Last night I took Ruby for her walk after dinner, as the sun was going down. As my feet wandered the paths we usually follow, my mind wandered its own paths.
What was uppermost in my mind at the beginning of our perambulation was the delightful repast I had just enjoyed. Our patch of leeks is just now coming into its own, so Jim pulled a few and made a rather wonderful dish that involves braising the leeks in wine with herbs, adding chopped up prosciutto to that, and tossing it with pasta. Since we have entered so deeply into the slow food movement, we not only grow a lot of what we eat (which is the epitome of slowness, really), but we no longer buy noodles and pasta. Jim made some lovely fresh noodles for the pasta part of the dish. It was positively delicious, and probably quite good for us too.
So my mind wandered over to the leek patch as I walked along. I mused on the irony of leeks, so easy to grow really. Leeks are a crop that is reputed to be a cool weather staple, capable of waiting for your attentions out in the garden during the cold of winter. And yet, apparently, they are totally heat and drought hardy as well, for while our leeks do have a lot of burned leaf tips on the outside of the plants, the inner parts are as green and tender and succulent as anyone could desire from a leek.
Ah, I notice a spot of unnatural blue on the path ahead of me. It turns out to be the label from a plastic water bottle and I note to myself in passing that no doubt I shall find the water bottle discarded up ahead sometime during my walk. I pick it up, and a cigarette butt that rests nearby, and continue on my way. I wonder about the people who so casually defile the home of the wild creatures I hear about me. An armadillo rustles busily off to my right, just over the edge of the slope into the sinkhole. When the leaves fall and there has been a frost, I will have to go down in there and pick up the trash that has blown into the depression during the summer.
A red tail hawk rasps out its high wailing call above me, and this brings to mind the visitor we had during our breakfast. We were sitting at the table enjoying the applesauce pancakes I had made, when all the little birds in the yard disappeared into thin air as a large bird landed on the fence. It was an immature red tailed hawk, still in its youthful plumage with barred tail and speckled breast. It looked about, seeming almost confused. But it wasn’t. It was looking at the bird bath, and after a suitable period for checking the area for threats and planning its landing pattern, it swooped down to the basin full of water.
You know, my birdbath is not really a small bath, there is plenty of room for two or three grackles to bathe in a gang, several dozen bees can drink from the rim at once, half a dozen finches have plenty of room to share the rim. Suddenly, the bird bath looked very small indeed. The hawk contemplated the water surface for a while, then hopped down into the water. The area was too constrained for the bath it clearly desired, and after it had been soaking its feet for a few moments, a cheeky cardinal landed in the elm tree above it and started scolding it from the safety of the stockade of branches. The hawk gave up on the idea of ablutions and flew off, back over the fence and into the field behind us.
As I continued walking, I wondered how big a basin a hawk like that would like for a good bath. I thought perhaps a kiddie wading pool might be just the right size. Would it want it raised above the ground the way the little birds like their baths? Or would a pool built into the ground be okay? I want a fountain associated with the pergola; a proper hawk sized bird bath could be incorporated into that plan.
I rounded the corner of the path towards the back of the conservation area, and sure enough, the empty water bottle that belongs to the label I found earlier was lying there. I pick it up, and remove the lid. The light plastic rolls neatly into a tiny bundle, I replace the lid and put it in my pocket along with the label, wondering why some people find a full water bottle so easy to carry but not one that is empty.
My mind churned on as I watched the sun sink slowly down to the horizon. There were no clouds to interfere with the colors it was producing. First the sky was a pure lemon color, then it faded to apricot. Later on a peachy hue emerged, quickly brightening to tangerine and finally as the sun went down it turned the brilliant red of a blood orange. Odd, I thought to myself, how all my colors seemed to be associated with fruit today.
I was watching the nearly full moon at the same time I was watching the sun set. It is the second full moon of the month, so it will be a “blue moon”. Far from looking blue, it almost seemed to be reflecting back the sunset colors, looking almost apricot to me. I thought about the article I read about visual perception, rods and cones, and how at the peripheral vision you can really only perceive black and white but your brain fills in the colors it “knows” are supposed to be there. I framed the moon away from all the other information with my hands, and suddenly I could see it again as it truly was, white/silver and serene in the sky, slowly brightening as the day light faded.
A movement high in the sky near the moon caught my eye. A red tail hawk hovered in the thermal, fluttering its wings gently to hold position as it surveyed the field below, hoping for an unwary rabbit or a meadow vole to round out the day’s hunt. I stopped and watched. A bat flew past, early riser. I hoped perhaps the great horned owl would join it, but she didn’t. The night jars soared and dipped over the crown of the forest edge across the field from me, searching for their evening repast. A flock of red winged blackbirds rose from the forest edge, their creaking voices silenced, exchanged for the thrum of their wings beating in unison as they headed purposefully for their night roost.
A helicopter suddenly roared to life over at the Armory. Must be a training week for the National Guard, I thought to myself, as the black beast rose into the air. The chopper sound threw me back into revery about all the times I have heard that sound. What it must be like to live someplace like Iraq or Afghanistan and know that that sound presages gunfire or is a response to the bomb that exploded nearby. ”Apolcalypse Now” The sounds of Viet Nam; for truly this helicopter that was disturbing the sylvan peace of my dog walk was an old surplus bird from that era.
That time in my life paraded through my mind. Rick Jenkins, our star running back on our 8-man football team, come home to be buried in a black body bag, blown into little pieces by the land mine he stepped on. John, the ex-Green Beret, who I met at a party I went to in Denver, who had the boa constrictor Horace and the bull snake Herman that I bought from him for $40 dollars (that included their cages), and brought home proudly to my mother. He warned people when he met them that they should not come up behind him quietly and touch him; he was likely to take them to the floor. At that party, I witnessed the effects of battle fatigue or PTSD when someone in the kitchen dropped a large pot, the clatter and bang was impressive. I had been standing talking to John, I looked away towards the sound and when I turned back John was gone. Confused, I looked around. Someone called out, ”Oh, they just dropped some pots in the kitchen. It’s okay, John.” His head came up from behind the sofa where he had taken cover; sheepishly he emerged. We all laughed at him, he laughed back.
I wonder where he is today? Is he fine or is he dead of cancer caused by the Agent Orange he was liberally doused with during his tour? Or is he one of the damaged homeless alcoholics littering the streets of our big cities, begging for sustenance?
And what about Tommie Smith, the Navajo indian who I wrote to faithfully during his tour? How is he? I wonder about him on a regular basis. When he came home, we went out to a football game at the University of Colorado where he was exercising his veteran’s right to an education. He rode his beautiful Harley up to our house to visit a couple of times. Late at night, after I cleaned the floors and shake machines at the Red Barn where I worked, he would come by and we would sit on the curb outside the place after all the lights were out and talk and talk. He finally came to me and told me he wasn’t going to come talk with me any more. It wasn’t fair, I was too young and he knew too much, and besides he was afraid his family could never accept me the way my family accepted him. I knew nothing about life on the reservation, which was where he was going when he finished school. He would take his engineering degree and use it there.
I wonder where he is now? Is he the engineer for one of their mining operations? Or is he another of the dead too soon; or worse, a member of the walking dead substance addicted? Or maybe a famous artist? He had talent that way. I sent him cookies, he sent me his soul committed to paper with ink.
And so my three and half miles pass, as Ruby becomes tired and hot and well walked. We return to our home, I put the plastic bottle in my recycle bin, and do the dinner dishes that are waiting for me patiently. Afterwards I look through my book of thoughts for the image Tommie sent me from Viet Nam, so I can share it with you, my dear friends.
And another day has passed into the past, possibly to be mused on in the future.