Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Putting Away Christmas

Breaking up is hard to do.

I’d cherished a faint hope that my wife might leave the decorations up a little while longer, if not entirely into the New Year. Our second Christmas at Big Pink was the first with both adult children present, and it all had gone so beautifully. 

Not a chance. At 10 a.m. my wife returned from her early morning after-Christmas sales expedition in Alamosa, and the tree, the lights, and all of the decorations were boxed and put away by mid-afternoon. 

The decorations were put up on Thanksgiving, over a month ago already. With the anticipated Big Day having come and gone, I realize they start to look out of place. For my wife’s part, I know that she, like I, still grieves that our daughter had to go back to her home 200 miles away. The Christmas swag has to be put away sometime, and sooner beats later, so she removes all that which reminds us of the joy of our daughter’s presence less than 24 hours before. 

Honestly, it wouldn’t be any less of a melancholy experience if we left things up until New Year’s Day, or even Epiphany, so she might as well.

I’ve always had trouble letting things go. To my mind, the worst thing about the Christmas season—like so many other things about modern U.S. culture—there is no proper closure to it. So much anticipation is built for the event, and then the day comes, and that’s it. For most people, Christmas is over with the unwrapping of the last present under the tree. Assuming, of course, those people are fortunate enough to have that experience.

(I note quickly that I have already mentioned Epiphany, the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Hold that thought. I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Happy monkey is happy. There’s a story behind this little guy. Stick around; I’ll tell you about it.

I keep telling myself I have no right to my melancholy, because I don’t. Despite the numerous other ways the Choose Your Own Adventure book of my life could have gone, I’ve been blessed beyond belief. The loser who couldn’t keep a girlfriend for so long as a year ended up married to the same woman for 27 years. The same fool who said he’d never have children ended up raising two of the best, and wishing he’d raised two more. If my wife and I wish we saw our children more often, it’s because they do well enough for themselves that we’re not tripping over them sitting around the house, wasting their lives.

It’s just so hard to let go.

Into the box, Santa. At least you ended up better than these guys.

So it’s just as well we rip the Band-Aid. Besides, if we love Christmas so much, why aren’t we keeping it in our hearts like we’re supposed to in the first place?

These are just decorations. The lights can stay turned on in your heart, if you want them. Granted, it will take some work. I’ve got quite the slog ahead of me, myself. 

Note how my son got the dark amber “iceblink” color of the sky on a snowy night just so. Then there’s the gust of wind to the right of the snowman. My children know their art. They knew it best when they were youngest.

Besides, that’s not right. Not all of them are “just” decorations. The eerie and atmospheric winter drawing my son made in elementary school that we’re having framed is a case in point. Then there’s Happy Monkey, whom my wife tasked me with removing from the living area. I had him smiling and waving at the tree from the love seat.

I said I’d tell his story. All right, here it is: my wife brought this home from her latest trip to see her mother in Alabama. This was a toy her eldest brother bought for her with his first paycheck. My wife was in first grade, and in the hospital for some illness. So he bought her this.

“Let’s read some stuff together!”

Happy Monkey apparently wasn’t a hit, but he was preserved. Her oldest brother, of course, has since grown and aged and died of something. When I want to really tear myself out of the frame, I think of this child’s toy bought half a century ago by a teenage boy with his first earnings for his youngest sister. I think of this toy moldering in a landfill after I’m gone. It’s just a weird-looking toy even the recipient wasn’t that crazy about. Even if the story wasn’t lost to history, it would be meaningless to any who heard it after I was gone. 

And why not? Should we erect a museum to things with stories behind them? A museum of long-dead love among long-dead people? 

I’m a sentimental old fool who has trouble letting go. So he’ll join me in my office. I can’t bring myself to set him in the attic.

The best I can do to honor these stories is to take the best care of myself I can and tell those stories when I can. Keep the multi-colored lights twinkling, if only in my heart. Try to be the best-hearted old child Santa would have no trouble bringing gifts to.

It’s a tall order, but I might as well rise to the challenge. Not everyone is so privileged to see this New Year. For all I know, this one special Christmas I enjoyed this year was my last. Yes, I should hang on to this, even as the boxes of mementos and doo-dads and tinsel and beads and lights freeze in the garage tonight. We’ll take this feeling clear past Epiphany.
The road goes ever on and on. If you’re still here, Happy New Year.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Special Message from December's Cats to Concerned Readers

All two or three dozen of you, wherever you are.

A nice halo effect in the late, late afternoon light before the sun winks out behind the ridge.

It’s been a long slog since I last posted. There was a surprise hospitalization and death in the extended family. Right after that, a grueling intestinal flu bug hit my nuclear family, and nearly canceled Thanksgiving. 

On the bright side, I’ve made splendid progress with the last novel in my zombie apocalypse series, if only as a shelter against the emotional impact that eventually all but paralyzed me these last couple of weeks. 

Ginger Puff lost her sibling, Smudge, towards the end of September after a particularly relentless rainstorm, leaving her the sole survivor of a small litter of runts. In the last few months she’s grown, her eyes are clear, and her fur looks good. Ginger Puff is the great success story of our taking over the feeding of the neighborhood ferals. There are so many cats we knew and named that simply stopped coming around. If I had the money I’d trap them all and get them fixed and full of shots. As it is, all we can do is leave kibble and water out for them, and hope for the best.

Ain’t nothin’ but a thing, as they used to say in U.S. Navy basic training. We’re getting through it, and I expect Christmas to be a very fine thing this year. As Charles Dickens noted in my favorite essay on the subject, “What Christmas Is Like as We Grow Older,” we exclude nothing on this day. Christmas is a celebration of light and life amid the dark and hopeless cold. We raise our glass of cheer, but keep an eye on the wood stove. The dark and hopeless cold are as much of a part of our season as that fire. The point is to accept that—and, like the dark and cold, don’t let it take over.

We mourn our dead. We celebrate our living. We exclude nothing.

At left, the Great White Galoot, whom I used to call “the Yeti.” She’s actually been around since we moved in last year. My wife and I suspect she was once someone’s cat, but was later abandoned. At right, another Original Feline who came with the house, Clarence the Cross-Eyed Siamese.

Our ordeal of November reinforced the urgency of finishing my various projects while also throwing sand into my gears. The paralysis is wearing off. I’m moving again.

Here’s hoping you have a bright and happy Christmas amid the stresses of your life, routine and otherwise. As I’ve observed so many times before, you only get so many of them. Two people close to me observed their last Christmases in 2016. They had no idea.

She gives us these heartbreaking looks like she wants to be let inside. Given that we already have five cats indoors, this would not go well. Galoot doesn’t get along all that well with the other ferals to begin with. I have to put her kibble on the other side of the porch from the others.

Frankly, I’m happier not knowing for myself. You grasp the concept, though.

Have a Merry Christmas, and a blessed New Year.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

The Real Ghosts of Halloween

It’s by no means a profound thought, but it occurred to me this morning as I took the Halloween decorations back out to the garage that Halloween makes a good practice run for Christmas.

It’s the same setup. Decorations and candy and costumes are in stores nearly two months before the actual holiday. (The candy and other Halloween seasonal items appeared at my local Safeway in mid-August.) The movies and TV specials are hyped. Parties are thrown and attended. No gifts bought or given, though. This is the practice run.

Eventually, unless you’re one of the many young adults spending the actual night of the event getting inebriated while in costume, you might be home for the thing Halloween is actually about: three to four hours of waiting by the door for the trick-or-treaters to come.
I got all of two pages edited and a couple of lines of a poem started when the pen started drying out on me. (All four colors! Actually, it’s just a super-cheap pen I picked up for free at a job fair, so I got what I paid for.) Then it got too chilly to sit still, so I went inside.

What 31 October means as I get older: the dying light of a dying season, as the old year’s life fades into a long interregnum (at least here in Colorado) of cold, dry, brown death until next year’s life takes hold. Happy Halloween!

Like Christmas, these weeks of lead-up culminate in a few hours of actual observance on the special day. Halloween, with its 5 pm - 9 pm window for trick-or-treating, probably lasts longer than Christmas for most people, whose entire Christmas proper is less than one hour spent around the tree tearing the paper from presents, before wandering off to watch television.

It’s probably just me and maybe half a dozen other people, but I always feel a tinge of melancholy among the celebrations. I’m reminded of Halloweens past, when I used to escort my small children about our old north Colorado Springs neighborhood. I remember when that neighborhood used to be a lot quieter and friendlier, in happier, more stable economic times.

I’m over the hardest part, which is the crushing sense of irrelevancy one feels when one’s children no longer needs him to take them through the neighborhoods. Still....

I’ve been turning this around in recent years by reminding myself again that this is a fool’s despair spiral. Neighborhoods change. Everything changes. Children grow up, as well they should. We all grow old, if we’re lucky. 
“For soon all shall go dark.” Is that gothic enough for ya?

Halloween 2017 went quietly, as it did last year. We saw maybe all of ten trick-or-treaters, most of them small children. I would have liked to have seen more, but maybe that will change over the years. Everything else has.

And so we begin the run-up to Christmas. 
The large secondhand store along the main drag where I live traditionally closes the day before Halloween and opens a couple of days later in full Christmas mode. It’s the only place that does this in town that I know of, and it doesn’t come across quite as “Oh, dear, Christmas decorations right after Halloween!” obnoxious as one might think. It’s just what they do.

I’m blessed to live in a small town, without broadcast television leading us into the temptation of leaving the set on to blare commercials for whatever fad toys/gadgets/etc. the Lords of Commerce seek to promote this season. My wife will decorate the house accordingly after Thanksgiving, which is our tradition. We stand a good chance of having both our grown children home for the holiday.
“But first, we must enter through this door.” [*evil cackling laughter*]

You’d think this lack of external stimulation would slow the days down for us, but I’ve noticed it has the precise opposite effect. Charles Bukowski was right, as always, the days really do run like wild horses over the hills, so much so that my ghosts are falling behind me. As they should. The Good Old Days are now.
See you next year!

Monday, October 30, 2017

An Abbreviated Autumn, Part 2 which I’ve saved the best for last. The sun through these leaves makes for nature’s own stained-glass masterpiece. Over 50 years of these things for me, and they never get old....

All of the following photos were taken two days after the last post’s batch, which turned out to be the day before that night’s snowstorm and hard freeze that would kill what was left on the trees before it had a chance to change. Then came the winds....

One of the great pleasures of this short season was to come upstairs into the master bedroom in the late afternoon to see the sun blasting through the golden Lombardy poplar leaves through the west-facing windows there.

At the window with the screen pushed back.

Looking up at the same trees, but from down in the yard. There were no bad angles in this light.

Over on the west side of town, and now I notice the Lombardy poplars dominating this post. Although these trees are native to the regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea (hence the “Lombardy”), they were brought to this part of Colorado for use as windbreaks. Lombardy poplars grow tall and fast, and I’ve yet to see one break. The local forestry folk would rather people would stop planting them, as they supposedly have a relatively short life as trees go, but in an area where the wind comes at you as ruthlessly as it does on or along any mountains of respectable size, these trees are a godsend.

There’s never any sense in getting angry over the weather, but the relentless, bullying winds that came after to strip what was left all blew all sense from my door. I can handle the extreme cold, along with how my south-facing office bakes like a Dutch oven in the summer, but going outside only to get repeatedly slapped upside the skull and bodily shoved around wears on my nerves after a while. 

‘Tis the season. 

The Indian Summer that wound out the last full week of the month has made up for the unsettled week that came before. Although the remaining leaves are, for the most part, dull brown, they fell in a drips of one, two, and three all around. I want to say it sounded like crackling fire—that is the easiest analogy for the season of yellows and reds—but it was more like the slow drip after a wave has washed over. It proved very calming to stand out on the front porch and listen to this as the sun melted into the western horizon.

An Abbreviated Autumn, Part 1

In which I present photographic evidence that it was no less lovely for what it was. Consider:

All photos in this post were taken on Friday, 6 October 2017, before the snowstorm of 9 October and the subsequent freeze cut the fall color season short.

As of this writing on 28 October, these trees are bare. But they blazed gloriously for their time.

One thing suffers as another benefits. I let this blog go over the month of October not only out of despair for having enough photos or—and more to the point for me—not having much of anything to say about these same views of the same Colorado high valley farm town where I live. 

Despite the dark start to the month, October 2017 has been very productive in terms of putting chapters of my latest novel to bed, and sketching in the details for how I want my contribution to the zombie post-apocalypse genre to end. I put Chapter 13 to bed the night of my birthday, Chapter 14 went down sometime last week, and I’m dangerously close to wrapping up Chapter 15, bringing me to the midpoint.

It’s taken me over a year to get this fire going again. For the first time, I’m confident about finishing this. When? As always, I don’t dare jinx myself. I’m just happy to build a compelling story, with completion in sight. Once I’m done with Chapter 15 I’m into part three of the book. We’ll do a couple of chapters of Fun and Games, the Darkest Hour, and then the bloody resolution.

One windstorm after another not only knocked the leaves off the trees, it took out a fair-sized aspen. This is before we went through that week or so of Windstorm of the Day.

Chapman Park, on the far west side of town, is my go-to for walking the long perimeter trail. Sadly, the daily afternoon windstorms made it almost impossible to approach sometimes.

The leaves did look pretty in the wet red clay of the trail. Note that most of these didn’t even have a chance to change color before they were ripped away by the insistent gusts.

There are other projects coming together, and although I’m more confident of them now than I was, say, a week, ago, there’s no point in bringing them up until I’m ready to unleash them on the public. Meanwhile, the thing to do is to empty my photo folders and brace for November.

West of the park and across Prospect Avenue, by the farthest western point of town. After this, there’s a hotel with a drive-in movie theater, the Regional Electric Cooperative, and miles of gorgeous Wild West high country until Del Norte, with the San Luis Regional Landfill somewhere in between.

It doesn’t bear too much thinking about, but for the short summer, and the even shorter autumn, October itself has proved to be the longest short month so far. I suspect the three chapters I put away had something to do with my temporal discombobulation. I’m just so happy to get things done for a change.

Walking east back home, but looking back. 

I love when the green is just getting ready to go over to gold... can really lose oneself in it.

I had a feeling the seasons were taking it easy on us last year. Of course, the weather is a capricious thing wherever you are, and no more so than 7,600 feet up into the Colorado high country, surrounded by mountains of 11,000 to 14,000 feet. However it goes down this winter, I need something to show for it. Back to work, then.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

From the “Don’t Be Sad That It’s Over, Be Glad That It Happened” Files, Case #11,942

A gentle reminder that, for all the casual cruelty we witness among people every day, for all the horrors depicted in the news, there is comfort, there is love. 
As seen on the Facebook page Alone with the Horrors: Horror Fiction.

We do not know who thought to commission and install this memorial to his or her pet over a century ago. But most of us have had that one dog, that one special cat, that one pet who was more than a pet, who was more loyal than blood. We look back across 107 years, and we grieve with Dewey’s unseen, unnamed caretaker, because we know the same things. But we should also take joy that, for 12 years spanning the turn of the 20th century, and just before the Great War, there lived a cat named Dewey, who loved, and was loved. And somewhere out there in the madness of our own century, a similar tale lives. As it was in the beginning....

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Towards a More Splendid Retelling of a Holiday “Classic”

Yes, those scare quotes are there for a reason. Happy Halloween.

Fortunately, Charlie Brown had a trick-or-treat bag full of rocks. Which is the one part of that half-century-old holiday TV special that’s always bothered me...honestly, what kind of neighborhood is this where everyone seems to know who you are, even in costume (granted, it was full of holes), and the adults managing the candy of every house drop a rock in your bag while giving the rest of the children candy? (Don’t even get me started on the soul-crushingly depressing Christmas special.) 

Fortunately, this meme redeems the Great Pumpkin storyline. Here, the adults of Charlie Brown’s neighborhood recognize Charlie Brown as the Chosen One, though they dare not speak of this in front of their cruel and hateful children. For Charlie Brown is mankind’s best hope to resist the emergent Great Evil Foretold, who was prophesied to appear to them as a neurotic, but preternaturally articulate and intelligent kindergarten boy with a somewhat off-putting predilection for sucking his thumb while rubbing a dirty blue blanket on one side of his face. 

That Linus and and the eternally outcast Charlie Brown were the next best thing to best friends makes the showdown all the more poignant. For only one can walk away....