Grateful

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Last evening as I was picking my way down a rutted forest road I had to stop to let three enormous javelinas cross the road.  This is the first time I’ve seen javelinas, although I’ve smelled them, and I’ve seen their lying-down places where they rest.

I had no idea that javelinas range so far north.  I thought they were a Texas and Mexican border kind of thing, but I guess not.

Javelinas are the northern cousins of the peccary, a wild and voracious pig that travels in packs and eats anything alive that it can overpower, even adult humans.  I was trekking with a native guide through the jungle in Costa Rica when we smelled the peculiar and disgusting aroma of peccary.  We tiptoed as close as the guide felt safe, staying downwind.  If the pigs got a whiff of us, the guide said, we would be dinner.

There must have been thirty of them, with a huge boar standing sentry.  That herd of pigs could run us over and make a meal of us in seconds, he said.  So we tiptoed back the way we had come, avoiding the horrible trees with long sharp spikes all over their trunks. 

Who can have read or seen the movie “Old Yeller” that does not vividly recall the terrifying fight between Yeller and the javelinas (I think they call them “wild boars”)?  Poor Old Yeller got himself tusked up pretty bad.

I thought of that last night at dusk, when I found a decent camping spot not very far from where the wild pigs crossed the road.  Atina fretted because I wouldn’t let her out after dark.  She would be no match for a hungry, angry, or frightened tusker.

I actually ate wild pig once.  My first ex-husband’s folks lived in South Florida.  They (the folks) ate anything they could catch.  Kind of like javelinas, come to think of it.

By the time he was a year old, my son had eaten (raw tuna, but that’s normal) fried squirrel (pretty good, actually), pheasant, wild duck, fried alligator tail (very much like chewing on an old tire, vaguely reminiscent of fish), javelina, crawdads, and who knows what else.  I tried not to look.  (He lived through it, and acquired a taste for weird and disgusting food.)

Some distant relatives threw a party out in the bush.  They owned a ranch, so they took a couple of days off and barbecued a whole cow and a couple of whole pigs.

One of the teenage sons trapped wild pigs in a pit trap, hauled them out of the pit, popped them into a pen, and fattened them up for eating for a month or so.

Normally javelinas are very tough, because they have to travel long distances, and they have to work for their food, subsisting on acorns, and anything they can root up or catch, such as household pets and small children.

Fattened up javelinas taste mighty good.  Tender and sweet, but not kosher.

At the ranch barbecue, the eating was all done outside in the blazing South Florida sun.  There was a large pole building right near the barbecue pit, but we weren’t allowed to congregate in there, for inside the barn was a gigantic U-shaped assemblage of banquet tables groaning with “salads,” the kind made of canned fruit ruined with gobs of pink or green colored Kool Whip, and punctuated with contrasting colored tiny marshmallows.  Some of the endless variations on this theme were sprinkled with toasted coconut.  I believe they call this “Ambrosia.”

Much more interesting were the tables laden with every kind of pie: blackberry, mulberry, cherry, lemon,  chocolate cream, banana cream, and my personal favorite, Shoo-fly pie.  Shoo-fly pie, if you haven’t had it, is all about the thick layer of molasses that blankets a rich, flaky crust on the bottom.  The crust and molasses are baked slowly till the molasses thickens.  Then a layer of vanilla custard is poured on top, the pie is cooled, and topped with whipped cream (or not).  The result is that the molasses kind of makes its way up through the custard, resulting in a delightful variety of tastes and textures.  Shoo-fly pie, yum.  Forbidden to diabetics.

Regrettably, we must return now to the present.

After two days of cardiology testing, Atina and I decided to do the old splitsky into the woods.  It’s Memorial Day Weekend, so I’m pretty sure that most of the good spots are taken by three day weekend revelers.  So I studied the Forest Service map and picked a likely looking road.

It took some searching, but voila, the photo above shows you the delightful camping spot I found, with a fine view of the San Francisco Peaks, which are the Westernmost boundary of the Navajo tribal lands, marked by four sacred mountains.

We’re sitting right about 8,000 feet, elevation wise.  Glad I filled the propane tank; it’s gonna be a cold night.

A Cautionary Tail

Donald started sitting in with our band.  At first I was pissed because everything about him was sloppy, including his guitar playing.  He banged away with abandon, juking his head around like a rocker.  We played Irish music, not rock. 

I knew J.J. wouldn’t let just anybody into the band, so I didn’t say anything.  Saying something might lead to several days of stony silence from J.J., which I both resented and feared.

After a few practice sessions it dawned on me: Donald’s wild thrashing was nevertheless in tune and on time.  He provided the solid backbeat the gave our other guitarist, Dave, the room to solo. 

Dave was a respectable flat-picker. 
He also brewed killer ale.  Brewing back then was not the snobbish high tech fad that it is today.

In the ’70’s beer was made the regular way, with a largish ceramic crock, some water, canned hopped malt, regular beer yeast, and a layer of cheesecloth tied over the top to prevent wild yeast, bacteria, mice, and small children from getting in.

Once the beer began to “work,” making a disgusting cap of brownish foam on the top, caring for it became a collective labor among the residents of the house.  Whoever happened to walk by the crock, if there happened to be scum on top, he skimmed it.

But this is not a mere diversion.  The beer was what brought Donald in the first place.  It was at one of the delirious parties at Jacob’s.  Through a thick haze of Morgan’s Ale, his guitar playing seemed outrageous and just the thing.

Once J.J. brought him home to practice, it seemed like a done deal.

Only thing was, he was always doing disgusting things, like eating his boogers.  Jeezis, I cannot stand that type of thing.  If I were the vomiting type, there would have been even more of a mess.

How relieved I was when Donald announced he was going to Ireland to learn to play the concertina!  Thanks to all that is divine!

The night before he was to fly to Ireland, I am sorry to say, he came over to light farts with J.J. 

The Morgan’s Ale was flowing, and the two of them were in hysterics, making torches out of their asses.  I went upstairs to hide.

Suddenly violent screams burst out downstairs.  I ran down to see what the emergency was, and cheeses k. reist if Donald didn’t try to one-up J.J. by taking off his underwear! 

Now Donald had–HAD–a very hairy ass, which went up like a torch when ignited by his gas jet.  He received bad burns to his delicate parts. We transported him to the small town hospital in the back of the car, face-down, butt-naked on top of the sofa cushions.

He couldn’t change his plane ticket, so after his convalescence he booked a flight to Newfoundland.  I secretly snickered at that.  I lived in Maine for a few years.  One of the great Maine forms of entertainment was to trade Newfie jokes, like this one:

“If there are two kids playing in a sandbox, and one of em’s a Newfie, how do you know which one?”

“I don’t know, how?”

“It’s the one the cat’s trying to cover up…”

Both: “HAHAHAHAHAHA!”

Well.

The moral is, if you’re going to light farts, keep your underwear on.

You’re probably wondering what ever did happen to Donald.

He enjoyed New Foundland so tremendously that he went for a hike in the interior, failing to bring with him any water, map, compass, or any other of the Ten Essentials.  Of course he got lost, was not found for several days. After an extensive search, he was discovered, dehydrated, hungry, and hypothermic.  It gets cold at night above the Arctic Circle.

We received letters from Donald (letters!) every few weeks.  Then the letters stopped.  In a very brief and scratchy transatlantic telephone conversation, Donald related how, by the time he recovered from his case of exposure, the sea ice had locked Newfoundland in.  No ships could get out or in.   Airplanes weren’t flying; it was too cold.  He would be back in the Spring.

Spring came, and no Donald.  Married a Newfie girl, gonna have a little Newfie of their own!

All’s well that ends well.

Just remember what I told you…

Sick Day

Wouldn’t you know it.

I have had a maintenance appointment for my van this morning, but….

I’ve been feeling weird for a few days.  Had an “upset stomach” last week, treated with Imodium and cannabis tincture, got OK in a few hours.

Past few days I’ve been seeing some blood in my stools, but that does happen now and then.  I’ve got Crohn’s Disease, after all.  Fortunately a mild case.  I’m grateful for that!

Last night I felt beat.  I chalked that up to long pleasant walks with My Girl Atina.  Had a simple dinner of soup and went to bed at eight.

I awakened at 6 with a start.  Freezing cold.  Well, it WAS freezing cold, since I am low on propane and had to triage between the gas fridge and the heater.  The fridge won.  So it was pretty damn cold this morning.

Suddenly I realized why I was awake at that ridiculous hour:  I needed the bathroom, and right now!

Fortunately my bathroom is right next to the bed, so I hopped in there….

Sorry to be gross, and I won’t be upset if you stop reading now.  In fact, I won’t even know if you stop reading now, so proceed at your own risk.

There is a certain vile stench that rises off of bloody stool.  Those who have smelled it know what I mean.

If I were not the kind of person who would rather die than puke, there would have been a terrible mess.

Imodium doesn’t stop this kind of thing.  Blood is very irritating to the digestive tract.  Imodium does seem to help the cramps and spasticity, so I use it.  I’m on my third.  Can’t take more than four a day.  As it is, after this episode has passed, my gut will be paralyzed.  I won’t crap for four or five days, at least, and then I might have a normal week or two. 

Now my belly is lying there on top of me all pooched out, full of borborygmi (oh God I love that word!  Borborygmus, singular; borborygmi, plural.  Def: bowel sounds that are audible with the naked ear)–in my case, audible across the room.

Last time, we had a little conversation about farts.  Remember?

Good.  Well, people, I know there are those among you who KNOW that dreadful feeling…is it really a fart?  Or is it…something else….

Yes, it certainly could be something else….let us get to the bathroom…quick….

Oh dear.

Let’s look on the bright side: at least I’m disabled, so I don’t have to worry about calling in sick.

But I just did call in sick to the mechanic!  Oh brother.

I’ve been halashing (that’s Jewish for “longing,” more or less) to do some volunteer work.  What I really want to do is to read aloud to little kids, homeless people, nursing home residents, people stuck in the damn hospital….anyone who wants to hear the magic of a book. 

To me, books are the most tangible evidence of humanity.  There is magic in the visual arts, but those could have been done by angels.  No angel could write a book.  They are too concrete, angels.  Come to think of it, an angel could never make good art.  You have to break the rules to make really good art.  Angels are programmed.  They can’t break the rules.

Ugh, my belly hurts.  Now I have to find my heat pack and put it in the microwave.  And burn some fucking incense.  Atina’s been licking her ass again.  The bathroom is stinking the place up.  God, I can’t wait till this blows over.

Not Camping Here

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I think it was once a skunk.  It doesn’t smell like skunk, but then it is a bit aged.  I’m inclined to think it was a skunk; otherwise it would have been totally eaten by now.

I am impressed at the length of its spine.  And its feet are not prehensile, like those of a possum.  I have never seen a possum corpse just lying around.  They’re good eatin’, I hear.  Maybe that’s why you never see them: the carrion eaters clean-up crew get to them first.

In my youth I had a friend who had a family to feed, but no money.

He was a practical man.  Whenever he found a fresh road kill that wasn’t too mangled, he’d take it home, clean it, and put it in his enormous deep freeze.  They’d make possum stew, raccoon stew, and if lucky and careful of the law, deer stew.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

To show the possum that it could be done.

I was exhausted, so I did camp there for one night.  In the evening, when the air currents lie low, is the best time for scent tracking.  Atina’s eyes grow wolfish when she latches onto a scent–in this case, skunk perfume!  I followed along as she was tracking, and soon I caught whiffs of eau du striped kitty.  Uh-oh, I see their burrows!  Yikes, let’s get out of here!

Atina has her nose buried in one of the burrows-oh no! What will I do if she gets skunk sprayed?

I couldn’t let her in the van.  What could I do?  I don’t have a crate I could put outside.  And Little Miss has not spent a single night away from me since she bounced into my life last July.  Even if I had a crate, imagine her misery if I left her outside!

And then what?

How would I get her somewhere with water for washing?  I would have to take her to the vet, but that would mean stinking up the van…

Let me tell you, skunk spray is a complex stink bomb.  It’s made of a cocktail of volatile oils that penetrate absolutely everything. I wish my perfumes lasted that long!  I’m talking about the perfumes I make.  I could take a lesson from the skunks!

There’s no way to isolate it, and there is really no way to remove it, since the volatile oils penetrate skin and hair.  And wood, leather, fabrics….everything.

All the classic skunk stink remedies like bathing in tomato juice, lemon juice, etc, merely mask the eau de skunk with something else, making it more tolerable for a few hours.

I quickly decided that since skunk mitigation would be impossible, the better part of wisdom would be to scram.

We did.  First thing in the morning….and I am relieved to say, without skunk disasters.

Everyone Knows It’s Windy

Ahem.  Yes.  1967.  I was 13.  Remember 1967? 

It’s windy.  Today and yesterday, in NOAZ (that’s what they call Northern Arizona), upon wave of wind up to 50 miles an hour!

The sky is a perfect blue diamond.  I’m surrounded by forest, Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, some kind of Spruce.

The waves of wind from the South-Southwest pile up on that majestic escarpment, the Mogollon Rim, and spill over into the Coconino Plateau, which rides above the Rim like a giant plate rising to 8,000 feet before cracking in half to form the Grand Canyon.

And I, in my tiny RV, with my not so tiny canine pal Atina, had a choice to either go crazy in the two days (so far) of relentless waves of wind, or…or not.

At times the wind rocks the RV so hard, I think it’s going to tip over.

Atina thinks so too.  I can tell by the way she clings to me and farts.  As I write she is wrapped around my leg with her ass in my face, farting great clouds of evil fumes.  At the risk of being covered in red volcanic dust, I have had to open the window.

Every three or four minutes, another wave of wind-here it comes now-roars through the tree tops and through my window.  Atina sleeps, heaves a big sigh, farts.

I’ve been nervously checking my NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) high-definition radar app for any approaching precipitation.  This volcanic soil, when rained upon, becomes a treacherous soup of slippery mud.  If the soil becomes saturated, it can turn into quicksand.  So I watch the sky and keep track of the aviation forecasts.

I’ve always loved weather.  When I was 10 or so, a gigantic tornado passed right over our house.  We were listening to a record on the old record player.  Suddenly there was a deafening roar.  The dog dove under the couch.  The lights flickered.  The phonograph slowed eerily to a halt.  The lights went out.  The roar passed overhead…we thought it was a low flying jet, but strange… Then the lights came back on, the record player started up again, the dog came out from under the couch, and everything went back to normal.

The next morning my mother and I went to the laundromat.  It wasn’t there.  Just nothing but the concrete pad it was built on.

The mile-wide tornado sheared the city of Toledo, Ohio, off at second-story level and dumped it into Lake Erie.
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My father and I were big buddies.  We used to pack a lunch, a frying pan, a little bag of corn meal, a couple slices of bacon, and our fishing tackle, and we’d go fishing.

Dad taught me to fly fish.  I was good at catching twigs from overhanging trees.  We never caught anything, but we did forbidden things like chewing tobacco (yecch) and smoking corncob pipes (blecch). 

We did better fishing in ponds, where we caught pan fish: crappie, sunfish, bluegill–cleaned and scaled them on the spot.  Dad taught me how to make a small cooking fire, and we’d fry the bacon, roll the fish in cornmeal, and fry them in the bacon fat.  A delectable feast.  We ate them, fins, tails, and all.  Crunchy.

We went surf casting in the ocean, using long heavy rods baited with 8-10 inch long Styrofoam lures called Atoms, bristling with hooks, in hope of catching a bluefish and not getting bitten.

Once I was in a rowboat in Narragansett Bay with my friend Becky.  The bluefish were running, a huge school of them, so many that it seemed the boat was riding on top of waves of bluefish instead of waves of water.

We happened to have fishing poles, so we threw a line in, without bait, just bare hooks.  Becky hooked one immediately, and it fought so hard it took both of us to get it into the boat.

(Breaking news: Atina just puked.  She’s such a good girl, she urgently asks to go outside when she has to puke.  It was the Malinois Empty Stomach kind of puke, so I just fed her.)

We got the angry bluefish into the boat.  It thrashed and snapped, jumping around in the bottom of the dory.  Bluefish have a mouthful of deadly sharp teeth.  They can take a finger off, and bluefish bites seem to always get infected.

Becky yelled, “Hold into him, there’s a club in this boat somewhere!”

It was her father’s dory.  He was an avid fisherman, so there had to be a club in the boat, for whacking fish over the head.  That’s how you kill a fish.

She had to find the club, because the only other choice was to throw the fish overboard and cut the line.

But this could not be done without getting bitten, because a dory is a deep sort of boat.

No luck with the club, so we pulled one of the oars and whacked the fish to death, but then a wave came along and snatched the oar; and we were forced to paddle back to shore with one oar, which was not an easy task.

In normal conditions, if deprived of an oar, a person would jump into the sea and push or pull the boat ashore; but the sea was filled with snapping bluefish, so we managed, after a long time, to get the boat to land, more worried about what Becky’s father would say about the lost oar than anything.  Becky’s father was a kind man; he didn’t say anything.  He was a man of few words.  Not so, her mother.

One bright blue morning, Dad and I packed up our surf casting gear and headed out for Horseneck Beach to try our luck.  Somebody had told somebody else, who had told Dad that the bluefish might be running.

By the time we got to the beach, it was starting to cloud up.  Nevertheless we hauled our tackle to the shore and threw a line in.

The tide seemed to be coming in strong, although by the tide tables it should have been turning, just at the end of going out and starting to come in (“neap tide,” in fisherman’s terms).  High tide wasn’t for a good few hours yet.

But we cast our lines and tried to smoke, he his cigar and I my Balkan Sobranies, daring black cigarettes with gold leaf where the filter would have been, if there had been a filter, which there wasn’t.  By this time it was impossible to smoke, as the wind kept putting our smokes out.  So we put them away and turned our attention to trying to get our lures in the water.

But the wind, which was now howling like a banshee, kept throwing our lures back in our faces along with sheets of rain and salt spray.  We decided to pack it in and go have lunch.

We threw our fishing gear into the back of Dad’s Ford pickup and wallowed through the driving rain to a nearby fishermen’s bar that served the best conch chowder ever.

The scratchy t.v.was on.

When we came through the door, soaking wet, stamping our dripping boots on the mat, the boys at the bar said,

“What in the world have you two been doin’ out THEYAH?  In the middle of this hurricane?  You-ah lucky you didn’t get taken by a storm wave!”

Hurricane?  HURRICANE!  Nobody said anything about a hurricane.

The lights went out, and the barkeep lit kerosene lanterns.  Dad ordered us beers (yes, I was only fourteen, but the law was that a minor could drink if accompanied by a parent), and we lit fresh smokes.  The fishermen looked on approvingly.  We ordered hot conch chowder, and crumbled Common Crackers, which the barkeep scooped from a barrel, into the rich stew.

It made us forget, temporarily, that we were soaking wet.

(For you who did not grow up in New England in the ’60’s or before, Common Crackers, also known as Ship’s Biscuits, are rounds of flour, water, and baking soda, slowly baked until completely dehydrated, and dangerous to teeth unless broken up into chowder.  They keep indefinitely when stored in an airtight container, and thus were taken on long sea voyages on whaling ships.  As long as they don’t get wet they are good practically forever.)

After the wind died down some, we hydroplaned for a couple of hours till we got home.  My mother was frantic.  No cell phones in those days.  For all she knew (she wailed, through tears), we could have been taken by a storm wave.

Mom seldom approved of our adventures.  That’s one reason we seldom took her along.

The wind-waves seem to be slowing down now.  The NOAA weather discussion said it was going to, but I don’t trust it, as that’s what it said last night and today was worse than yesterday.

So I’ll keep on recollecting pleasant memories of dangerous adventures that turned out good.  Atina and I are warm and dry, and we’ve got plenty of food and water, without bluefish…although they are very tasty.

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My father, with a giant pot that he made for a demonstration at some art school or other.  Note that the pot is wearing his apron and hat.  He was 5’8″, so that gives you an idea of the size of this pot.

Below on the far left are a salt glazed porcelain teapot and vase that he made.  The rest of the pots were made by his former graduate students.  From a show in 2001 more or less.  I hope he’s playing in mud in Potter’s Heaven now…and enjoying a good conch chowdah, with a good cigar for dessert.

An Anorexic’s Nightmare

I’ve been out of touch.

Quite literally.

My waking hours are wasted spent “running to doctors,” as my grandmother of blessed memory would have put it.

So many doctors, so little time.

And the striking thing, the thing that literally renders me speechless, is that none of them ever touch me.

Not even with gloves on.

They “listen” to my heart and lungs through the three layers of clothes on my torso: camisole, tee, and blouse. 

I’ll let you in on a trade secret: the stethoscope has to go on bare skin.  Otherwise all you hear are three layers of cloth moving against each other: scritch, scritch, scritch.

They don’t look into my eyes, nose, or mouth, although volumes are written there.

Nor do they palpate my abdomen, which, if they did, would give them a surprise, since I have a couple of tender masses in there.  In fact, my erstwhile gastroenterologist, who had it firmly in her mind that I had IBS before she examined me, mashed into my belly like a jackhammer, and while she watched me peel myself off the ceiling, she mumbled, “Hmmmm.”  Yet she did not question her diagnosis.  I fired her.

I got a shock the other day when I requested a copy of my latest MRI from a specialist who had only touched the affected part of my body one single time, out of the several times I’ve seen him.  On that first visit he did pretend to listen to my heart and lungs.  I had a sweater on that day in addition to the above mentioned layers, so his exam was extra special.

When I picked up my MRI report, the receptionist handed me a copy of the clinic notes from my most recent visit.

It said:

“Well developed, well nourished white female in no acute distress. 
Pupils symmetrically reactive.  Cranial nerves grossly intact.  Trachea midline without deviation.  No jugular venous distension.  Heart: S1, S2 normal, no friction rub or gallop.  Lungs clear to auscultation and percussion without wheeze or rales.  Abdomen soft, non-tender, no masses…..”

In short, whether or not you know the jargon, here is an entire “normal physical exam,” none of which was ever done. 

This is the gift of EMR, Electronic Medical Records.  It provides a default “normal” physical exam, altered only if the provider inputs other findings.  One would think that this amounts to falsifying medical records, wouldn’t one?

When I was a medical student, we (or at least I; I can’t speak for the other students) practiced this catechism of normal findings, writing it longhand over and over until I had it memorized in my sleep.  That way we knew what was normal and what was not.

There were two differences, though: in my day we actually wrote things in paper charts.  We had to write really fast, so our notes looked like this:

“WDWNWF in NAD C/O SOB x4H”

Translation:

“Well developed, well nourished white female in no acute distress complains of shortness of breath for the past four hours.”

The other difference is that we actually laid hands on the patient.  We had them undress and put on a gown so we could lay the stethoscope on their chest and close our eyes and listen for those subtleties and nuances of the music the heart makes.  I remember silently cursing chest hair: scritch, scritch, scritch….

And if we didn’t examine something, we wrote: NE (not examined).  But we were not allowed to not examine something, unless the patient objected, in which case we wrote:  PUC (Patient Uncooperative)!

Although we are no longer allowed to describe physical findings in strings of acronyms (although we are apparently allowed to falsify that we actually examined the patient), there is one acronym I will never let go of, especially now that I am getting some practice being a patient.  It is:

WNL

Which is supposed to stand for

“Within Normal Limits”

When I was a student we had an inside joke that WNL actually stood for

“We Never Looked”

Only nowadays, it’s no joke.

Oh yes.  The Anorexic’s Nightmare.

I lost two inches because my spine in collapsing.  Therefore, my BMI is now 25!!!!   I’m suddenly overweight! 

How did this happen?

It’s not fair!  It was that rice I ate yesterday.  That must have been it.  Oh, wait!  I ate a cookie!  Gaaaaaa!  And I’m not bulimic, so I can’t do a thing about it! 

Gaaaaaa!!!