Wildlife I Have Known

Throughout my life, I’ve always enjoyed being in and observing the great outdoors. I suppose in part I owe this love to my father who studied forestry in college. I learned most of what I know about nature from my father through nature hikes, camping, fishing, and hunting.

As a small child, my mother often complained about the need to check my pockets before washing my clothing. I consider this a menial price to pay for my many treasured finds. Rocks, pine cones, bird feathers, shelf fungi, worms, sticks, and other rarities often could be unearthed from my pockets after a long day’s exploration. Tadpoles and frogs were fair game as well, but couldn’t survive in my pockets, not that the worms faired well either.

GEORGE

Our back porch often held a collection of entrapped specimens. Caterpillars weaving cocoons, mosquito larvae, fireflies, and of course, George, my annual toad.

George seemed to reappear every summer like magic. I’d be out playing in the backyard, hanging from my tire swing or building a fort and suddenly remember my need to check the knothole at the base of our hollowed out tree. My yearly vigil almost always seemed to pay off eventually for there I would find my beloved toad, George. Every year I’d capture him with glee and run into the house yelling, “Mom, Georgie’s back!” I’d find some sort of suitably tall bucket and set about making a “home” for George. This often included leaves, sticks, and rocks. Occasionally I’d try to find dead bugs to place in George’s dwelling, but (of course) he never seemed overly enticed by these offerings. I’d watch George intently for the remainder of the day only saying, “good night” when Mom made me come in for dinner. More often than not, the next morning I’d return to find an empty bucket. He always seemed to escape his homemade penitentiary…at least until the following summer when I’d see him hiding in the same exact knothole at the base of our maple tree.

THE MICE (trigger warning: bad things happen to good animals)

My great grandparents owned a farm, and in my earliest remembrances, they had what to me appeared to be gigantic dairy cows. I remember the hulking black and white beasts towering over me as my great grandfather lead them from the pasture to the barn and back again. I remember a small calf I named Daisy because I’d made a daisy chain for around her neck. I also vaguely remember the mysterious disappearance of Daisy from the barn and questions that had arisen from this incident, but I don’t recall the answer I was given as to Daisy’s whereabouts. Funny how time glazes over the – shall we say – less desirable memories with a frosting of sweet forgetfulness.

Gram and Pap also had chickens housed in a small chicken coop on the farm. Though my adventure may have begun with said chickens, it certainly did not end there. One day I discovered to my great joy and amazement that there were, in fact, more than just chickens in the henhouse. There were also mice. A mama mouse and several baby mice to be more precise. I had recently read Beverly Cleary’s The Ralph Mouse Collection and the naive fantasy of a mouse riding a motorcycle was still very fresh in my mind the day I found the mice in the chicken coop and needless to say, I decided I should catch a mouse to keep as a pet.

I scooped up one of the baby mice with some fur, and I stuffed him in my jean jacket pocket. Now, lest you think I was cruel, I made sure to keep it open enough to allow him to breathe; I kept my hand just barely inside the pocket to hold it open. I knew very little about the realities of mouse husbandry, being all of six or seven years old, but I understood enough to know that I’d somehow need to figure out how to keep my mouse warm and breathing. Not crossing my mind at that very moment was precisely what I would feed him.

By lunchtime that day I was so overjoyed and excited about my find that I could barely contain myself and I eventually spilled the beans. I mentioned the mouse family I’d found in the henhouse to my grandparents not realizing that not everyone viewed mice with the same adoration I did; however, that quickly became apparent. What happened next I could never have anticipated from my kind, gentle, loving grandfather.

Upon discovering that I had a mouse in my pocket, he forced me to hand over the rodent as tears welled up in my eyes. I was afraid he was going to put it outside, and I’d lose it by the time the meal was done. My young mind could not fathom the far worse horrors about to occur. My grandfather walked outside with the young mouse and proceeded to stomp on it. I let out a wail of disbelief and horror at what I’d witnessed. I couldn’t understand why he’d do such an atrocious thing. I believe he tried to explain something about the mice eating things in their cupboards and stealing the chicken’s food and perhaps something about mice being dirty and spreading diseases, but none of that mattered to me; it went in one ear and out the other. I ran off crying to sulk for the remainder of the day in the henhouse intent on coddling the rest of my brood in secrecy.

After what happened with the first mouse, I knew I had to keep the rest of my refugees a secret until I could ensure their safety. When I returned to the hen house that afternoon, I realized that I’d put the whole mousey family in great jeopardy and it was now necessary to remove the entire lot of them. In my pocket, they went, but to my dismay, I was unable to capture the mama mouse.

When my father arrived to pick me up a few hours later, he had no clue that he was now the unwilling accomplice to my smuggling of mice off the farm. My grandparents, bless their hearts, mentioned nothing of the trauma I’d experienced that day.

When I got home I snuck off to my room to fix a box for the baby mice. I made them a nice soft nest in a shoebox. I knew I’d have to keep them warm and find them some food. In my young mind, I knew that babies drank milk. I’d watched my aunt warm up bottles for my baby cousins and test the temperature on their wrists. I came to the much-misguided conclusion that I would need to heat up some milk from the refrigerator to feed my babies. This I did and attempted to feed the mice via an eyedropper. They didn’t seem to like it, but I had no better ideas, so I assumed they were just not hungry yet. I believe I may have also tried cheese, but was met with equal defeat.

The next morning I discovered the first loss among my young friends. One of the babies appeared cold and stiff to the touch, and I knew it hadn’t survived. After my first misstep of trusting adults with the knowledge of my pets, I knew I had to keep them a secret from all adults. Adults could not be trusted. They would regard my harboring the mice as a criminal infraction, and I knew it. Yet, I had to get rid of the evidence of my crime, the body.

I could not effect an escape with a mouse down the stairs and outside without drawing suspicion, so I foolishly hid the body in a wastepaper can in the seldom-used back bedroom *. I then proceeded to dress for the school day.

Since it appeared to me that the dead mouse had died because it was cold; I figured I’d have better luck keeping the mice warm if they were with me. I gently put the mice into my pants pockets until I could transfer them back into the much roomier pockets of my coat. Once outside, I placed the mice carefully into my coat pocket and off to school we went.

I knew adults were not to be trusted, but surely my classmates would prove more trustworthy. As soon as I got on the bus, I told my best friend Leland that I had mice in my pocket. I took one out to show him. Of course, this was a mistake that I would soon regret; we hit a bump in the road, and the tiny mouse went flying down the aisle, frightening the driver, who immediately swung the bus door open wide and shooed my mouse out. I’d like to think it survived.

I was saddened by the loss, but Leland very much enjoyed the devilry of it all. I still had a mouse in my pocket, but I could see that the day would not be an easy one.

Upon arriving at school, I hung my coat up on the coat hook and took my seat. I only slightly worried that my mouse would escape, but I was more concerned that he would get cold without my body heat to keep him warm. I checked on him at every chance I got and told no one else of my stowaway. I even spent recess out of harm’s way with my mouse safely tucked away in my pocket. He seemed to be doing fine.

Eventually, the school day ended, and I went home. I tried again that night to feed my mouse milk and cheese unsuccessfully. I sadly realized the reality of the situation; he would likely die if he didn’t eat. That was when I knew I had to let him go.

I smuggled my Ralph Mouse back outside once more and set him free by the woodpile. I wished him luck and hoped that he’d be able to find food for himself.

*Side note: My parents did not discover the truth about my mousey adventure until several weeks later. The discovery was made as a direct result of the horrid smell emanating from the wastepaper can in the back bedroom. At which point I was considered the likely culprit and accused of doing something to cause the offending odor. I was forced to confess to having deposited the dead body of one mouse in said trashcan and admit that I’d stolen it from Gram and Pap’s farm. I revealed no more of the story than the evidence required me to confess. It was not until I was an adult that I told “the rest of the story.”

 

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Spending Time with the Familiar

What a beautiful day.

I spent my day yesterday with an old friend, a very good friend, from high school. We decided to spend the day at a small amusement park that we frequented as kids; neither of us had been back in quite a few years. We rode a few rides together, discovered that we’re perhaps older and less flexible than we were as teenagers and spent a great deal of time talking and reminiscing. Our conversations bounced from remembering our mutual past, our individual childhoods, our present lives and hopes and hurts. It ranged in tone from mildly humorous and immature to incredibly deep and touching.

The familiar surroundings allowed us a sense of comfort and nostalgia. We shared ourselves with each other in the way that only old friends seem to be capable of doing. This communion came at a necessary time for both of us. It allowed each of us a chance to talk through things others in our lives might not fully understand. Our history together allows us that understanding.

It felt so good to spend this time with my dear friend. I drove home from our day together feeling alive, appreciated, and loved.

That is what friends are for.

Roadtrip – Written for Christina to Be Told @ Story Slam

When your friend, who has stage four cancer wants to go on a road trip and spend time with you, you don’t say no; not that I would have wanted to anyway. When she has a random creative idea about stopping at rest stops along the way to get pictures that match up with lyrics she’s stayed up all night copying onto large sheets of paper and there are no rest stops along your journey, then what? You MAKE a rest stop and that’s exactly what I did. When I travel with my friend Christina there’s never a dull moment and we ALWAYS get lost. Most of the time we’re too busy talking about life, boys, and music, and laughing so hard we can’t breathe to pay much attention to where we’re going. Toots, my GPS, is always “recalculating.” Which makes us laugh even harder.

On our most recent road trip to an MDA benefit rock concert, we were driving down the highway at about 65…okay, okay 75 mph. Christina starts reading me the song lyrics she’s copied down; the lyrics are for songs that local rock bands wrote, for most of whom Christina has become like a member of the family. These lyrics mean something to us. They’re part of Christina’s Kicking Cancer’s Ass playlist. As we climb a hill on the highway, Christina reads one off and says, “We need a sunny rest stop for this one.” Realizing that we haven’t seen a single rest stop on the highway we’re on the whole trip I quickly come to the conclusion that it is now up to me to create my own rest stop. As the car crests the top of the hill, I look out over a median filled to the brim with bright yellow daffodils and think, “perfect!” I swerve wildly from the right lane, into the middle lane and again into the left-hand lane as we quickly approach a gravel patch alongside the road. I slam on my breaks and swerve over onto the gravel, completely ignoring the “for emergency vehicles only” sign, and suddenly we’re surrounded by daffodils. The perfect place for Christina’s picture.

We spring from the car, Christina grabbing the lyrics she wants, and I get my camera ready. Once we get the shot we’re looking for we jump back in the car and hurriedly buckle our seatbelts, but not quickly enough because before I even hear the click of my seatbelt locking into place I glimpse the flashing lights in my rearview mirror.

Think fast!

I glance at Christina and calmly roll down my window. “Hi officer,” I exclaim.

“Everything okay?” he asks.

“Yeah, I’m sorry, my friend just wasn’t feeling well so I pulled over real quick. We were just leaving.” And just like that, he gave us the go-ahead. Going ahead, however, was easier said than done since he blocked my review mirror with his vehicle and I couldn’t see around him. As I finally peeled out, Christina snapped a selfie with the police lights flashing in the background and we were off!

As soon as the cop was out of sight we began laughing hysterically. Christina said, “I didn’t expect you to swerve across two lanes of traffic just to get a picture.”

“It was soo worth it!” I said. And it was. You see, if nothing else, being friends with Christina has taught me that you have to live in the moment and love with all your heart. I couldn’t let that moment, a perfect field of gorgeous yellow daffodils, pass us by and when you love someone you do everything in your power to make those memories last.

Playing in the Kitchen

One of my favorite means of creative expression is playing around in the kitchen. I am far from a great cook and I’m not an excellent baker by any stretch, but I’m not afraid to make a mess and be creative in my endeavors. I don’t follow recipes; I might start out with one, but inevitably things get changed. Extra ingredients are thrown in while ones less pleasing to my palate are left out. I am at my most creative in the kitchen when it comes to baking. Banana bread has become an art form for me. Perhaps that sounds bizarre, but it’s fun to play around with a super simple recipe and my husband can’t get enough banana bread, so I’ve had to find ways to change things up a bit. His favorite is chocolate peanut butter banana bread. Mine is chocolate cinnamon banana bread.

Recently I discovered lavender. I was at our Central Market (large indoor farmers’ market) and one of the bread stands had fig and lavender muffins. I was curious so I bought one. It was love at first bite! I went back the next weekend and was disappointed to find that the did not have fig and lavender muffins again, but instead lemon lavender muffins. I like lemon so I figured I might as well try them too. Again, my taste buds were astonished. This weekend I went back looking for a new concoction of lavender and whatever, but much to my dismay they had no lavender muffins of  any kind. However, my favorite coffee stand did not disappoint! They had a lavender cupcake latte on their specials board, so I bellied up to the counter and said, “I’ll take one of those! Iced please.” The coffee no sooner touched my tongue and I was in love, so much so that I made a second run. Before leaving the market, I stopped by the spice and tea stand and bought myself an ounce of lavender. By the way, that doesn’t sound like much, but boy, oh boy, it is!

This evening I decided to play in the kitchen. I ended up making black raspberry lavender cupcakes. I wasn’t sure about the pairing, but I figured I’d use what I had and I had plenty of frozen black raspberries. They turned out delicious! FB_IMG_1433124923834 (1)

Like I said, I’m not a baking genius, I’m just not afraid to be creative and get it wrong once in a while. After all, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep” (Adams). What could have turned out to be a rather unpleasant tasting mistake turned out to be a true gem. This is one recipe I won’t soon forget.

Works Cited:

Adams, Scott. The Dilbert Principle: A Cubicle’s-eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads & Other Workplace Afflictions. New York: HarperBusiness, 1996. Print.