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OtterSummer 8.15-App-Propriate

The Grand Otter has used the term inappropriate for years. It’s a vague concept painted with seemingly bright colors, edges only obvious when stepping over them. Appropriateness requires judgement, and judgement’s under construction well into adolescence. There remain, of course, the obviously appropriate and the impossible-not-to-imagine-as inappropriate, but much grey territory surrounds each.

Psychologists say adolescents engage in an activity they label Propriate Striving, the search for a plan for their future which might guide their actions. Not so much who am I?, but who must I become? This involves a lot of trying on, checking out, and no small amount of what anyone not so actively striving might easily classify as acting out. Now, of course, we have apps for all of this work which enable—even encourage— all-too public Propriate Striving. Most thoughtfully include an archive, too. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.14-Pshaw-Ping

I characterize myself as not much of a shopper, but I do love my routine. I’m primarily responsible for stocking the larder and I take this responsibility seriously. Being gone for the best part of two weeks meant that I first had to starve the fresh pantry before leaving, then restock uncharacteristically empty shelves upon returning.

The Muse took the rest of the week off, so she’d announced that she wanted to accompany me. The Otter, though she’s a champion shopper, opted to nap through the sultry afternoon instead. Fine. Alone time’s one of the prominent themes of every Otter Summer. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.13-Late-Her

Later, after The Muse has gone to bed and I’m cleaning up the mess from that buffet supper, The Grand Otter leans against the kitchen counter. “Can I put some fresh mozzarella on my pasta?” I first respond negatively, then second-guess myself. “Sure, why not?”

She agrees to try the salad with the sour cherry dressing while her pasta, leftover from the supper, reheats in the oven. The conversation might seem pedestrian without understanding what came before.

Young women run through a wringer these days. Sometime between twelve and fifteen, they lose themselves and start trying on alternative identities. The Otter had vacillated between tough and defeated, smart and stupid, beautiful and revolting, checking the view from each. The Muse and I often feared the choices she’d default into making while she lined up the choices she might make. It’s been a roller coaster ride for us all. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.12-Centipede Salsa

An hour after we arrived home, The Muse was sitting, feet up, in her green queen chair in the living room, Googling ‘millipedes’. The zoom car had unloaded easily in the steaming twilight, mist rising from the driveway a clue that a storm had recently blown through. The Otter liked the new digs and began sorting her dirty clothes for washing. A few minutes later, as she started loading the washer in the basement, she called, “David! You’ve gotta see what’s down here! G-ma!!”

We didn’t exactly rush to her rescue, but once we’d moseyed, we found the source of her alarm. The boarder, who’d left the day before for a quick trip to Asia, had reported on the phone a few millipedes in his basement room. I’d seen a small colony of them on the back porch and thought nothing of them. I suggested he vacuum them up, thinking them anomalous. But The Otter had found the floor crawling with the buggers. I valiantly started sucking ‘em up with the vacuum, though replacement troops appeared as soon as the initial ranks started disappearing.

I’m no ninny, but I’m nobody’s fan of the creepy and the crawly. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.11-Torchy-Feely

As we pulled away from Wayne and Eileen’s, The Grand Otter assumed her usual traveling position: ear buds firmly in place, eyes half-closed, sitting upright yet seemingly semi-conscious in the back seat. The Muse and I try to engage her in conversation, but each question requires an emphatic arm wave to elicit any response. She’s plugged in and must unplug before, after we repeat the question, she can reply with a one-word phrase sounding almost but not entirely unlike a word. “Ugg.”

The naive might conclude that she’s refusing to associate with her loving, caring grandparents, and I admit that her conversational style can feel damned off-putting. I point out Kansas City’s lovely suspension bridge over the Missouri, and receive the usual mumble along with a brief tirade opposing high bridges over wide water. I’d like to hold forth on the historical significance of KC’s lovely downtown, but The Otter might as well be elsewhere. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.10-FamilyGathering

Family gathers before we leave: Sisters, brother, in-laws, cousins, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, and their children; a houseful. The Grand Otter’s passing through with just a few short hours to renew connections in this decade-straddling family where a single generation spans nearly forty years. Nobody calls anybody ‘once-removed,’ but cousin instead.

Donna slow roasts a brisket and broils green-lipped mussels. Food’s never in short supply. The little ones use the wrong door to enter and exit, tracking in pea gravel. The girls head for the corner where the farm cat protects her three tiny offspring. The boys ride bikes down the hill in back. Adults wander in and out, continuing a conversation that started before they were born and will certainly continue long after they’re gone from here. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.09-MoonRise

I’d been anticipating all day. By the appointed hour, we were tucking into a buffet supper at the American Legion hall. I excused myself and stepped outside only to find the Eastern horizon cloud-banked. I shuffled back inside to sit with The Muse, who was catching up with her high school graduating class members. I was more interested in what was unfolding outside.

A short time later I excused myself a second time to find that full moon, escaped from the clouds, hanging over the grain silos on the edge of this tiny prairie town. I ducked back inside, asking The Muse to slip outside for a moment. She came, trailing two classmates, and we stood on the sidewalk marveling at that moon. Slip over here for more ...



I’d been waiting outside the reunion hall for their arrival, hoping to spend a few short minutes with The Grand Otter and her dad as they passed through on their way to visit more family a little further down the road. We’ll reconnect Sunday and, Monday, start two or three days on the road back with her, but The Muse and I had not seen her since last October, and on that visit she was wearing a bright orange jump suit and we were not allowed to hug without the scowling guard’s permission, and we were both eager to reconnect.

Their passage from The Cities had been a rough one. Slip over here for more ...


OtterSummer 8.07-HiHoe

After supper last night, my brother-in-law Carl suggested a look at the garden. After finding five pairs of kid shoes and wrangling the crew outside, we found a garden clearly suffering from the late spring. The walk-thru became a game of ‘identify what’s that?’, distinguishing stressed sprouts from their hardier counterpoint weeds. There were rough rows, though some seeds had drifted in the sog. Tomatoes looked the worse for last week’s hail storm. Peas seemed to be coming along, though frightfully late.

My nephew John accepted my hoeing lessons while his dad and siblings performed a Keystone Cops rendition of find the hose. Nick was in charge of turning on the faucet once it was connected. Christopher was sent to ferret around in the garage to find a spray head while Carl and two year old Lilli buzzed off in the mule to find a sprinkler out in the shop. Three year old Andrew supervised. Slip over here for more ...


Otter Summer 8.06-CloudShow

Clouds began moving mid-day. The wind started snapping westward beneath east-running weather above, and by sunset, boiling galleon thunderheads jibbed north and south, leaving us with clear sky above and calamity on either side. By the end of the day, a waxing gibbous moon promised the coming solstice while the sky filled with a sailor’s delight red.

I took to the front porch to watch the celestial performance. Back east, the horizon hangs close to ground. Clouds seem one or at most two dimensional. Here over the prairie, clouds display great textural depth, four full dimensions, unbounded by any barrier to the edge of imagination along far-distant horizons. The Muse joined me as the lightening began carving bas relief detail into the boiling cloud sculptures. Slip over here for more ...


Otter Summer 8.05-Tele-phony

Hard for anyone who’s life experience extends no further than the Beltway boundary to accept, but wide areas of these United States have no cell phone service. I’m not saying they don’t have cell towers in perfect sight-line sequences, it’s just that many of those cell towers don’t provide service unless one happens to subscribe to the particular company owning each tower. This results in technical absurdities. Here in rural South Dakota, my iPhone registers no signal while I’m standing a half block away from an apparently perfectly functional cell tower. My brother-in-law’s place has wireless internet service, but intermittent Verizon-accessible cell service. I’ve consequently been in the dark telephony-wise for two days. Slip over here for more ...

Seven Star Three Carrot Two

Seven star three carrot two
probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to you,
just a senseless series of numbers which
amount to some mathematical some’ bitch.
If I told you this means sixty three,
you’d be tempted to think the less of me.

‘Cause you don’t represent yourself
by distilling essences of anything else.
You never were a mere sum of your parts,
always unimpressed with so-called smarts.
You’re one of them insolent throw-back Joes
who value ‘done’ over what anyone knows.
Slip over here for more ...


Otter Summer 8.04-Convergences

The sun hardly rests this time of year. Neither do we. Last night, twilight extended well past ten pm. This morning, sunrise was obviously coming by four thirty. All this lengthening and shortening will converge in a couple of days with the solstice, where months of anticipation results in divergence beginning again. We grow together, then grow apart.

The final growing together days take my breath away. We’ve slipped across half this vast continent while The Otter’s moving toward us from the other side. She couldn’t sleep the night before she left Slip over here for more ...


Otter Summer 8.03-Toodle

Road trips always seem like better ideas before leaving home. After, long hours lost in acceleration begin collecting their tolls. The second day, we were dreading driving the second worst stretch of road in the continental US, Cleveland to Chicago via the Tollway, so The Muse became navigator to identify a route a bit more off the grid. She found one.

The beauty of road trips springs from the possibilities. Chart an alternate route and an alternate to the alternate might appear. Who could know if that Fresh Strawberries sign wasn’t put there just to lure us off that two lane state road onto the two lane county road? It worked, and not finding strawberries just encouraged us to branch off onto yet another unanticipated course: a fine, empty blacktop lined with red broken backed barns and the full flush of the season greening the fields. Off the tollroad, we found a full Midwest morning and rode it until the afternoon was half gone. Slip over here for more ...


Otter Summer 8.02-Drama

Like the universe, an Otter Summer begins not with a whimper but with a bang; filled with drama. The otherwise simple dilemma of choosing what to bring and what to leave feels impossibly complicated in the absence of any certain knowledge of what’s going to happen and who you’re going to be. This either/or dilemma resolves into a both/and decision. The Otter always brings more than she’ll use.

I believe this to be evidence of good judgement. Never one myself for the packing light ethic, I have a bag the size and approximate weight of a freshly killed deer, and I amend that with a knapsack and a separate bag for the books I can’t imagine leaving home without. Should we somehow find ourselves stranded on a desert island between here and there, I will be the one everyone’s borrowing fresh underwear and books from. Slip over here for more ...


Otter Summer 10.0.01-Two Cats

Just after two am, I noticed the cats have moved. Crash, who’d hopped up on the bed when I crawled in, knowing something was up (as he always does), had curled up at the foot of the bed, trapping my feet. I supposed that Rose, our spinster cat, had enthroned herself on the golden rocking chair, but neither cat was nearly close enough; so I tapped the duvet next to my chest and whispered, “Come here.”

The morning seemed distant yet and the neighborhood as quiet as it ever gets, yet I did not hear Crash come to my side or Rose curl in next to her big brother. They just appeared. Then, Crash commenced his scream purring with Rose contentedly accompanying. I scratched their heads and held them closer, and we reveled in our presence there in the dark. Slip over here for more ...


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