Slightly Haunted Houses

Digital illustration: Transmitter

Perpetual Haunts

Children always know where danger lies—the goblin in the corner who’ll surprise

And bite you on the ankles as you pass—grownups forget to fear it, though, alas!

For in the passage of the years they’ve grown to fear only the earthly, and bemoan

Mere politics and taxes, while a child retains the wisdom that the brute and wild

Still hides among the passages of day, waiting to snag unwary young at play.

On Halloween, adults recall but faint and humorous details of ancient taint

And treachery, the light dust, if you will, of ghostly tracks upon the windowsill

Or campfire tales meant less to warn than joke at quaking children by the fires’ smoke,

Forgetting that what was, remains still here: the monster that can swallow all is Fear.

Digital illustration: Receiver

Flourishes, but Quietly

Digital illustration from a painting: Splashy-FlashyNo Talking in Class

Am I a showy character? It may be that I am…

A bold display of color makes me happy as a clam—

The splash of waves or fireworks delights me deep within

Enough to make me run and leap and wear a silly grin—

An anthem sung; a symphony or jazz or drumline played

Or children’s playground chanting—yes, by all of these I’m swayed

To passion and delirium, to ecstasy and dance,

But mostly, from the audience, where I can hide, perchance…

I have to tell you honestly, I’d rather you’re the star

And I the meekly happy fan who worships from afar,

For though I love the big and grand, extravagant and wild,

I’ll gladly leave that up to you and stay a quiet child.Digital illustration from a photo: No Talking in School

No Surprises Here

Digital Illustration from a Photo: Baby Carriage

Kids have an amazingly flexible sense of time. The week at the lake, playing with cousins, is so shockingly short that the suggestion of leaving there provokes crying fits of desperate sorrow over its unbearable brevity. The twenty-minute regular doctor’s appointment, with a quick squeeze from the blood pressure cuff and a thermometer swiftly passed across a healthy forehead, well that might as well have taken ten years, because the same child is now certain she’ll die in a matter of seconds from the prolonged trauma of it all.

But to be fair, isn’t this exactly the way we see time as supposed adults, too? I may not want anyone to catch me whimpering over the end of a holiday or the beginning of a doctor visit, but generally, I’m not less inclined to feel that way than I ever was in youth. The real difference, for adults, is that we have the perspective and experience to recognize the true brevity of our lives within the broad arc of time. We have, if anything, a deeper desire to cling to and attenuate all of the good moments and avoid the bad. It’s not childishness for a kid to abhor pain and sorrow and crave ease and pleasures, it’s an innate wisdom that tells us the clock is ticking.

I won’t tell you to stop wasting your precious time reading my blog posts, no, I am far from that angelic and selfless. But I hope that time thus spent is indeed a refreshment and pleasure, however small. And that, in the larger scheme, it serves to remind both you and me, if gently, to value our limited time of life enough to choose those things that reduce the ills of life and expand upon the joys—for self, for others—forever. Or as close to it as we can manage to stretch.Digital Illustration from a Photo: Carousel and Other Horses

Remind Me/Rewind Me

For a person who considers herself happily immature relative to her age, I am sometimes caught off guard when I realize how little of my youthful pleasures I’ve continued to pursue with appropriate enthusiasm into the present. Why on earth would I forego standing on a big plank swing, grasping the chains that hold it and me up, and pumping my legs until I feel like I could fly right on over the top steel bar of the swing set with the greatest of ease? Why not kick off my shoes and socks, abandon them in the dirt, and plunge into the cold river’s slippery, rock-strewn flow without regard for getting the legs of my pants all soaking wet? Is there any law that says a 52-year-old is no longer allowed to slurp her fruit punch noisily through a straw just because it’s so wonderfully refreshing and sugary?

Why, indeed, is the common phrase seemingly always about youthful enthusiasm, yet we tacitly agree to let only actual youths embrace it?

Remind me how being childlike and impulsively happy is so dangerous.photo

Despite being of an age where my childhood version of the high swing was of rock-hard rubber on a steel pipe frame and underlaid with gravel-strewn dirt, I am—well—still alive at this age. I never broke a single bone or chipped a tooth, and my only stitches derived from an indoor activity, a school game of floor hockey. Though I wandered recklessly through many a stream and ocean’s shallows, without regard for my pants or my tender soles, and even drank from the occasional icy mountain brook, the worst that ever came of it was a cut from beach glass, soon enough cleansed with stinging but healing salt water. No clothes were ruined, and I got bit by nothing bigger than a sand- or horse-fly or two. I failed to contract Giardia or E. coli from those wild rivulets I sipped. Even the vast quantities of evil cyclamates in my childhood fruit drink binges failed to kill me off.

So how is it that I lost my ability to plunge ahead without caution to where I seemed, nearly always, to find joyful things? Remind me how always being responsible and mature and playing it safe is better for me.

But write it in a note and slip it under my door. I feel the need to go out and look for a little happy trouble.

Sweets for the Sweet (& All Others, Too)

digital illustration

Remember this…

Long-Awaited Benison

The sweetest sound the human ear has heard
Was not a waterfall or splashing brook
To thirsty thoughts; nor thirsty mind, a book
Read out; nor singer’s voice, nor whistling bird

In spring’s cool song; it wasn’t kittens’ purr
Or baby’s comfortably cooing charms
When resting safely in his mother’s arms
—Though it might then seem wildly sweet to her

It wasn’t the “I love you” of romance,
Nor was the sweetest sound of clinking gold,
—Though to its owner, that cannot grow old—
But rather, barring mystic happenstance,

The miracle of sound most truly sweet
Was Mama’s voice announcing, “Come and eat!”

Memories are Migratory

A flock of American Robins passing the area through may not seem especially worthy of note to some people. But if, like me, you remember them as one of the prevalent birds around you when you were growing up, you might notice it with a certain eager delight when several dozen of them descend on your holly tree and Indian Hawthorn hedge all of a sudden and dive on the berries like divas on diamonds. I noticed.photo

I had been seeing the signs of the early northward migration already, as the grackles that never entirely leave north-central Texas no matter what the season or weather were in ever larger clouds that swept from field to field and perched in growing masses at those points on the trees, hedges, bridges, billboards and power lines where we come to expect them to collect at dusk. It seems to me as though the sheer volume of grackles in the region means some have to migrate, however slightly, just to stay on the fringes of their preferred climate, so when the seasons change I do see even more than the typical congregation of those whistling, flitting avians hanging about on every corner and post.photo

But the robins, well, they are not so often seen in my own back garden. To be sitting at my desk and hear that familiar liquid warbling is to be transported to when I was climbing the backyard apple trees of my childhood. I looked up on that more recent afternoon from the predictable digital ‘pile’ of email and saw the unexpected flash of russet on a bird’s breast as it streaked by my window, then another and another, and suddenly felt I was in the midst of a happy storm of robins as they dashed and dove, a modest flock perhaps but enough in number to nearly strip the hedge and the little tree before retreating to the woods of the ravine behind for the evening. By next morning, there were fewer that came back for a final pit stop before the whole collective took wing to continue north. They came and went so fast, and moved so quickly and stealthily in the shrubbery in the meantime that I had no moment to grab a camera and commemorate the welcome moment.

The moment will, however, remain, just as the childhood pleasures were revived in the first chirruping calls and those quick glimpses of rosy feathers: robins will stay in my heart as long as the memories remain.

Hard Boiled Character

I’m very much a child of the Sixties. I was born at the beginning of the decade that brought to a point of confluence such disparate events and ideas and people as space exploration and spaced-out hippies, the Beatles and the Batmobile, suburban composting and the Cold War. Every one of those might be said to have had at least a little influence on aspects of my self and my character, but one of those I particularly remember from preteen days is that the very little I knew of the politics of the day was that my classmates and I were trained in school drills to dive under our desks and cover our heads with our arms as protection against The Bomb. Because we all know that there’s nothing better than skinny little kid arms and a plywood desk to save us from nuclear holocaust.

A corollary of this perhaps, is that even as a shrimp I could recognize the futility and insane ridiculousness of what the world’s Superpowers liked to tell us was inevitable and what, conversely, was going to stave off such things, so I preferred to play the 60s’ iteration of the 50s’ cowboys-and-Indians, that being a game that, as far as I’ve been able to discern, was all about galloping around on invisible horses, making a lot of noise, chasing each other, and brandishing toy guns in ways that would’ve cleared the Old West in an instant by accidental and ‘friendly’ fire had they been loaded. Our upgrade for the sixties was Spies, because as it was utterly clear no politicians in ours or any other country was going to be sensible and deal in saving self and planet by means of either successfully waging a visible war or, even more remotely, by learning to sit at table and negotiate anything like Peace.

So we played Spies, the cowboys-and-Indians or Us vs. Them variant that swapped invisible pinto ponies and buckskins for invisible (or better yet, pedal car) sleek, speedy autos with magnificent tail fins, the ten-gallon hats for fedoras and the chases across the Western plains for slinking around our own houses to peer Unseen into the windows—the ones we could reach—and spying on our own parents who stood in for Commies. And only if we were really lucky maybe really were Communists, though I knew no one who would have said so openly in suburban America in those days. In point of fact, I had no goal of catching anything other than perhaps a glimpse of where Mom kept a box of candy hidden, and certainly no wish to fire my terrifyingly realistic plastic squirt gun at anyone with anything other than a zip of icy cold water, but it was all Terribly Exciting.digital illustrationThat, however, was pretty much the pinnacle of my career as anything racy or dangerous, and I’m quite content with that. But the memory of how thrilling the entirely artificial and manufactured world of child’s play was still charms me, and I still kind of like to revisit the image of self-as-desperado with a laugh and, yes, a tip of my broad-brimmed hat.