Lucy Crowe's Nest

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Happy Spring!

Art by Michak Mraz
The rain came in the night, just a whisper on the roof - if you weren’t listening you might miss it, so accustomed had your ears become to the breath of winter.

But here – a different sound, breeze soughing in from the east and calling through the pines like a mourning dove.


And by morning, it was a shout, a crescendo - great sheets of water spilling from a sky the color of mushrooms and forget-me-nots, the tame little village creek bullying and bruising its banks. Willow branches whipped as though the very hand of God stirred them, gutters regurgitated last autumn’s rubble and oldsters began their soliloquy of floods-gone-by.

And then . . . look – the sun.

Puddle-stomping now. The little kids wearing boots, the big kids in tennis shoes and not caring. Ride your bike through the run-off at the base of the hill, sail your milk-jug boat in the swollen ditches, steal your father’s canoe. Feel the cold and clammy winter-fingers clutching the nape of your neck and call it heat. Shed your coat even if it means goosebumps and runny noses.
It is spring and we are alive.

Farmers - to the fields! Squeeze the dirt in your fist, smell the richness, the damp. Lift your chin to the sky and watch for rain, turn the soil, fill the planter boxes. Twenty-four hours a day is not enough time because spring is here.

Nature freaks – to the hills! The bluebells are coming! Tiny spring beauties, blue-eyed Mary peering past her white petals, Dutchmen swarming the hill like a miniature army. Smell the skunk cabbage, sink your feet in the mud, search for the early morel. Dandelions! Pluck them by the handful, sniff them until your nose is yellow. Present them to your mother and she’ll set them in a mason jar on the kitchen table even though they’ll droop by night fall.

It doesn’t matter. It’s spring.

Church people – to your churches! Your Jesus is coming just as surely as the wind changed direction last night. Catholics, get your ashes, eat your fish. Baptists read your bibles. Christians everywhere, get ready, get ready. Dance and sing and be happy together. Hallelujah hallelujah, He lives.

He lives and so do we

Happy Spring!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Back to Life

“Here is the thing,” she said out loud to the cat as she set the ceramic snowmen in the china cupboard. “A lot of time has gone by.”

Four months, to be exact.

She folded lacy paper snowflakes into the desk drawer and hung pastel eggs in their place. Bunnies. Crosses, stark against a crimson sky - the painter’s five-year-old fingers incautious. Shamrocks and tulips and kites.

“Look,” she said to Kitty-Boy. “We’ve gone all the way from Baby Jesus to loaves and fish. That’s thirty-three years. I’m not sure I’m still me.”

Because, well, who the hell was me anyway?

The months of medical leave? Endless, endless. At first the itch to do had been unbearable, but then – at last – a happiness of sorts had come to light on her, fragile and lovely as a Luna moth. For the first time in years, she was well-rested. She visited loved ones whenever she wanted, traveled to Pennsylvania, rode the train to Chicago. She wrote. A lot. Once or twice she even cooked supper.

Who was that strange woman in the kitchen?

“You can’t be an EMT every day, Kitty-Boy. And besides, some people go their whole life and never do CPR. There are people out there who have never dragged hose at a house fire or tumbled out of bed at two a.m. to answer the page. And they don’t miss it; not at all.”

Kitty-Boy would have laughed if he could; what was she trying to talk herself out of?

“When I was little, I wanted to farm like my dad. I wanted to sing like my mom. I wanted to marry the boy next door and maybe raise cattle. But I’ll tell you what, I never thought about dragging bodies out of car wrecks.”

How had it happened? She only knew that when the bug bit her, it bit hard, leaving relationships in tatters, her children howling, her Kitty, for a time, unforgiving. Leaving her . . . stronger. Irrevocably dressed in navy blue, her best footwear combat boots, but stronger.
“Writing could be good for me too, Kitty. I love to write.”

But of course, she could write at the fire station in her spare time; hadn’t she always?

“Sometimes I think dealing with dead people hasn’t been good for me.”

But for each who dies, how many live? “And human interaction is probably a good thing, especially when one has hermitic tendencies.”

Besides. Not to be ghoulish, but she rather missed the traumas.

Kitty Boy sat directly on a new Easter placemat and washed his paws before finally glaring at her.

A human is nothing more than an onion, his gaze said plainly. And I’m not speaking of your precious trauma; I speak of your soul. Don’t be afraid to peel back the layers.

She thought that, indeed, she had probably lingered too long in the company of a know-it-all feline. Time to get back to life.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Through the Wilderness

Sunday Morning at Valley Forge Park
-Pat O' Driscoll Fine Art
“Lancaster, Pennsylvania!” I tug my seat belt in order to sit forward and squint through the lowering gloom at the highway sign. (There are shadows in Pennsylvania unlike anything in my native Illinois. They are large and very dark, composed of trees - lots of trees - and, well, mountains.) “In 1847 Levi Zendt loaded his big Conestoga wagon and left Lancaster. He had six beautiful draft horses pulling it and probably some cheese-making equipment in the back along with his wife, I’m not sure.”

“Levi who?” My hubby asks distractedly; he concentrating on this winding path though the wilderness. (Which is actually a real road, but it doesn’t feel like it with the forest so close all around us.)

“Zendt. Levi Zendt. Centennial? James Michener?”

“James . . ?”  He stops himself, but I am encouraged nonetheless. We have traveled all these long lonely miles to attend a funeral, and I have charged myself with providing distraction.

“Michener. He wrote a lot of really weighty novels. Anyway, Levi Zendt loved those horses a lot. So even though everyone told him ‘Levi, you’ll need oxen for this trip’ he was determined to bring his horses. Guess what? They didn’t make it and he ended up buying oxen anyway.”

Travel was precarious, back in the day; now as well. Outside my window, I’ve lost the moon behind a mountain, and trees are shielding bobcats the size of elephants.

A million miles away, in Illinois, my own kitty is probably crying. He might even be dead from missing me by now, who knows?

But it is lovely here, and history calls from every turn in the road. As though the mountains themselves are tenderly cradling those who have gone before – pilgrims and pioneers, Shawnee and Iroquois and colonists. Washington’s men are spectral shades behind the loblollies; a screech owl’s call blends with a fading rebel yell over Gettysburg and a drummer boy plays in solitude over the next rise in the road. History is lived here – the ground is steeped in the blood of the brave and true. Think of it – layers of muscle and sinew, skin and bone, laid over with tall grass and mountain flowers. Hepaticas tiny, white as pearly teeth in your palm.

We don’t feel history quite so plainly in Illinois, although of course it is there. Generation of farmers on the same chunk of land, and always able to tell you just how Grandpa weathered the Depression with four dollars pinned to the inside of his overalls. Great Aunt Delilah’s china stacked in cupboards and World War One mess kits in basements - and yet we still feel as though we’ve moved forward.

The mountain I travel with my sweetie tonight diminishes us to the size of fleas; it feels as though it must have been here when David played the secret chord, and I can’t decide if I love or hate it.

My cell buzzes and a text ends my ruminating. Kitty is fine, all is well! Be safe!

That’s better. I glance up again just as a hawk swoops close enough to nearly graze the windshield.

Love, hate? Perhaps something closer to awestruck.

Hello, East Coast!

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Once-Upon-a-Time McDonald's

Setting creates a mood.

She sat in the new McDonald's on Main and actually typed that sentence in order to better think about it.

Setting is mega-important to the reader and, ipso facto, to the writer. Chapter One: Time of day, what the sky looks like, is the air hot or cold, the ground wet or dry? Choose your words carefully and blah, blah blah.

Setting creates . . .

She sipped from her Diet Coke and stared at the opposite wall, which was emblazoned with a monster-sized glossy pic of an apple. She blinked and looked around, as though wakened from a dream, at the sand-colored walls, the spindly black stools, the elegant brown cloth window shades.

And she thought, “What in the pluperfect hell has happened to our McDonald's?”

(“Pluperfect” is a lush, gorgeous word. She typed that, too.)

This McDonald's, she thought, is where we used to hang out. Three kids and all their friends and a single mom who paid for Happy Meals with change out of a tip jar. The walls were red and yellow, then! Ronald himself grinned maniacally from a picture over the counter and nobody, nobody counted the freaking calories in the chicken mcnuggets. Those Happy Meals were absolutely grease-soaked. The air reeked of fryer oil, the floor was sticky as carnival taffy, and there were no window shades. The sky out that window was always shiny, hard blue as ceramic, and the people in here were happy, even if one of the kids dumped their pop-not-milk, because . . .

The walls weren’t brown.

And those cheap red plastic booths were just perfect.

Setting creates a mood.

Of course, the proper setting for a writer is a quiet area with beigey-poop tones and maybe apples. And quiet. The sunshine should stay just the other side of that window shade.

Chapter One . . .

But she missed the glaring colors and the fly-strip floor. McDonald's felt all wrong without Ronald, even though he had always creeped her out just a little. The calories posted above the counter and fruit pictures - what the hell were they going for, Starbucks meets Planet Fitness? And why is nobody smiling?

Because, well, McDonald's is no longer our happy place.

Incorporating wifi and blended coffee drinks was at a cost of something far less tangible.

The writer closed her laptop and primly disposed of her fruit (what the hell?) cup before approaching the counter again.  She ordered a nasty, sloppy Big Mac and a Happy Meal toy - troll! Purple hair! And she left McDonald's determined to keep her future visits on a drive-through basis only.

Setting is imperative, she thought, but not necessarily beige.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

It's 2017! Time for Now

On the evening of December 31st, she tucked 2016 beneath her arm and gingerly traversed the basement stairs, dodging a pair of roller blades and a saggy salt bag that had not yet made its way to the softener. A little short of breath already – 2016 was heavy – and hampered by the brush of cobwebs across her face, she lugged the Years Gone By box from the shelf and straightened the crick in her back before opening the lid.

                A smell like pumpkin innards – Halloween – rushed out at her and the pop of July firecrackers made her sit back on her heels. Frogs leaped amidst poinsettia leaves and cicadas croaked in time with the 9th inning roar at Wrigley Field. Moldy tennis shoes reclined alongside graduation gowns, flip-flops slapped in time with the snow shovel scraping the sidewalk.
                Darker things, perhaps, residing at the bottom of the box. House fires and hospital stays, the funeral stink of blood lilies.

                She tossed 2016 in and quickly closed the lid.

                Upstairs again, black kitty on her shoulder with his whiskers twitching inquisitively, she contemplated the New Year box. She had stenciled 2017 in a color bright as sunshine on the lid, but now, faced with the blank lines in her notepad, she thought yellow to be a foolishly optimistic choice.

                So many demons to conquer, so little time. 
She picked up her pen.
                #1. Lose weight! Never mind that she had lost twenty pounds three years earlier and had kept the weight off. She could always lose more.

                #2 Overtime hours, lots and lots. (Because new car and stupid internet and dear God, everything else that cost too too too much)

                #3 Exercise. Well of course, duh.

                The list was much the same as 2016’s had been, and yet it had nothing to do with what she had found in the Years Gone By box. Losing weight, in fact, looked almost trivial compared with frog song.

                Kitty purred and nudged, and finally bit, just enough to get her attention.

                “Stop,” she admonished, and underlined 2017 on the box.

                So many demons, so little time.

                What if . . .

                Kitty yowled. Now. Pet me now. And, abstractedly, she rubbed his ears.


Wait! What if there is ONLY now? What if the one demon - the only demon - is time itself? Time, always hurtling her forward, always making her cry, always passing before she could grasp a hand or kiss a tear. Time, making her older, adulting her children, bending her parents. What if there is no time? What if there is only now?

Now the light is slanting in through the bevels in the west window, making a pattern like purple raindrops on the linoleum. Now the kitchen still smells a little like Christmas gingerbread and Regina Spektor is singing on the iPod, an absurd song that lifts the soul and breaks the heart all at once.

Now the cat is feeling horribly neglected.

She picked him up and kicked the New Year box to the bottom of the stairs.

                Hello 2017!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Chicago Christmas

Four thirty pm and three bitter degrees in downtown Chicago, the wind cutting in from the Lake and the sky giving itself over to a glassy color like pearls. The trees are outlined in white twinkle lights and street performers in full swing beat out “Joy to the World” on garbage can lids while the throng pretends not to notice.  Women clutch holiday bags and children clutch coattails, all breathing the glorious stink of the city – kettle corn and upscale steakhouse, sewer and garbage.

The red line huffs to a stop at Randolph and a Muslim woman ushers her daughter across the salt-chipped sidewalk, looking neither left nor right before slipping like a shadow into the car; she is nearly invisible beneath her hijab, and the white bread girl who sits next to them doesn’t acknowledge them.

Daughter strokes the fur on the blonde woman’s Almost Famous coat and mother jerks the hand away.

Long limbs encased in boots and leggings cross primly.

The L rattles and sways and Feliz Navidad is audible through the headphones of a Latino sitting closest to the doors; he appears to be sleeping, hands in coat pockets, the pink Victoria’s Secret bag incongruous at his feet.

At Clark, the decline in speed is sudden enough to jostle the passengers against each other. They recover from this unwanted intimacy without speaking, and the doors open for a large black woman who is head-to-toe fur, face lost beneath layers of scarf and blue-rimmed Buddy Hollys. The glasses have fogged and she’s carrying bags, and for a moment she can’t find a seat. By the time she lands, the man behind her is furious. He’s wrestling a plethora of holiday bargains – dolls and stuffed dinosaurs peering from half a dozen bags - and he walks with a limp.

“Move your ass!” His voice is harsh above the racket of the L, and his skin is a shiny color like good dark chocolate. He heaves himself into a seat across from the little Muslim girl and the passengers collectively shudder.  “You go left, you go right, you can’t make up your mind! Get the hell out of my way!”

The woman floats the bird before taking her seat and the child’s mouth drops open.

Her mother shrinks a little into her hijab and the Mexican’s eyes blink.

The white girl pretends interest in her phone.

“Don’t you even!” The man splutters, and the tirade that follows throws a pall over the whole car - anger and unhappiness and fear like a nasty puff of skunk.

The woman responds in full cry, calls the man a cripple, a beggar, a steaming pile of horse dung.

The Muslim woman places hands over her child’s ears. Child squirms free; her eyes are bright as the buttons on the white girl’s boots.

The black man winds up to deliver his final epistle. “You ugly!” He hollers. “You SO ugly!”

The little girl can’t help herself – she leans forward to assess, peering around her mother.

“She is!” The man leaps upon the faux pas, and now the white girl, too, sends a furtive glance the length of car before staring fixedly at her phone again. “Isn’t she?” The man crows. “Take those glasses off and show everyone how ugly you are!”

The woman again utilizes her longest finger and the little girl goes saucer-eyed before giggling out loud.

Tiny sound, at first. Musical, clear as a lingering high C, four breaths long.

Mother clucks a warning; child can’t stop.

White girl’s mouth twitches; Mexican’s iPod goes quiet.

Now the little girl laughs out loud. “Your mouth is ugly,” she at last articulates carefully, to the man, (and to her mother’s horror) and now the black woman laughs, big belly-laugh, happy.

Finally, the man laughs, too, and suddenly the air in the car is breathable again. In fact, it’s light; it smells a little like peppermint.

The black woman stands at the next stop, heaves her purse over her shoulder and grabs her bags.

“That’s right, get your ass outta here now!” The man bellows at her. “And have a Merry Christmas!”

Monday, November 28, 2016

Curse of the Stone Arms: Kitty-Boy's Tale

From the desk of Gothika, Dark Lord of the Grimalkins aka Kitty-Boy
                “It was a dark and stormy night.”


                “Once upon a time, in a land far away. . .”

                Oh drats! How does she do this? And why? Slavering for public approval like one of her hulking outdoor “pets” – is nothing beneath her dignity?

                 Actually, it was a rather ordinary night, but for the enormous Iah,  (which modern humans, tapping into their full  literary and imaginative potential, have dubbed “the Supermoon.” *sigh*). I had watched its ascent across the night sky, and had fallen asleep contentedly on the kitchen table (the Man having gone to bed hours earlier) when I was awakened by the horrible shrill of my human’s Pavlov Response system. (Please see footnote#1.) Inevitably, the humans shine at classical conditioning exercises, and I watched with some pride as they hurtled from their bed, donned boots and clothing, and scurried from the house. Their performance was marred only by a brief collision in the bathroom doorway. Both snarled and swore most impressively. My Human showed her teeth.

I did not see them again until the lovely Iah had disappeared over the hill. They came home positively reeking of house fire, their noses black with smoke and their eyes circled with it. Most alarming of all, My Human had turned to stone from wrists to elbows. (Please see footnote #2) She seemed most vexed at this transformation ie, more colorful swearing; she is truly well versed in language skills. The Man, as is often the case, was also quite vocal about the inciting incident, and implied that the entire fiasco could have been avoided had My Human slowed down and looked before you f**ng leaped.

                I haven’t the faintest notion what My Human leaped into, but the results have been catastrophic. She has the temerity to pat my head with her stone hands! I very nearly chipped a tooth whilst defending myself. She is hit-and-miss with my food dish and her attempts at scooping my litterbox have been dismal. In the spirit of generosity, I left my latest offering on the floor next to the toilet and the ingrate swore at me! Who would have realized the tenuous connection between human hands and brains? Is her mind turning to stone as well? I fear it is a possibility.

                My Human knows I must have ice in my water bowl at all times, and yet she is failing at even this simplest of tasks. When in desperation I stand on the (dirty!) dishes in the sink to drink from the faucet, she responds in the vilest manner by trying to lift me bodily with her concrete arms. I will not stand for it!

            Alas, I fear for my well-being. If you are reading this, please send help. Preferably in the form of salmon.

Pink, Alaskan salmon. Fresh.

Canned tuna offerings will be summarily rejected.
#1 Nine-one-one page to a fire.
#2 Arm casts from wrist to elbow.

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