Wednesday, May 06, 2009

got some sleep back, gave a mean toefl exam, just about got a semester off my shoulders, in terms of getting grades in, getting everything posted, paper off my desk, etc., and what does it do but start raining, an off-and-on relentless sogginess. that of course beats oppressive cloying heat (which is next no doubt) and actually helps me get stuff done and appreciate the indoors that i spend way too much time in.

but back to my point- i'm now aware of a different kind of thing, since my daily newspaper is facebook, instead of the tired old post-dispatch, which is shrinking into oblivion but still had a good editorial on jack kemp. now, i'm much more immersed in my friends: who's leaving, who's upset, who's worried about the future, etc. and, i'm intrigued by the way they communicate it: how often, what kind of language, what song lyrics, what quizzes they take, etc. i don't take any of the quizzes myself- don't hardly participate at all- but as a rag, something to read once a day, to take my mind off of other stuff, nothing beats it. certain people who i really like, for example, are in my life every day, and that i think is an improvement. as opposed to, say, bush, or chavez, or those chinese in tibet, or whoever that guy in england is. these guys, why did i ever read about them in the first place?

now, i'm not sure, still, whether this was a good move or not, in terms of my life and what i know about the world around me. i found out tonight about maine- realized later that i inferred everything i knew- at no point had i ever gone to google news, or any other news, and really learned what really happened; in fact, i still don't know. and i could go a couple more days, too, before i even find out, what with the vagaries of newspaper arrival and my actual chances of seeing such news in said paper. but is this bad? in its place, i'm kind of vicariously experiencing all these people, on the edge, plane tickets in hand, leaving the usa for good, probably forever, knowing they'll miss the place, wondering what awaits. or people who, graduating or heading off into summer, are trying to figure out life from that angle. and it comes out in their "statuses" which are brief and attract comments, if they're done right. you can practically watch the comments roll in.

saw a mouse today, trapped on a brand-new concrete stairwell, where he'd figured he could make for the weeds nearby, but instead found himself climbing one stair after another, trying to make that exit. and he had the utter panic, you could sense it, of a mouse who knew he'd been spotted. construction (this stairway was brand new) had thrown his world into turmoil, no doubt. he was a baby. but i wasn't going to hurt him; why should i reach my hand down there and mix in? i let him go his way, brushed him off, more or less.

a couple of days earlier, there had been a neon salamander, about a foot long, on a university building near the japanese garden. this same garden has a mulberry tree that's due to blossom out in about june, i can hardly wait, but this salamander, this gecko or whatever, neon colored, was clearly unaware of how bright he was, how much he glowed in the sunlight on the side of this building. i've lived around here a while, so i wasn't surprised; i've seen lots of neon-colored salamanders (they aren't salamanders, someone once told me, they're something else, but i can't remember what exactly)...but i'd never seen one this big.

i bring this up because, walking along, with a huge box of toefl supplies, having given a gruesome toefl, gruesome to my friends at least, there was a beautiful songbird, dead on the walk. a soft, neonish, blue glowing color, small, who knows what it died from, perhaps a natural death. the thing about these songbirds is, they're small; there are lots of truly beautiful ones; they're endangered, rare, you don't see them much, because they're always in flight, and they're so small, they just give you a glimpse, an angle, at any given time. usually you're lucky to catch even just a glimpse of their radiant colors. the birds are more colorful here than they are down south, my colleague told me; she's from louisiana, and said, even the cardinals have more color up here. why would that be, i wondered, and didn't have an answer, surely it's not the snow; but i knew about songbirds- they like the shawnee, the contiguous forest; they like it when they can go miles & miles, and have a soft hardwood forest all around them to keep the predators at bay. our own little woods, behind our office building, is not even a few acres, clearly not enough; but, then, if a predator had killed this one, it surely didn't show, as it sat there dead, in full splendor, quite gorgeous, resting in peace on the sidewalk.

then, one last story. on the way to work, dropped off the seven-year-old at his school, at a place where a sign says "parent drop-off"...this sign would probably not seem totally ironic to you, if you haven't seen the movie "Nemo" a couple thousand hundred times. but whenever i remind this little fellow of what a scary place the "drop-off" is in the movie nemo, he gets mad at me, so i've taken to not bringing up the subject, but just smiling to myself when we get there. well, today it was raining, a good hard steady drizzle, and he gets out of the car, not twelve feet from the entrance of the gym, and, as usual, he's slightly dissheveled, collar up, pack askew, though today the pack was on his head for part of this time. and then lo and behold, he leans over, and saves a worm from certain death out there in the center of the sidewalk. picks it up and throws it off in the grass where it at least has a chance. and even kind of washes his hands in the grass.

it restores my faith in humanity; it reminds me of what's really important; it warms my heart. southern illinois, with its songbirds and neon salamanders, is in the end, home, to him, and to all my kids; they don't mind the steam, the variation, the downpours, all that's just like normal. we're trying to figure out a place to go, later in the summer; we have a window of like five days, and no money to spend, so it might not be too far away. and come august, all the good places sound kind of steamy: memphis, smoky mtns., mammoth cave kentucky, hot springs; only chicago sounds breezy & cool, but chicago is not even getting out of the state. and this is a state which, blago & all, ya gotta get out of it once in a while. so we're sitting on a kind of threshold of an imagination, saying, well, what can ya do, in limited time, that even the young ones would like? and i remember, way back in my childhood, an adventure that really really touched me, i don't know why, i still don't, really. some friends of ours used to drive down from pittsburgh pennsylvania, down to west virginia to go camping, and we'd occasionally go with them, and this one particular time, they said, follow us, we're going to a place called sinks of gandhi. well, all these years i thought they were named after the mahatma, but it turns out this particular cave is on private land which is traversed by something called gandy creek, which may or may not be named after the mahatma, west virginia being what it is. so, it's known as the sinks of gandy, really, and, having a map and computer nearby, i looked it up and lo and behold, it exists, it wasn't a dream. this place is like many other caves; it has salamanders, and you can shine your flashlight on them, and you can get down in the mud and scoot along in the dark, if you're really adventurous, and your mom doesn't get mad about the resulting laundry crisis. but the best thing of all is that, unlike your commercial places, with vendors hawking and people sticking garish bumper stickers on cars, this place is totally non-commercial, just a hole in a hillside, and lots of people know about it, but nobody fences it off or makes you sign a release. you just go in, go as far as you can, and then, usually, give up & go back. and spend a pleasant summer afternoon in the shade, and the cool mud of an underground stream.

i woke myself up from that daydream when the map showed me, it would be more than fourteen hours by car with young children, to go to that one; it wouldn't work, this year, though i highly recommend it if anyone is anywhere near randolph county west virginia. there surely are some places like it, in the ozarks, near here, or not too far, but i don't know them; can't even imagine where to look, or how. and, some people are eager to put their two-cents worth in, about what exactly entails a good family vacation, how do i know? we've had a few, but missed it altogether last year, and, though we have a van, my wife for one does not look forward to long cross-country trips out to the dry mountains, or out to anyplace, ten long summer hours in a single car with kids- that's a vacation? better to stay nearby, and get at least some rest, a motel with a nice hot tub. now my attitude was the opposite; i'd go ten, twelve hours gladly, northern minnesota, sault ste. marie, colorado, anywhere to get away from the sultry dry summer humidity, which is barely the middle of southern illinois summer, though i saw the point about the young children in an enclosed car-space, which brought on the daydream. my point is, it's odd how different ideas about 'vacation' can be. and what might be pleasurable to the kids, i can barely imagine. i do want to say, we work together ok, what we come up with, in the end, will be not minnesota, not twelve hours, and not next door either, but something that will hopefully have something for each of us, and hopefully not be cancelled by the unfortunate poor-schedule woes of the academic family, one of whom (myself) basically teaches all summer, almost no break at all.

it was long ago, way back in that same childhood, when, in the back of a station wagon, we were crossing the i-states, and, in the middle of illinois, which coming from certain angles, can be quite long, we saw a tornado way off in the distance. The only one i've ever seen, too; it was quite a sight. i remember more for what it did to my dad & his driving, but, it was memorable in its own right too. in those days we'd go visit two sets of grandparents in iowa; being august, it was often well over 90 there or maybe even over 100; yet each set of grandparents, in their own way, had mastered the heat, and we kids did the same. at one house we'd run down a long driveway and play in a culvert way down at the bottom; it was cool, and had a little stream trickling through it. at the other, we'd sit by a fan, and let my grandfather shuffle cards in our hair, or take us down by the lake with the swans, and walk around in the shade. the long drives across the i-states i barely remember, except for that one tornado incident; of course, we weren't strapped in, but station wagons were smaller than vans and there wasn't much space either. we'd make faces at drivers behind us, i remember, and i became an avid license-plate watcher, learned how to value a hawaii, or a rhode island, over, say, a michigan, which was much closer. even now, i teach my kids the alphabet game, the missouri cow game, and of course we know a few songs, like bingo. but, i ramble too much. like i said, we'll work it out; come august, we'll go somewhere, even if it's only paducah. better yet, we'll get better at seeing the stuff around us, so that we can enjoy every little angle of it.

one last story: a few nights ago, coming home from band practice, on a windy two-lane, way out in the country, with a grassy field down below on the side, a rabbit caught my headlights in the curve, got scared, bounded off; the headlights caught him again, as the curve kept curving. now he was terrified, and his huge jumps started going at angles; he'd bound way up one way, then a different direction, as if to throw off the predator, or the gun, whatever. it was a kind of wild, angular set of hops, and i had to keep my eyes on the road, of course, it being late at night, and the road narrow, and the price of inattention as steep as the shoulder was narrow. i'd put out my vibe: i mean you no harm; i have no gun; relax. i'm not about to hurt a bun-rab, late at night. kind of like the japanese garden, with its little meditative house, welcoming, shaded, simple, and beautiful, yet full of bees, big, ugly mean ones. you can put out the vibe: i won't hurt you, you don't need to sting me. but that's work, and not only that, but it's not very relaxing, even if you succeed. better, if you want to relax, to just stick your feet in the pond, and watch the tadpoles get stirred up and scamper off toward the goldfish. of course, the parents don't like that, but hey, it's all in the way you look at it, what's a boring old tree today, will tomorrow be so full of purple juicy mulberries that even the goldfish love, and will give you the rich tart sweet nectar of summers past, free as a kid, crickets at night to both keep you awake, and give you the kind of sleep where your spirit doesn't have to go travelling, it can just be free, right where it is.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

After graduation, I am deffinately leaving the USA on one of those one-way tickets.

2:05 PM  

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