In my words, June 24 – 30

I’m staying in the South Mountain with Dad. His cat, Cachito and I play in the yard. Sometimes I hide behind a cedar and he hides behind a cedar. We peek at each other until I run and he runs after catching up with his paws wrapped round my ankles. He doesn’t know my sister saw a great horned owl in her headlights with a cat in its talons the other night. I’ve only seen a great horned owl once, years ago, when I was walking in the snowy woods. I thought it was a bobcat with pointed ears, staring right at me, its white and brown coat blending in. All at once, no longer camouflaged, the owl took off spreading its graceful wide wings effortlessly through the trees.

Walking in the woods today, I was almost killed, but not by an owl. I’d been thinking about my grandmother and a hymn she used to play on the piano pounding on the keys and pedals. I couldn’t remember the words and hummed and clapped loosening my memory to sing: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Again I forgot how it went, and hummed and clapped to the chorus, when the words came out of me as naturally as the breath they floated in, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

I could hear Grandma singing in the parlor as I walked out of the mountain onto the highway wondering what the people passing by in their cars must think of me clapping my hands and singing alone along a highway miles from anywhere or anyone. “Did they think I was nuts?” I thought to myself as I began to cross the road, seeing no traffic coming toward me, and moving to look in the other direction, a car passing a car whizzed by at eighty miles an hour, not visibly; it was a whoosh of wind, a startling sound, a blur come and gone in front of my nose so fast and close had I moved just an inch more onto the road, I would have turned into what was coming, smashed on the windshield like a fly, wondering what people thought of me as I died. A clump of Queen Anne’s Lace fluttering with butterflies in the gust of wind shivered and nodded its whites heads in silent affirmation and acceptance, so alike and delicate, yet each entirely different, the flowers suddenly like an embroidery, a curtain I could have reached over and pulled back to reveal what was really behind.

It’s night. Cachito looks out at the dark, studying the lawn. He smells and flips onto the porch a delicate slate-gray snake with a yellow ring around its neck that I pick up and let go into the safe dark yard again. If I had died today, so would the snake without me here to save it, and these words written this afternoon wouldn’t be here either: The quiet pond wrote a V when the water spider skidded forth, a V here, V there, the same V that geese make flying south. When a swallow swooped for a quick nip or a bass rose with its wide mouth, an O spread over the depths. A rippling snake was making an S. The water shimmered reflections of the trees and sky writing O VOS to me politely in Latin, the plural you. I felt welcomed and said, “Thank you.” This was why I write I knew. To say thank you. I was an endless thank you.

Almost all of the sentences above I wrote in August of 2001, a few weeks before 9/11. My parents were visiting friends out west and I was tending the house for them. Cachito was my playful kitten getting used to a lawn and a forest, but when Mom was dying in 2008, I let him stay with Dad for company; and they fell in love; and the cat of course loves to hunt; I don’t think he misses New York much. A lot of things haven’t changed; the fireflies come out at night blinking their light and in the morning the dew is shining. The ground hogs are still here and from time to time wild turkeys hurry and lower their heads disappearing into the shrubbery. This morning at dawn I saw a young buck in the field barely visible in the near dark although when he reared his white tail up he was easy to follow when he ran. There must be a lot of deer; this week I saw four dead, bloated road kill. A doe was hit right across from the house. It took me four phone calls to find the folks who came and took the unfortunate deer away.

Dad turned 88 Thursday. On Wednesday I drove him to the VA hospital to have his toenails cut and feet checked (his blood there is flowing fine) so Dad was in a good mood preparing for the birthday party I was throwing for him. He cleared off the dining room table of all books, papers and correspondence, cleaned out the litter box, and had a shower. Before the party, I cleaned the carport; swept and hosed it down along with the tables and chairs, then off to the kitchen to cook baked beans, Sloppy Joe’s and a pasta salad with mushrooms, vegetables and parsley for Aunt Audrey who is a vegetarian, though as it turned out, she has one meat barbecue a year and my Sloppy Joe was the one she was choosing. I did let the hamburger simmer for several hours with tomatoes, celery and onions more of a Bolognese; the meat wasn’t sweet because I didn’t put brown sugar in like the Pennsylvania Dutch do; there would be enough of that in the baked beans.

All the cards Dad got he put on the table where they remain Sunday evening. He also made a list of all who called to wish him Happy Birthday and that is on the table too. I think because he often spends days alone with only a cat to talk to, all the attention made him feel that he’s something special. Outside the window crows are cawing. With all the cooking I’ve been doing I’ve been putting the leftovers up in the field so it’s not only Dad who is happy that he’s still here.

I took a walk up the mountain on what we still call the Fire Tower Road although there hasn’t been a fire tower at the top for many years now. Just as I started about a quarter of a mile up, I noticed some beetles I’d never seen before with shells that had a yellow oval on them. Inside the yellow was a black oval too; three beetles with an eye staring at me. They were sucking on the oozings of a dead ring-neck snake that had been run over by a car wheel and I said to the art deco insects, “You better watch it or you’re going to wind up like the guy you’re eating.”

When we were kids, my brother Scott, my sister Cathy and I used to walk up this road, climb the fire tower to the top and go inside the cabin lookout that had windows all around where the old forest ranger sat, a man who might have been retired, and we’d look over the mountainside down to both Lancaster and Lebanon Valleys searching for fires. There are radio towers there now, locked and fenced in. I sat on some rocks looking down toward Lancaster and read some of Alfred Corn’s The Poem’s Heartbeat, an insightful book on prosody; and worked on some poems of my own. Walking down the mountain later, I checked the beetles again eating at the snake. They seemed to be living, but then I noticed that they were moving strangely, and in fact were dead, crushed by another car wheel as they feasted, carried now by many little ants, much wiser not to stay and eat, but take the dinner home with them; how jaggedly, even abstractly the beautiful beetles moved as the ants tussled with them carrying them off the road.

As I put my nose in milkweed blossoms
their resemblance to lilacs reminding
me now of the cold early spring sniffing
up the heavy fragrance happily some
bees move around me in such a good mood
none of them try to sting and keep humming
along my skin and the flower grazing
and finding there what will be honey food.
Fluttering butterfly startling my eyes
sticks its slender black thin proboscis in
the abundant overflowing. Walking
home patchouli’s in the air, a surprise
that’s wonderful because I like the smell
but if you don’t, it must be living hell.

Eternity is my favorite poem by Hart Crane. And I love Tennessee Williams’ expert reading of it; the narrator could be a character from one of his plays. It seems fitting to end with it.


  1. To me you're a Thoreau of the New Millennium 😉

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