Of Juice and Thrips and Ceiling Wax
Air-Cooled Engines, April 4
Squawkin' Robin, April 7
Singing to Bees, April 23
Title of the Month: The Vulture; Nature's Ghastly Gourmet
Denny and I went out for a walk the other evening after supper. It was a nice, mild night. We needed jackets but it wasn't raining, there were no tornadoes nor blizzards. (Last Sunday tornadoes wrecked lovely St. Peter (home of Gustavus Adolphus College), several small towns, and many farms. I mean wrecked. Two people died. It's a disaster area. My friend Rez is OK, for you fans and friends of Rez. The Salvation Army and the Red Cross could use donations.)
Denny suggested we walk over to a little bookstore several blocks away. I have passed it many times while driving, but never gone in. Denny had, of course, and of course, had trade credit.
The place is an old firehouse, converted to a bookstore by putting a lot of shelves in. It's owned by a local school teacher and has very odd hours.
The place was packed with books, mostly paperbacks. The owner greeted us, explained where things were, and offered us hot cider. I declined, but in a few minutes Denny was carrying a cup of hot cider and some cookies around while trying to check out all the titles.
We spent a pleasant 40 minutes or so going over stuff. I was amused to find the toilet is in the self-help section. The owner is very friendly, but luckily had someone else to distract him while we looked. I think he doesn't expect to make much money; he simply enjoys having a bookstore.
There wasn't really much that interested me. The science fiction section was not very good, and most of the cookbooks were of no interest. Then I found treasure.
It was an old, spiral-bound copy of How to Keep your Volkswagen Alive; a manual of step by step procedures for the complete idiot by John Muir. Oh joy!
Ours had been accidentally left in the vehicle when Jesus, the '73 rusty yellow bug, had gone to the junkyard. (I didn't name the car; it was my boss's car, and he pronounced Jesus in the Spanish way, since his first trip with the car had been to Mexico.)
Just the sight of the cover brought back a mixture of feelings: comfort, anxiety, fear, and hope. I could smell engine oil, feel cold concrete, hear the clang of a socket hitting the floor, taste exhaust and cold coffee.
After years of inadequate manuals for all the other cars I had ever owned, the John Muir book was like heaven. It was written by an actual mechanic who understood what poverty and necessity were, but who believed in preventive maintainance and safety. The book had a wonderful sense of humor and delightful, accurate illos. Here is a sample of some of the writing:
I swear all the "idiot" and "dummy" books are modeled after this one book. You could fix anything except the trannie on any VW made. He was a little nervous about carburetors, too, but in the many years we used that book, it never failed in a major way.
I didn't think of it at the time, but I'm sure it was Muir's example that helped me in the wine book.
My days of being able to lift a 200-pound engine (just long enough to get the floor jack back under) are long gone. We haven't had a VW for 10 years. But we might again one day. We'll probably pay someone else to fix it, but we'll know what the heck is going on with it, thanks to John Muir and his friends. And the fire station bookstore.
Hope all is well.
Yesterday was glorious. It got up to nearly 70, so I went out to finish clearing the vegetable patch. I was busy scraping out the creeping charlie and the leftover papers from last year's mulch, bits of junk blown in from the alley, and some leftover stalks of vegetation, when I began to notice that there was quite a racket going on and it wasn't the usually idiot celebrating spring by turning his radio on full blast.
Up on the fence was a male robin, alternately singing his territory song and scolding me! He was quite bold. He didn't seem to mind if I moved or whatever. Persistent little guy.
Of course I talked back, enjoying the company, and quite flattered. I could come within a few feet of him and he didn't mind. Gradually it dawned on me that he was more and more irritated. I looked at the ground. Oh, right, silly me! It was crawling with fat, healthy worms.
I cleared out and went to the back steps. Sure enough, he hopped down and cleaned out the worms. I went back to scrape and trowel some more. He scolded. I sat back.
Three times this went on. I figure he was either reared by humans, or in a very robin-friendly yard. He finally flew off when a truck pulled into the yard next door.
I wonder if he will be our robin this year? We had one that nearly drove us nuts in the mornings a few years ago. He would sit on the railing outside the window and at the crack of dawn, bellow his little lungs out. American robins are really thrushes and have operatic vocal habits.
It remains to be seen. Will he get a mate? What about a nest site? Will I even see the pushy little guy again?
On a more sober note, a great friend to tigers passed away a few days ago. If there are still Siberian tigers 20 years from now, it will be partially due to the efforts of John Fletcher. Years ago his son Ken arranged a behind the scenes tour of the Como Zoo. One of my best memories was Mr. Fletcher, just retired as zoo director, playing with the tigers with a garden hose, squirting the hecky darn out of them while they leapt like happy, over-sized kittens trying to catch the water out of the air with their massive paws. It was quite a sight.
So with a roar and a mighty bound, take good care of yourselves,
Singing to Bees
We were out in the backyard last night enjoying the weather. It's that narrow, magic window in Minnesota weather: pleasant, with no mosquitoes. I had just noticed that the gooseberry bush was flowering (hard to notice, since the blooms are not exciting) when I saw a nice big bumblebee. The first of the season!
Terribly excited, I grabbed Denny and improvised a Welcome the Bumblebee Song, which I (mercifully for you) cannot remember. Denny was a participant only because I was holding his wine in one hand and his wrist in the other. I was happy because I actually got the song to rhyme. He was happy when I gave him the wine back and let go his wrist, certain that I spent far too much time in Berkeley at a formative period of my life. The cats stared. The bumblebee fled. Luckily, none of the neighbors were out.
This gave me the incentive to go grub out more European bellflowers from the area I want to become My Woodland Glade. It's long and narrow on the south side of the house, nearly full shade because of the house next door. I need to be able to drag the hose up and down it.
Currently it has the pussywillow, the poor little apple tree, some clumps of hosta, white violets, Jacobís ladder, lilies of the valley, bleeding heart and some black currant bushes which have never had fruit (grump, probably not enough light, thanks to the junk trees in the yard next door), some gooseberry bushes I put in last year because the mother bush had pups and that was the only place for them, much bare dirt, and lurking bindweed seeds.
So I figure if I strew some more hostas and ferns around, some woodland type flowers and groundcovers, it might look more like a glade in a few years and less like urban wasteland. Simple, huh?
Everything looks so simple and clean in the Spring, before Mother Nature starts the long belly laugh of summer and pulls out the heat and humidity whoopee cushions, mosquito fright wigs, and cicada and cricket noisemakers.
Then there is the human celebration of summer, consisting of radios tuned to the steroid stations, backed by the scent of charcoal lighter fluid, and the occasional firecracker and gunshot. Ahhh, summer. The main things that make up for summer are tomatoes and roses. And that's pretty good.
But in the meantime, it's Spring and I'm singing at the bumblebees and murdering European bellflowers. Lovely.
Copyright © 1998 by Terry A. Garey.