave, naturally, was completely off limits. After all, those rocks that formed the cave could shift at any time, never mind that they'd been in that same spot since the last Ice Age. In truth, all the Bear Cave is is a deep, wet crevasse at the top of the gorge. It's pretty dark in there and a little slippery. But there are most certainly no bears occupying it, nor are there open chasms and cracks in the earth through which I could fall and be killed, just to mention one of my mom's disaster scenarios.

I know all this because when I finally caught up to Thomas, he was three steps into the Bear Cave. "C'mon, Dad!" he yelled. And of course I followed.

A hundred feet behind us, slowly chugging up the steep walkway, my mom's head spontaneously exploded.

At first, there was nothing but darkness in the cave, just like this:


bearcave1


But then, as our eyes adjusted to the dim light, at the back of the cave, Thomas noticed there were several rocks you could climb up to a small ledge, thus elevating you about 20 feet so you could see the whole cave from on high. And then, about five feet above that ledge was an opening in the rock, through which daylight was plainly visible.

I don't know where or how Thomas found a handhold there in the dark, but before I could say anything, he was already clambering up the rock and through the hole. And there he got stuck.


bearcave2



I don’t mean he became wedged. I mean he reached a point where he was trying to crawl over a large boulder that had no handholds or purchase that his young arms could reach. To compound things, his feet were now dangling in mid-air, far from any ledge or foot-hold.

And then Thomas began to slip backwards on the rock, back towards me, into the dark of the cave. I could catch him, but it was a narrow ledge and if he fell just right, we'd both topple off.

"Dad!" he cried once, controlling his panic. "Where can I step? I need to push myself up!"

Well, parents, you know there was only one place Thomas could step. I hopped up on the ledge, wedged my knee into a crack in the rock for leverage and applied both hands to the soles of my son's shoes. With one final push that left my arms trembling, I got Thomas up far enough that he was able to wedge a knee up on the wall opposite the boulder and roll himself onto the ground atop the cave.

"I did it!" he yelled, and I heard a muffled voice congratulate him and tell him how surprised he was to see someone so young actually make it up through the hole in the roof of the cave.

"My dad's coming next!" he shouted, then leaned over the hole and yelled. "Come on Dad!"

Oh fuck.


bear3


Well, he was only a few feet from me and hell, if he could do it, so could I. So I took a deep breath, crouched down on the ledge and sprang upwards.

First, I wedged my elbows on the sides of the walls, but that wasn't working.


bear4


I quickly shifted both hand to the round boulder in front of me and tried to scramble up over it. I managed instead to simply hang there on the very middle of the boulder. That's when I realized that the handholds on this boulder weren't too far for Thomas's shorter arms to reach.

There were, in fact, no handholds.

I know that Hotshot Rock Climbers tell you that every rock has something to grab, and to illustrate the point might compare a sheer smooth rock to, say, a stick of butter with some salt crystals on it. But I'm here to tell you there were NO salt crystals to grab on this stick of butter. It was just butter. And I was toast.

I hugged the rock with my arms, which were still trembling from the effort of shoving a 60-pound kid 10 feet straight up in the air. I tried to look over the top of the rock for any kind of handhold to lunge for. But even if there was a handhold, how was I going to lunge? My feet were dangling in mid-air back down in the cave (actually, to be perfectly honest, they were pedaling wildly in the void), and there was no Dad below to grab my feet and push me over the top (my Dad was still down below in the Flume, guiding my mother up, what with her exploded head and all). And even if my Dad had been there, with his arm still in a sling from his rotator cuff injury, there was no way he could help me.

There was no way anyone could help me. I couldn't climb up over the rock. I couldn't slide back down into the cave, not without knowing where to step. Without a guiding hand, I'd just fall and dash my brains out on the rocky floor. That would be bad enough, but on top of that, my mom would be totally vindicated in her long-standing fears about such places. And trust me, being around a vindicated mother is a fate worse than death, because she will not let anyone forget it ever.

I called to Her Lovely Self, but she and the Brownie had already taken the path up around the Bear Cave, and were going to meet us at the scenic overlook at the top. After snapping a couple of photos, Thomas and whoever he was talking to were gone also, probably off to the overlook where everyone else was.

Jesus Christ, I thought, splayed on the boulder I am stuck in an actual, honest-to-God cliffhanger.

Which I'm sure many of you would consider poetic justice, after all the blog cliffhangers I've subjected you to.

Such as this one, for example...


Friday, August 11, 2006

 

In Which We Talk of Least and Most...


We're home now.

I'm still in that conflicting frame of mind that always follows a good vacation--the frame of mind where you want to magically transport your entire life to where you just were because you hate to go but at the same time you're really glad to be home.

We packed a lot in a week and there's more to tell (and show), but for now I'm just too wiped. Because of assorted delays, we didn't get home til about 2 AM the other morning and I feel like I've been at work ever since. Actually, I have been at work ever since. We're trying to move our production schedule up a bit so essentially we're producing two complete issues at once. One issue is grueling enough on its own; two issues simultaneously--especially if you're still in re-entry mode like me--well, it renders me more incoherent than I normally am.

I'm going to try to catch up on many things this weekend--posting some sleep, getting to blog earlier, mowing the dog, washing the lawn, that sort of stuff--but for now, all I can muster for you is:


My favorite thing about being home:


Depending on your sound card, you will hear either faint static in the background, or actual wind in the canopy of the forest on my family's hill.





I've been a lot of places and heard a lot of noises in nature, but somehow no other breeze sounds quite the same as the breeze that blows in the place where I'm from. Next to the laughter of my kids, it is my favorite sound in all the world. It is certainly the most peaceful sound I know.


My least favorite thing about being home:


When I was little, we were camping up on the hill--not far from where I was listening to that breeze, actually. I was drinking a Coke and as I leaned against an old stone boundary fence to take a breather, an enormous yellow- and black-colored snake emerged from the underbrush, and with a speed I couldn't believe, slithered between my legs. It disappeared into a crack in the stone fence but--to quote my Dad--the way I carried on, one would have supposed the crack that snake had gone into was my own.

I dropped the Coke and leaped straight up about 40 feet in the air, shrieking at a pitch that caused dogs all across northern New England to cock their heads. When I came back down, I touched the ground only long enough to launch myself up my Dad's leg, climbing like a cat until I was more or less balanced on top of his head.

It took a while to settle me down, and I refused to go near the fence again, which was a problem since our camp site was right on the other side of the fence. By "right on the other side" I mean about 300 yards away, but for a snake that fast, that was no distance at all. I also made my Dad retrieve the fallen Coke can (it had been the last one in the cooler, and screaming my teeth out had, for some reason, made me thirsty). I was pleased to see not much had spilled out, but dismayed to discover--about two seconds too late--that a bee had found time to fly into the can.

Suffice it to say, I don't miss snakes. Which is a problem if you have a son who finds them fascinating, and who has eyes like a hawk, and who can yell "Dad, watch out for the snake!" in such a way as to cause you to shriek and leap as though you were 5 all over again.

Except now you have a son who will not only alert you to the snake, but will pick it up and bring it to you, instructing you to take photos and video all the while.


100_2617


Which, incidentally, is why the video is on its side. I had taken a vertical picture just a second earlier and when I switched the camera to mpeg mode, I was a little too preoccupied with the proximity of the snake to turn the camera level again.





Hey, could happen to anyone.

And with that, I wish you a breeze-filled, snake-free weekend.

I'll have more to tell you next week.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

 

In Which We Tell Our Fish Stories...

marsh


Overheard while a certain old man and his grandson were fishing one evening at sunset:


Thomas: I caught another one! It--what IS it?

Papa: Let's have a look. Is it another trout? (looks) Oh hell, that there's a little hornpout.

Thomas: A what?


100_2351



Papa (grasps the fish carefully and begins unhooking it from the line): I dunno the scientific name for 'em. Prolly some type of catfish. We always called them hornpouts because of that big fat lower lip--see the pout? And watch out for the whiskers on either side. They are some sharp and they sting like a mutha. But they are good eatin' now I'll tell ya. When I was a sprat, we had fish fries up at the town hall and hornpout was pretty much the main course. They fry up good in corn meal and I could eat about a hunnert in one sitting.

(Papa plops the hornpout into the catch bucket. Thomas observes him).

Thomas: He does look like a catfish. Do we have to eat him? Can we let him go?

Papa: Cawse you can. Or you might want to keep him. Hornpout are some smart. And they make good pets.

Thomas: Really?

Papa: Yessir. Din't I ever tell you 'bout my pet hornpout, Whiska?

Thomas: No.

Papa: He was a good pet. I caught him just like you caught this one. Had him in a bucket too. But you know, after a while, I got bored carrying him around in that heavy bucket. So every now and then I'd take him out and let him flop somewhere on the grass.

Thomas: No way. Didn't it kill him?

Papa: Nossir! I told you hornpout was smart. I'd leave him out a few minutes at a time, then put him back in the catch bucket where he could breathe in the water. But eventually, he got so he could stay out of the bucket longer and longer. By the end of the summer, he didn't have to go in the water at all. He was a good pet. Smart as a dog, and he'd follow me around, thrashing his tail in the dirt to keep up with me.

Thomas: Really?

Papa: Cawse! I told you hornpout was smart. Ain't every fish can learn the trick of breathing on land ya know. Whoa! (attends to his fishing pole, which is suddenly bending with the weight of a fish).

(Thomas stares out across the pond, mulling the story over while Papa wrestles with a brown trout that finally gets away).

Papa: Aw hell, thought I had him.

Thomas: Papa, what happened?

Papa: Well, I guess he jerked the other way when I tried to set the hook in him and he got--

Thomas: No, not that fish, the other one?

Papa: Oh, Whiska? Well, sir that's a sad one. He didn't live too long.

Thomas: What--?

Papa: Well, one day I was walking to my Grammy's house and Whiska was flopping along behind me. We come to the bridge and when I got to the other side, I turned and saw Whiska was gone! I ran back and saw a knothole in a wooden plank of the bridge and knew he musta fell through into the brook below. So I scrambled down the embankment to get him back. But by the time I got there...well sir...it was just too late. He was belly up.

Thomas: Dead?

Papa: Ayuh.

(pause)

Poor bastard drowned, you see.


Incidentally, I fell for the same tall tale when I was about 7, too.

Gullibility is apparently genetic.


100_2407


Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Monday, August 07, 2006

 

In Which I Indulge in One Brief In-Joke...



This one's for Shane:


dunk1



Sorry, I already drank all the coffee. But you can have a Munchkin if you like.


dunk7




Incidentally, if this orgy of caffeine and fried dough strikes you as a bit excessive, I should probably tell you two things about staying with my folks:

Number One: They have a few housecats.

Number Two: They store all the cat medications in the bathroom.


Which means if you're not careful, and you're dull as a butter knife in the morning, you might make the wrong choice about what to brush your teeth with.


catlax


(By the way, the word "palatable" on that label is a gross misrepresentation of the word. And I mean that literally.)



Given the circumstances, I think I'm entitled to some coffee and donuts, don't you?


dunk2



Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Saturday, August 05, 2006

 

In Which We Pose One of the Timeless Questions...

Am I having fun yet?

Only if it's fun to tear down logging roads in a pick-up with your Big Brother and your Dad, just like you used to when you were 8, only your brother had better taste in hatwear then.


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Only if it's fun to walk two miles up a slippery overland trail to a lake of such pristine beauty it mutes all speech...



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...until your daughter starts crying and you discover she has a blister the size of a fried egg on her heel.



Only if it's fun to carry your daughter on a two-mile piggyback down the slippery overland trail, listening to her tell you that You--Not Anybody Else Ever But YOU--are the Best World's Daddy EVER (even though she is oblivious to the heart attack the Best World's Daddy is suffering at that moment. Note the Merrimac of sweat pouring off him).


100_2401100_2400100_2399100_2397


Only if it's fun to spend every day chasing, panting, gasping, uttering strangled cries to keep up with your son, who is absolutely besotted with New Hampshire wilderness, and who only comes back to where you are to show you the latest animal he has caught barehanded.

Such as this newt:


100_2367


Or this toad:



100_2377


Or this snake (keep looking, you'll find it, just like he did):


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Only if it's fun to tuck your son into your old bunk bed and hear him say, "It's good to be home, huh, Dad."

And realize later that you're hoping he had not been asking a question, but simply stating a fact.

For the both of you.

Am I having fun yet?


100_2396



Oh. Oh my, yes.

Yours,
From Somewhere in the Wild


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

 

In Which I Am 2 for 2...


I know a lot of people who have come from small towns and most of them couldn't get away fast enough.

Not me.

Granted, the town in New Hampshire where my family is from is about as small as you probably want to get. When I lived there it had 70 registered voters and a summer population of less than 1,000 people. My aunt Barbara ran the post office out of her living room, one of the last such village post offices of its kind. TV reception was awful--to this day they still don't have cable, but you can get satellite TV, of course. There was one village store which is now closed, but may open again. It has a cyclical life, that store, and is probably in a dormant phase.

Not a lot went on in that town, and certainly there wasn't much there of interest to kids like my brother and me. And yet whenever we went away from it--whether for vacation or to follow my dad to one of his far-flung jobs--I always looked forward to returning, no matter what my age. Maybe that's why: Ever since I was 9, I've never really lived I the town for more than a season at a time. We spent every summer there, to be sure, and later, out of college, I lived there for a year. If I had been there for a consecutive string of years, I might too have grown sick of my small town. But I didn't, so I'm not, and so I'm grateful.

I haven't been home in three years. But tomorrow I will be there. And I can't wait.

As even the most casual reader of this blog will glean, I've had something of an eventful year. I could really use a week in which my obligations are no more pressing than making sure I've packed enough sandwiches for our hike to the Ledge--the topmost part of the 120 acres of timberland my dad owns, the last unspoiled chunk of the original family farm, first tended to by my multi-great grandfather Nicholas, when he came to New Hampshire in the 1630s. I need to make my pilgrimage to that ledge. I need to recharge, and I can think of no better way than to spend some time in the forests of my forefathers, steeping myself in the smells and sounds and slanted light that falls through the leaves of the trees of the place where I am from.

This time, it will be all the sweeter that Thomas, now almost 8 and a tall, strong kiddo, wants to explore the place his family helped settle. The last time we visited, he was 5 and too little for any kind of extended hike. Now he's got his own pair of hiking boots and he's been training up, walking a mile a night around our neighborhood, sometimes wearing a backpack, sometimes not.

My dad is overjoyed. Ever since he first laid eyes on his only grandson, he's been waiting to take him into our woods, to show him our sacred places--the moss bed where my dad often slept nights as a little boy; the stone wall where my uncle found the rusted remnants of a Colonial era musket, just propped there and forgotten; the old log road that turns to a brook that marks the place where, one Christmas, we slid a mess of Christmas tree down the ice in order to make some money for the holidays; the secret road that leads to the overgrown stone foundations of what had once been a village. The list goes on, and if we're lucky, Thomas and I will add to it.

The Brownie, Her Lovely Self and my mother will meanwhile be hitting the outlet stores. The Brownie and her grandmother are legendary shoppers. And the Brownie is already planning some picnics in the backyard in Grandma's flower garden. For this purpose, she will be bringing as many stuffed animals on the plane as FAA regulations allow. Mostly, these will be foxes. And a surprise guest.

I worked a 15-hour day today, and somewhere in the middle of it, I had a video conference call with some of the folks who led our focus groups several weeks back. Before we wrapped up, though, one of the women smiled sheepishly into the camera and said, "By the way, did any of you lose this?" And then, there on the TV screen, in front of my boss and colleagues, she began waving the missing Jenny--the fox I had lost during my barnstorming trip to the focus groups. The woman was whipping it over her head like it was a starter's flag. He must have fallen out of my bag during the last focus group.

I fessed up right away--at this late date, do you really think I make any effort to conceal my essential goofiness from my coworkers?--and the women were nice enough to agree to ship it to my folks' house. So that will be a nice surprise for the Brownie when she gets there, in about 12 hours.

And with that, I will big you adieu for a day or so. My folks ostensibly have an Internet connection--my Big Brother gets online long enough to make with the snappy patter in comments--so you may expect a few posts and a few pictures as the week progresses.

Hopefully when I do post, you will understand why I firmly believe that not only can you go home again, but you can bring new generations with you. Moreover, while that generation might have been born elsewhere and now live hundreds of miles away, if you show them the secret places and tell them the stories of those places, they too may come to see what you see, may come to love what you love.

And when that happens, they may find that they, too, have come home.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


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