Thursday, August 25, 2011

Take a chance; I dare you

How many chances does one get in life, as allotted by God, or the powers that be -- those unseen forces moving behind life like stagehands doing what the big director tells them? It stands to reason, if you spend any time reasoning within the confines of faith, that chances are predetermined, or fixed. ( **Feel free to attack this question from a non-religious angle. We're all friends here.)

Chances don’t breed with other chances, they just exist until used up, or get missed. All but for a short time chances embody possibility, potential; and then they vanish into the dust storm of yesterday.

Is there a jar of chances up there with your name on a shelf, and it’s left up to you to take them at your leisure? Is it up to you to decide when to take a chance?

If you could count chances I bet it’s pretty hard. How many chances might be waiting up there in the jar? In great numbers they look like a thousand tasty jelly beans. What’s so difficult about taking a jelly bean? Are you intent on saving it up for later? You don’t get to save chances up for later, or store them up by not taking them. When they’re gone, they’re gone.

And who doesn’t feel the pain when they’ve missed a chance? It’s palpable, like a bad taste in your mouth. Your heart aches and the anguish stays with you forever, like a parasite. Before leaving, missed chances mix up a little batch of festering regret for later.

People don’t know how many chances are left in their jars. If I could see mine I’d beg for more chances to love, to care, to give, to connect, to laugh, to try, to fail, to impress, to relax, to let my guard down, to hold a hand, to hug my kids, to see things, to share things, to write things, to taste things, to open up to living.

Take a chance, dammit; take them all!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Snakes and shovels

Our house is in the Echo Hills area of Lewiston. It’s snake country. I notched another kill on the shovel tonight after I dispatched the slithering serpent there to the left.

It's been a while between kills, though. We'd gotten used to not seeing them around, so it's still a shock when one starts buzzing at you. The kids play outside all the time, and our dog Fletcher is outside a lot too.

A few summers back I notched no fewer than 13 kills on my shovel, and buried 13 rattlesnake heads in the back yard with the very same shovel. My neighbors killed some snakes too. Debbie killed two (her stories of snake warfare were like epic tales of battle told around a campfire). Nigel killed six or seven (he liked to go door to door and display the pissed off snakes still wiggling, secured in clamps; he kept the tails). And Jason bagged a couple (he preferred a pellet gun with an attached high powered scope to dispatch his fanged quarry from a distance). Notches were my trophies, displayed right there on my trusty shovel, like a World War II fighter ace displays kills on a plane’s fuselage. We agreed that a den had obviously been disrupted that spring when a new home was built above us on the hillside, accounting for higher than average snake numbers.

My kids received a quick education in snake recognition: 1) buzzing, coiled, head like a balled up fist, pissed off: rattlesnake; 2) slender, yellowish, skinny head, normal tail: bull snake. Either way, get dad. Bull snakes control rodent populations and occasionally hunt rattlesnakes; we spared them and offered complimentary relocation.

One evening the sun was setting. Long shadows extended like blankets across the road as my kids and I spent some time together in the front yard. We liked to play catch, soccer, tag, or whatever. I noticed three robins in the road and went back to playing.

A couple minutes passed and the robins were still in the road chirping, but more like barking dogs than musically like they often do. That’s when I saw the snake. The birds had formed a triangle around it like a zone defense, keeping their distance but nonetheless shadowing it all the way across the street, driving the deaf reptile like cowboys drive a stray steer. I hadn’t noticed the deadly snake before. The asphalt and diminished light served to conceal it from sight. The robins were arranged on the road in such a way as to draw my eye into the middle of their formation, to the venomous snake slithering across the road.

So I grabbed my shovel and applied the business end to the serpent’s head, clobbering it a few times and then methodically slicing its head off with the dull edge of the spade. Not a quick and clean cut like King Louis the XVI’s and Marie Antoinette’s guillotine, however sufficient enough for the purposes at hand. The buzzing tip at the other end lost most of its prior intensity, but managed to give a few more half conscious and dazed reports, refusing to die, and then it was over. It’s important to separate the head from a poisonous snake and bury it; dogs rifle through trash cans and still risk getting punctured by the venomous fangs, and possibly die.

Maybe it’s standard robin procedure when dealing with snakes––a tactic––but it felt like they were doing me a favor. The birds didn’t stick around to watch. Like classic heroes of yesteryear, they were long gone before they could be thanked personally. Of the 13 kills that summer, the birds and their odd behavior make that encounter stand out a little more than others. It was bad too. The snakes were in the driveway, on the road, in the plants, along the fence line, and in the grass. Thankfully, however, one snake at a time.

The venomous buzzworms are out there, you remind yourself—and especially your kids—but our senses dull when we don't see them that often. Today we got a reminder, and I'm thankful for the coiled up package it came in.

The mind wanders

A gentle brook gurgled and lolled through a tree lined bank filled with overgrowth, under us and around us as we sat in the former west and eastbound lanes of the abandoned Indian Timothy Memorial Bridge west of Clarkston, Washington. Cement barricades were set to remind everyone that this structure wasn’t safe for driving anymore. Weddings, though, were okay. Humming birds drank up the last of summer’s nectar in the low trees and watched the ceremony below, hovering like helicopters and then darting away. A single dragon fly traversed the span between arches in anything but a hurry. It loitered there, taking its time as altitude was gained and soon he was out of sight over a tree. Candles lined each side under the arches. Small spiders inspected the flame enclosed in hand-broken glass and scurried in and around the beds of rose petals.

It was a beautiful evening. The site was secluded, intimate, special, and everything was perfect. The bride was exquisite and radiant, the groom youthful and eager.

The mind wanders, though, when the wedding vows are uttered, and when the preacher rattles on about rings. I looked around at the back of strangers’ heads, and looked at the bride and groom, and then looked back at the heads. My attention turned to the sound of the lazy water under foot. The mind wanders. The old bridge made for an excellent metaphor of bringing two lives together across two separate lifetimes. The fact that it was old was peculiar in a way. For most of a century the structure funneled travelers to and fro on Highway 12 as they journeyed home or embarked on new adventures. It has since been sidelined, as it were, out of the way of a newer, wider highway not 50 yards away. A landmark now, but unimportant. Inconsequential. The mind wanders. The peaceful roiling of water under the old bridge meandered the thicket and hidden banks and off towards a glorious steel tube under the “new” road. Into a darkened culvert. The stream now forced to shed its natural charm and accept modern practicality in return. Poetic in a way. Do not all beautiful marriages, over time, yield to the hand of practicality?
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