August 2019

TheOldPlace

PleasantStreet
"New owners are raising their kids within those elegantly crooked rooms and quirky yards …"

By the time I'd grown up enough to move away, I knew every square inch of that short acre. I even knew what lay beneath the landscaping, having scraped, crawled over, or cultivated every corner. I knew that the back forty, as we called the yard behind the garage, lay atop an old creek channel, and so the soil was deeply plated with ovoid rock that drained much too easily. The side yard had been planted over an ancient septic pit. The grass grew much lusher there. Dandelion and plantain favored every inch of the property and required continual scrutiny and counteraction throughout the growing season. We used to spread coal ash clinkers along the driveway in the wintertime. I'd personally dug out the bed alongside the driveway innumerable times, always finding a few half-petrified cherry pits from a tree we'd cut down decades before. I'd fill an old metal wash tub to overflowing with weeds, unwanted roots, and the Silver Maple's helicopter seeds.

TheOldPlace passed out of the family after my father passed.

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ReUniting

reuniting
"A few of these people will always be my friend."

Who did you grow up to be? Probably just who you always were before. I sincerely doubt if any of us ever grow up. Most of us tend to outgrow some of our more troubling tendencies, but most often by some form of out growth rather than by growing much taller than the least of them. Fifty years later, one might manifest a more reliably consistent version of their earlier self without really growing up much. We seem to remain the same kids imbedded within ever bigger people's bodies, still growing into who we probably always were. I speak of we when you probably suspect that I mean 'I', for I can't really know how it must be for you. If you sincerely feel as though you grew up, I say, "God Bless You," and "How did you do that?"

A fiftieth reunion of a high school graduating class comes only once, never to be repeated again. It comes at a reliably inconvenient time,

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Payshunce

payshunsh
"Maybe I can simultaneously like it AND lump it for a change."

Payshunce might be the sole necessary skill of modern life. The faster everything goes, the more everything seems to need to spool up before actually accomplishing anything. The Schooner wants to warm up before we zoot off. The laptop decides when I just want to quickly check something to not simply wake up but to desperately need a full restart, complete with demands for a half-dozen Pastwords I cannot remember in that moment of duress. Traffic moves more slowly than advertised, especially when a few drivers choose to go all Formula One on everybody and thereby slow down the overall flow. Queues naturally slow as they lengthen. It's apparently their nature. Your order won't come up until well after that fleeting wave of hunger has left the building.

One learns Payshunce by having it beaten into them, often at one's own hand.

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PoeTayToe

potato
"This pony ride's over and done."

Yes, Idaho license plates still proclaim Famous Potatoes, and quite properly so, for Idaho remains famous for its potatoes which, I guess, also renders their potatoes famous for being from Idaho. Fame works like this. The most popular category of famous people has always been Famous For Being Famous, with television celebrities topping this species. Fame must be a critical part of potato marketing, for in the East, Maine plays the Famous For Growing Potatoes Card and further West, Grant County in my native Washington state insists that they raise more potatoes than any other county in the country. Making a fuss seems necessary when dealing in a natively bland commodity. Nobody's license plate proudly proclaims Famous Tomatoes or Noteworthy Cabbage. Only the homely old potato holds this distinction: LPF, License Plate Famous.

In Idaho's specific case, the fame seems well-deserved.

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Stranging

Stranging
"He freely floats without ever coming close to feeling free."

Stranging should be considered one of the higher forms of art. It could not qualify as a science, for initial conditions inevitably evade scrutiny or systematic analysis. Strangers show up lost and build out from there, taking whatever presents itself, substance generally unknown and likely unknowable. I was blessed with the ability to feel disoriented even when staring at a properly-oriented and obviously accurate map, because North just doesn't always feel like North to me, and my feelings tend to rule. How I feel about a strange place hardly ever influences that place, though, so I wander off in wrong directions whichever way I go. I convene an argument in my head, my feet dishearteningly heading off in what will very likely turn out to be the wrong direction while my head mumbles dissent without even convincing himself. My head will chastise itself, but no argument will resolve the controversy. I might well find my way there and back again, but only by fortunate accident.

Had I tried to be a frontiersman, I would have been one of those whose bones—their story untold but nonetheless obvious—Later Arrivers find mouldering beneath an ancient cottonwood.

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Ghosting

ghosting
"We're West if, indeed, we're anywhere at all."

The Schooner runs quiet as a ghost. Inside, The Muse and I listen to old jazz, Gene Krupa pounding away on his jungle drums through Bennie Goodman's Sing, Sing, Sing. We could be front row center at that famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert, flopping to feral rhythms. Just outside, a wonderland passes by around us, with high mountain wildflowers punctuating our smooth passage. We quite literally bop through Steamboat and out onto the great basin country beyond, a landscape defined by uplifts, which naturally lift up our spirits, and spirits we seem to become. A town out there is defined as any relatively wide spot featuring a sign. Several of these exhibit no clear signs of life, but they apparently warrant a sign anyway. A scrappy ex-building or two might show where once some enterprising entrepreneur made a go of something, but the cafe sign seems permanently faded and the gas pumps have gone missing. I suspect that most of these "places" have become ghost towns now.

I think it only fitting that we flit between ghost towns out here because we seem to pass as ghosts, too.

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Guesting

guesting
"You're stuck with each other for the duration, at least try to enjoy the dance."

We're all guests here. Neither of us, none of us, have real dominion over the birds in the sky or the beasts in the field, we're stewards. Guesting entails a temporary sharing of a semi-sacred stewardship, with the guest's responsibilities no less or more sacred than their host's. They co-habitate for a spell, the host providing space for the guest to fill. A good guest will fill that thoughtfully-provided space without sucking all of the air out of the rest of the place. They'll appreciate the room, though it's never the best in the house. They will have explicitly explained their preferences and limitations before arriving. Most importantly, the guest should be present, genuinely there, for their presence will serve as their greatest gift to their host and to themselves, so show up on time for meals and limit the appeals for special handling. You represent the Big Door Prize of your stay, but never the Daddy Bear, Mommy Bear, Baby Bear, or Goldilocks. This isn't a fairy tale.

If you find yourself in desperate need of toilet paper or a plunger, speak right up; everyone's been there.

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Power

PowerButton
"it's the superpower I hold rather than the one I'm unlikely to ever possess."

I was yesterday listening to Alan Lightman's audio book In Praise of Wasting Time while mowing the lawn. He told a story from his youth about when he finally connected with a pitch in a Little League ball game. He reported that this was his first experience of power, and felt great surprise that he, a decidedly non-athletic nerd, might also be a powerful person. Later in life, he said that he looked back on that time whenever he faced daunting challenges, convinced deep down that because he had once demonstrated personal power, that he remained a powerful person at root, and so would most likely overcome whatever difficulty he faced.

I think many (if not most) of us do not carry a similar conviction.

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CumpKnee

cumpknee
" … genuine affection might be the only good reason to ever host any houseguest."

A buzz overtakes the place a week before they arrive as if the isolation pod can't quite believe it's about to become a social hub. CumpKnee's coming. The Villa will receive a thorough scrubbing, which means that I will scrub and vacuum and The Muse will dust, I long ago having lost my belief in particles too tiny for visual verification. I crawl the kitchen, utility room, and the garage hall floors, scrubbing as I go. I'll displace chairs and tables to dust mop and vacuum up all those odd bits the houseplants exhale all over the place. I unmake beds and the washing machine finally puts in a full day's work. I remake beds with fresh-smelling linen and rework the guest bath (my bath when no guests are around) and move my detritus into The Muse's bath, a so-called Master Bath within which I am not entirely welcome. I scrutinize the larder and perform an unusually picky shop, selecting stuff necessary to satisfy our guest's stated preferences.

I've become unembarrassed to ask after a prospective guest's preferences and prejudices.

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PreCrastination

precrastination
"I don't seize my days as much as they seem to seize me …"

I must have been born before my time. This world was no more ready for my arrival than I was ready to meet up with it. The world seems to have been playing catch-up since the day I was born. I've tried slowing down, honestly I have, but the world seems dedicated to tailing me, leaving me to cut the sea ice to ease its weary way. I don't mind. I'm uncertain if I could follow tail lights even if I'd ever found any out in front of me. A few years after I've lost interest in what was once a new phenomenon for me, here comes the world just waking up to that item's existence. The fabulously fresh by then seems simply old hat, for I'm off in some newly uncharted direction, making most of it up as I go along.

I have my traditions.

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Service

service
"Best Wishes! Your Customer."

My car dealer treats my like a duke. I'm there for an oil change and I'm greeted with a servile deference ordinarily reserved for visiting royalty. I ain't royalty and I ain't on no diplomatic mission. I came for my twenty four thousand mile service. Nothing more. I am nobody's "Sir." Please do not mind your Ps and Qs with me. Gimme a little shit, please, and I'll give you some in return, then we might hold some chance of connecting, of forming a relationship. Your best behavior seems wasted on me and could not possibly be any less appropriate to this situation. Treat me with less pomp and more attention to the circumstances. I'm unimpressed with that box of fresh doughnuts, which, by the way, seems most interesting to your sales associates, who have formed a steady if stealthy stream through the Customer Waiting Area since I arrived. That TV suspended above me seems more threatening than entertaining, distracting me from my reading. Nobody else's watching it, either.

Service has been earning a bad reputation for decades.

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ShootingStar

shootingStar

"I inch my way along in near total darkness beneath barely pinpricks of light."

Some nights, I wander through dark rooms, refusing to turn on any lights as if testing my muscle memory. I tell myself that I don't want to awaken The Muse, as if any force in this universe could wake up The Muse once she's down, but I feel genuinely comforted by my resulting blindness. I'm also trying to preserve my night sight for what I might find when I peer up into the sky. The neighbor's illegal upward-facing lights try to blind me from this reassuring night as I find a seat and peer up through the ambient evening air. Stars seem to congregate up here, with the occasional satellite floating across the plane. A ShootingStar streaks across before me, there then gone in an instant, more a blink of an experience than an actual one.

No matter how I might peer then, another ShootingStar will not cross my path.

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MovingOn

movingon
" …we drag that home along with us wherever we might get off to."

Out here on the edge of the West, or, as the sign over Golden Colorado's Washington Street insists, Where The West Begins, we enjoy a long tradition of MovingOn. The original inhabitants were nomadic, moving between locations as seasons suggested. Later arrivals showed up after MovingOn from some previous place, many of them nth sons without inheritance to hold them closer to home. Many of those MovedOn to somewhere else when the silver petered out, or moved into a different occupation than hard rock mining. We seem to live in temporary digs, acceptable until whatever passes for silver in our lives peters out. Westerners hold a long tradition of abandoning their past in favor of a more promising or less continually disappointing future. My own forebears rolled those big dice, came West, and somehow survived the transplants. Anyone might think that we're, as a result of this heritage, a fickle people, driving with one foot continually in the ditch, always ready, willing, and able to jump ship. Anyone would be wrong.

MovingOn the Nth time still brings all the anxiety of that first time.

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Thinking and Praying about Thoughts and Prayers

thoughtsandprayers
"Mutually Reassured Delusion absolves everyone."

I've been Thinking and Praying about Thoughts and Prayers, a solipsistic activity which extends no further than my eyebrows and no deeper than my neckline. It's a genuine echo chamber in there, with thoughts chasing prayers, then prayers chasing thoughts until the distinctions between them degrade into an oily, waxy substance that hardly flows at all. I seem more stuck now, mired in self-reference. Had I the wisdom of any second-rate god, I might have resolved this conundrum by now, but the more I think and the more I pray, the more I seem compelled to pray and the less productive my thinking seems to become. I feel like a genuine recursive mess, hoping to produce something useful, perhaps a solution, but at this point, I'd settle for a second-rate resolution. Negotiating the first SALT treaty could not have been as difficult as dealing with the damned gun lobby, and that involved uniformed Russians! And, as every school kid learned in the fifties, you can always trust a communist to be a communist, but even then, they agreed to reduce their weapons in exchange for us agreeing to reduce ours.

Sometimes, something like a Christian comity emerges between two avowed enemies, a mutual back-scratch; an 'I will if you will' agreement.

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Lib'ral

lib'ral
"It's not that we can never go home again, but that we can ONLY go home again …"

We live in a Lib'ral Democracy, yet I struggle to define just what Lib'ral means. Maybe you do, too, especially if you self-identify as a conservative or a radical. The term has been under constant attack from conservatives, radicals, and those who can't quite grok the idea of any form of governance reliant upon emergence as its central organizing principle. Yet in the nearly two hundred years since its emergence, liberalism has utterly transformed the world I inhabit from one which could not imagine what we merely take for granted today. Authoritarianism, which was pretty much the sole form of governance known to the world before, continues to assault what the vast majority of us consider our birthright, but it only has dominion to defend itself against liberalism's subtle but much stronger power. Plodding and painstaking, the Lib'ral seeks to reduce the net suffering in this world, and has succeeded beyond any of its original champions wildest dreams. This is a continuing contest between endless ebb and flow and periodic gush, and though those floodwaters seem overwhelming and permanent, they chose the long-term inevitably losing side.

Unlike you, I suspect, I've been keeping my political head down since the current incumbent stumbled into office a few million popular votes shy of a mandate.

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Health

Health
"Too much scrutiny spoils the soup."

I shrink whenever I enter a Health Food Store. I doubt many of the claims I see advertised there. I came not for salvation, but for non-hydrogenated peanut butter and cheap walnuts. I've never quite qualified as a food faddist, though I might come close to being considered a foodist. I subscribe to Michael Pollin's suggestion that I do eat food, though not too much, and mostly plants. I was raised adjacent to an Adventist community filled with proudly healthy pallid-skinned people who looked like warmed over death and lived to extremely ripe old ages. I've joined food co-ops where I rubbed shoulders with every form of eater known to man, always slipping between the queues to find the cheap but good enough stuff hidden in the bulk section there. I retain a lifelong membership in the Gluten Appreciation Society, an Adele Davis-inspired love of organ meats, and a natural aversion to all soda drinks, especially those touted as especially good for me. I believe Vitamin Water® a scam, whether it is or not, and try hard to avoid the latest recommendations regarding diet. I follow a turn of the twentieth century recipe for cooking beans.

I eat to excess whatever's in season.

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SunflowerSeason

SunflowerSeason
" …a glorious season progressing a scant fortnight per step."

In theory, a season should last about three months. In practice, a season's duration varies considerably depending upon location. Somewhere in middle America and perhaps Slovakia, spring lasts three months, everywhere else, it persists longer or less. Should one manage to stay in the same place they grew up in for the rest of their life, one would instinctively sense when a season changed. The rest of us fumble with the obvious differences between what the calendar insists and what we're experiencing outside. Here along the Colorado Rockies' Foothills, to this recent transplant, seasons seem to unpredictably lead and lag. Winter weather will probably infringe upon both autumn and spring, sometimes even summer. Even summer, though, near the middle of its advertised presence, varies from day to day, even hour to hour, leading me to propose that the traditional notion of three month seasons might have never been terribly germane. Seasons seem conveniently subdivided into better-suited sets.

Two short weeks ago, Sweetgrass Season reigned; now, SunflowerSeason.

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