The Great Sugar Shake Down

There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.

-Andre Gide

I think it was a Snow White mask that probably turned me into a Halloween hater. Do you remember the days when getting dressed up in a Halloween costume meant wearing an awful plastic mask with eye holes that never lined up and with elastic thread that invariably got tangled in your hair? The ones that caused oxygen deprivation and patches of baldness on the backs of heads of millions of children back in those less safety conscious days when parents thought it was perfectly okay to send their visually challenged, clumsy kindergarteners into the street like tiny zombies in snowsuits?

Or maybe it wasn’t Snow White’s fault at all. Maybe it was those disappointing and dreadful pieces of peanut butter flavored taffy rolled up in orange and black pieces of waxed paper that old people who hated Halloween always tossed into my brown paper bag when what I’d been hoping for was a candy bar.

Actually, maybe it was just the premise of Halloween itself.  For starters, I’ve never really liked that feeling of being scared. Isn’t real life scary enough? Do we really need a whole day of the year devoted to making it scarier? I don’t like wearing costumes, wouldn’t go into a haunted house unless someone was holding a gun to my head, and scooping  the guts out of a pumpkin always makes me gag.

Having confessed all of this, it is both ironic and inevitable that I would host a lot of Halloween parties for my kids when they were in high school.  Each year, teenagers would arrive in a swarm and stay until they’d eaten everything in our house.  I always wondered what their parents thought as they dropped their kids off in the front hall.  They probably assumed that I just loved Halloween.  Or teenagers.

The truth of the matter is this. On that scariest of nights, I was less creeped out knowing that the two Beasties I was responsible for raising were home and not some place else so it was worth all  the noise, the mess, and the barren refrigerator every year.  Now that they are nearly grown, I know that the memories I helped create meant something to both of them. They were lucky kids.  I think they realize that more the older they get.

And looking back,  I know I was pretty lucky, too.

(Happy “Halloween” Birthday , Pete!  October 31, 1989.  I may never love Halloween, but I’ll always be crazy about you!  Love, Auntie Ter)

Gathering Season

(This column was originally published in 2013)

There is a small marsh between Walker and Park Rapids that I notice each time I drive past.  In October, it is rimmed with rust-colored bulrushes and scruffy. molting cattails. It is home to at least one tribe of muskrats, from what I can tell.  This week, I noticed two enormous trumpeter swans swimming in circles on the north side of the pond.   They looked bored and overdressed, socialites who dressed for the opera but ended up in a dive bar with a juke box playing Willie Nelson songs.  I know that swans migrate in the opposite direction from most winged creatures.  I would make a  lousy swan.   As soon as the snow starts to fall, I dream of Florida.

When I’m in the car alone between the pine forests and the prairie, these are the things I ponder.

It is Gathering Season.  I am conscious of this as I drive farther west and see the flocks of birds and waterfowl who congregate in the fields and sloughs waiting for their relatives to show up.  I imagine that the geese and ducks spend a lot of time discussing the close calls and dodged bullets and are relieved when they see their kids coming in for a landing.

Near Elizabeth, I noticed a farm field full of hundreds of crows gleaning leftovers from the harvest.  Suddenly, on cue, they took flight and transformed into one noisy black cloud.  I watched as they swooped high above the field in unison only to dip low to the earth over and over, a black ribbon of birds doing a primal, well choreographed dance…. swooping up, then down…back up, and down.  Crows do a lot of shouting.  One autumn, when I still lived on the western side of the state, a flock ended up doing a short layover in the large flowering crab apple tree in our backyard. For a half hour, they ate the bright red fruit, stripping the tree of every berry before resuming their trip, drunken and full.

Over the weekend, I spent time at the lake with a gaggle of family members who’d come for one last weekend of partridge hunting and cabin-time before everything is buttoned up for another winter.  October in our family has become less about the hunting and a lot more about the gathering.   But on Saturday, as my sister and I sat sipping good strong coffee in the lodge, our two sons donned blaze orange and went hunting.  I spied them though the kitchen window as they walked into the woods…two broad-shouldered, good-natured men walking together, performing a ritual their  grandfathers and great grandfathers did during other Octobers long before either one of them was ever born.

It is October.  The season for hunting.  And gathering, too.

Crunch time……

I never used to believe in the power of a good adjustment.

In my mind, chiropractic care was placed in the same category as the existence of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Sasquatch, and Unicorns.  When people said that they were going to visit offices where these mythical creatures performed their magic, I would smile, nod, and think, “yeah, right.  You’re going to let some guy (or gal) adjust your spine?  Your SPINE?  That thing that keeps you from falling down and allows you to do things like walk upright?”

This had less to do with the fact that I understood even one thing about chiropractors or whether they could help a person in pain and more to do with the fact that I am, as my family and friends know only too well, a wimp.  A WIMP.   I don’t even like to think about my spine, much less allow someone to twist it around.  I think that seeing the film “The Exorcist” when I was probably too young to see it at the drive-in probably fixed me for anything neck-related, if you get my drift.  So much spinning of heads and cracking sounds.  Eek.

And so, nobody is more surprised than I am to find that visiting a chiropractor’s torture chamber, er….office, is giving me some relief from some really annoying chronic back pain I’ve suffered from for the last twenty years.  Sitting at a computer seven hours a day the past four years as an online college instructor has finally forced me, finally, to address the issues in my creaky old back.  And it’s helping.  The guy I go to is young and built like a college linebacker.  Every time he adjusts my neck and I hear that godawful crunching sound, I fully expect him to utter a ” Well, SHOOT. That wasn’t supposed to happen.  I’m so sorry” as he hands my head back to me.   This hasn’t happened yet.  I’m trying to have faith that it won’t.

All this manipulation of some of the parts of me that have been stuck for a long time has me thinking about all the other adjustments we go through as creatures traveling this wild, twisty road of Life.  When we are young and limber, it’s easy.  Plans change.  People come and go.  We adapt.  Then, we get older and a little more creaky and a lot less willing to stretch our bodies and our minds.  Joe Football is teaching me about something called Muscle Memory and how pain can show up in places where there’s no damage because the muscles are working hard to support things they weren’t meant to support. About how this causes pain and stiffness.

Pain. Stiffness.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could change the muscle memories in the rest of our lives as easily as moving a body part millimeters of an inch?   I think that having a career that allows for growth and creativity is part of the antidote.  Deeper, more meaningful connections to the people we love doesn’t hurt.  And then there’s faith in ourselves, our families, our communities, our government even when things seem hopeless.  The belief in some cosmic balance in the universe and a higher power we cannot see that somehow makes the seasons change, creates interesting creatures like babies and old people, and makes our hearts beat, day in and day out.

Sometimes, the concept of Faith eludes me.  Sometimes, not.  What I know for sure today is that we are both simpler and more complex as both organisms populating the planet and spiritual beings than what we can possibly know.  Some days, this comforts me.

There are amazing mysteries within us.  Pretty amazing ones outside of us, too, if we really look.

But we’ve got  to be willing to bend.

The first thing to go….

She started eating grasshoppers in her 112th Dog Year of life.  I guess when you’re that old, you have run out of new things to try.

She stalks the live ones sunning themselves in the middle of the street in her stealthily wobbly beagle way, determined and low to the ground until she is close enough to pounce.  Stalking the dead ones is easier. Her new hobby has made walking her both more interesting and frustrating since there are some days when her walks take twice as long for the humans at the other end of the leash.  But I’ll say this.  She is the best Grasshopper Dog I’ve ever seen and if there was a Grasshopper hunting season she would be in high demand.

On our daily walks, she will not eat the brown Wooly Bear caterpillars and will barely even make eye contact with them. This is sad. They would be so much easier for her to catch.  They rarely jump. Maybe it is a texture thing. Perhaps she just likes that satisfying “crunch” a grasshopper makes when she bites down on it. Or maybe it’s the thrill of the chase for a hound no longer able to chase much.

Maggie is deaf and lame and is becoming more and more forgetful in her old age. This makes her a perfect companion for the two of us still left at home since our kids say the same thing about us sometimes.  Every morning after she has been fed her breakfast and let outside, by the time she comes back in the house she has completely forgotten that she’s had breakfast.  And she isn’t pretending.  She really, truly cannot remember that she’s just eaten. She is living the same ten minutes of her life over and over, all day, every day.  Her day looks like this. Get up.  Eat.  Go outside. Come inside.  Then, using a form of beagle telepathy, try to convince the human lady who not only has thumbs (thumbs!)  but knows how to open the door that the dog food bin lives behind to open it and feed her again.

She is more than just a little annoying and if there was a nice nursing home for Beagles with advanced hardening of the arteries, I’d pack up her stuffed toys and haul her there tomorrow.  Unfortunately, I think we’re probably stuck with the old girl.

Last Saturday  was cold and drizzly,  a perfect day to make soup.  I started a big kettle of chicken soup and let it simmer on the stove for most of the afternoon. Is there anything that smells better than soup on the stove in early autumn? Once it was done,  I decided to transfer it to a crock pot.

I set the pot on the counter and began to pour the boiling liquid into it slowly so as not to splash broth all over the kitchen.  Suddenly, I realized that the soup was leaking from the bottom of the pot!  Leaking from the bottom? How could that be?

I looked more closely and then it hit me. I had completely forgotten to put the ceramic CROCK in the pot before pouring in the soup.  I use that crock pot at least twice a week during the autumn and winter months for stews, and soups and all things warm.  It is my crock pot.  I know that the inner crock comes out for cleaning.  And yet, there I was…..watching chicken broth pool on the counter and slowly creep toward the edge (and the floor below) while I tried to figure out how to get everything to the kitchen sink without scalding myself in the process.

As I cleaned up the hot mess, I sensed the presence of someone else in the kitchen.

The dog was watching me.  Worriedly.  Knowingly.

Yes, Maggie.  Me, too.  Maybe both of our mental hard drives are full.

On our next walk together, I promise not to be impatient.  Hunting grasshoppers is about all either one of us have left.  You just take all the time you need if it makes you feel better about this aging thing.   I’ll wait.

And when you catch one I won’t even make you share.