Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Excerpt for a New Book, Keep to the Right

Keep to the Right Except to Pass

When I go jogging in the park - early enough, no one passes me. If I go later, it seems like everyone passes me, but I love jogging Union Hill anyway – aware of the bird songs and the green shadows, and the scents wafting from the trees and the Kitkitdizze. Occasionally, I do pass someone, and then I feel faster. Funny.
My thoughts wander when I jog; I do not seem to have the desire to direct them. Sometimes, it seems as if I reflect only on what I sense; this state is very restful, but the irony of it, is that it is reserved for when I am expending a lot of energy.
When I was in my late teens, I decided to run over Fossil Hill and back. Not far, but steep and hot. I felt strong; I made a meal out of that hill, gobbling it with gusto – that is, until the heat began to affect me; then I began to feel weak and shaky. I made it home and collapsed on the front porch, hoping to cool myself on the cement. I did, and eventually I felt euphoric, a young adult without any cares. Everything seemed so simple.
I was the last of our party to climb out of LeConte Canyon into the Palisade Basin; everyone passed me, and I felt enervated long before I got to camp where I would need to muster enough energy to make camp, filter water, and cook. I talked to myself, coached myself, was kind to myself and tried to be proud of myself as I climbed . . . and climbed . . . and climbed.
“We've been here for quite awhile. Are you all right?” (My son.)
“All right, now that I'm here.”
“What happened?”
“I keep to the right, except to pass.” (But I surprised myself once.)
Like I said, I surprised myself once. I had entered an “off limits” area in a state park in a quest for a certain plant with swollen pink-tinged bladder-like pods, a delicate locust-like plant that I wanted to identify. I was a little jumpy about being in a forbidden area, but I knew the area, and was confident that I could go undetected in my quest.
It was a quintessential autumn day: random dust devils, peppery scents, autumn colors, and helicopter seeds from the cedars. It was deliciously quiet – until . . . until I heard the sound of an engine – coming my way, down the trail/dirt road. Of course, I thought to hide, but hiding meant climbing through the Poison Oak . . . and so I ran – outrunning the vehicle to a place where I knew I would be hidden; a small clearing with a hiding place behind a fallen tree. I ran like a young person, leaping and skipping, hopping over branches and boulders, and then collapsed behind the fallen tree to hide and breathe. (I was impressed with myself as I crept to collect my leaves and lovely seed pods.)
With pride, I told Stu about my exploit. “It doesn't surprise me,” he said with that smile.
“I was actually fast for a change,” I insisted.
“You were a track star,” he reminded me. “A sprinter. Did you forget?”
“Passed on the left,” I reminded him.
(I still have not identified this exotic plant, and it has since been bulldozed into oblivion.)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New Book Excerpt


irony: a combination of circumstances or a result that is the opposite of what might be expected or considered appropriate

I do not laugh enough; it is not that I fail to find humor; I do. I am talking about deep laughter; I envy my friends, Deni and Margaret as well as my sister-in-law, Jane - they really know how to laugh – with a sense of abandon to the universal irony. My experiences of deep laughter have been far between, but they are glorious gems that are radiant in memory: I giggled as a child; I remember the feeling when an adult would question my logic, and I would laugh at my own lack of it. For this reason, I tolerate giggling in children, and sometimes I feel the surge of a giggle myself when I am with them, always wishing that I was not the adult on those occasions.
I revisit certain incidents in my life, keep them alive in memory, and sometimes I laugh again.
Revisited: My son, Jesse, and I were eating lunch with my three year old grandson, Aiden – on a latticed wrought-iron table. Aiden found it very funny that we kept losing pieces of our lunch through the lattice holes. He giggled, and soon, both Jesse and I were laughing with tears. It was wonderful!
Revisited: Late at night after a long day of travel, Stu and I went on a laughing spree that I will never forget; we had failed in our effort to find a campground. Not funny? We had a map, which I was reading while Stu drove, but none of the backroads were signed. We were lost; not funny; not until Stu abruptly pulled to side of the road and asked to see the map. I impatiently shoved it at him. After trying to manipulate it against the steering wheel and peering at it as if he were half blind, he suddenly wadded it in a ball and threw it out the window. We laughed about that forever!
Revisited: My friend, Tiffany, and I found it curious when we noticed two armed men guarding a panel truck at a motel in Fort Brag. The contrast of their relaxed, cordial greetings and the shotguns was too much irony to bear. “Why the guns?” I asked when the men greeted me. “Gold,” they said. “Morel mushrooms,” corrected a reputable source.
Revisited: I often laugh on backpack trips, that sudden, overwhelming mirth when, inexplicably, the absurdity of living comes into focus. My friend, Joe, was trying to make a rain shelter out of a flimsy plastic poncho, but the wind would not have it; it stuck to his face, wrapped his head, and then entangled itself in a bush where it self-destructed. His perseverance made the incident even funnier, and when another in our party came along, wearing a garbage bag, we were touched by the universal truth of ridiculous, and were seized with paroxysms of laughter – and acceptance of our own propensities to take ourselves too seriously. Give me laughter, deep, soul-shaking, humbling laughter; it is real!                  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

excerpt for a New Book, Spook

Spook House

An old house on a hill, hidden in the Eucalyptus trees, was reputed to be haunted – and so we “haunted” the eucalyptus grove around the haunted house. From our cover, the house looked abandoned, but I remember seeing a broom on the porch at the rear of the house, and I remember an old truck that groaned up the hill from time to time, and so surmised that the house was not abandoned, but that it was haunted – because that was what was said about it by the kids in our neighborhood, some of them older (and more experienced) than us.
Then one day, when I was creeping around the woods by myself, I spied the spook, and the spook spied me. I froze with fear, staring at a tall, thin man, wearing a plaid shirt. Straightening, he slowly placed one hand on his hip; I noticed that his fingers were very long and very brown. His face was shadowed by a wide-brimmed hat, and he wore glasses, but I could feel the question in his eyes: “Who are you, and why are prowling around my house?” I do not remember what happened after that, but somehow the stigma faded, and we grew up – and then, and then . . .
Recently, my brother brought up the case of the spook house and the spook. He had heard that black people were called “spooks,” at one time and in some places. Our spook was a black man (I think) but we did not know prejudice. I remember that people who were different in some way made me feel shy, and I imagined that it was the same for them. That was the extent of it. Anyway, don't all kids need a haunted house?
I did not learn about the meaning of prejudice until I was school age; my parents did not teach it: they taught kindness. My mother encouraged my sister, Grace, to make visitations to the old ladies in our neighborhood, curiously, something she was inclined to do. She helped me become organized so that I could collect pennies for Meals for Millions. My dad approved when I gave my pencil box to a little kid in school who did not have one, but he discouraged me from parting with my blue bunny – which I could not have done anyway; I felt rather guilty about that.
Speaking of guilt: I fabricated sins when I went to confession. Seriously, I did, but eventually, Father McLaughlin caught on and asked me if I told other lies. Ah ha!
“Why do you lie?” asked this good man.
“I don't know.”
“Lying does seems like the best thing to do, sometimes, doesn't it?”
(I had imaginary friends; somehow, they were not lies.)
He asked me if I had ever heard the story about the boy who cried “wolf.” He said, “After awhile, people won't believe you anymore - if they catch you lying – and they will catch you, just like I did.”
I decided to be a storyteller (rather than a liar). Stories were received better than lies, I decided. My sisters appreciated the imaginary friends who came to visit me (and them) in my bed every night, and would often say, “Tell us a story.”

P.S. This story is subjectively true. Hopefully, that does not make it a lie.