Lucy Crowe's Nest: 2017

Monday, July 31, 2017

Summer Calls Me Home

Photography by Erebos Photographic Studios
Thunder wakens me the first time – deep conga roll just pass the whine of our window air; the clouds are torn and purple, the leaves on the hill already jeweled with the first fat raindrops, and I’ve disregarded morning in the time it takes to roll over.

By the time I emerge, rumpled from my extended stay, the air has cleared and the ground steams beneath a dazzling sun. Coffee, swimsuit, sunglasses, and I’m headed out.

Summer calls me home.

Here, above the valley, the land flattens out like a wide clay bowl, chipped and striped in greens and golds, the sky a hard ceramic above - a color like helium balloons or the fistful of forget-me-nots your first love gave you.

Locals call the high spot “the ridge” but in Illinois this is something of a misnomer; we have no mountains. The truth is, out here, the land falls away, flat and still as the Pacific, to an unchanging, long and straight horizon. At night, above and below differ only in the depth of their shadows - planets and fireflies kissing so that the effect is that of swimming in a bowl of stars – but by daylight, you can see forever. You can see your whole life spread out before and behind you, your soul easing from your body and soaring, following the straight corn rows all the way to the sky.

We’re used to that here, and I really only marvel at it once in a while; I don’t think about the way you can see the silvery glint of barn roofs four miles off or spot a stranger’s pick-up before you make the turn home.

Home.

When I was fifteen, I could sit at the edge of the hay field and watch the sun ooze like Orange-Melts into the earth, Venus shimmering to life between the walnut trees, the lightning bugs beginning their first tender love dance. My muscles would ache from stacking bales, my skin tighten with sun burn, but here it is – every breath, every single one, was filled with God.

If the rest of the world is Godless, it’s because He lives there at home; I’m certain of it.

Because I found, when I left – although I didn’t go far – that nothing was ever so peaceful, so simple or true again. Life has such a brutal way of smacking the innocence from us, doesn’t it? Teaching us that love isn’t love, that death is only a hair’s breadth away and it’s hardly ever happy. That lies slip easily from beautiful tongues, cruelty exists in a black chamber of every heart, and even Jesus wept. Hopelessness, depression, fear – all lying dormant within us, only waiting for the key to turn in the lock.

So. Home.

Six generations have worked, loved, nurtured this ground. Drought, blight, Reaganomics and chinch bugs met with unwavering determination and a black Irish humor. My grandfather traded horses here, my father went to school right down on the corner, and I . . . I lived here. And although I have changed my last name twice and stepped in more than a few shit piles along the way, when I’m here I know who I am.

And the rest of the world recedes - beautifully, silently sliding away until the only sound left is the wind in the corn and the murmur of Farm Radio.

I am home.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The M. Mouse Calamity: Kitty-Boy's Return

From the desk of Gothika, Dark Lord of the Grimalkins aka Kitty-Boy:


“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it.”

Hmm . . . lovely, but no.

“Call me Ishmael.”

No! Oh dear no, please don’t call me Ishmael.

Why does my human set such store by the written word? *sigh*

After a six-month hiatus – during which she plagued you, her loyal fan base, with her tireless blather – I am back. The reason for my return (prepare yourself, gentle reader) has its roots in pure evil.

She is packing!

Oh, she tries to hide it from me, confining her efforts to the closet, behind closed doors – but I . . . I am a shadow; I am a sleek, stealthy creature, a night hunter. I SEE ALL! Yes, she is packing.

The man spends moments at the computer when he is not even aware of my existence. He stares moony-eyed at the screen, fingers clicking on beach and margarita advertisements.

Where is this Florida they speak of? And could its charms possibly surpass my beauty? I think not!

I have doubled and redoubled my efforts at winning their undivided attention. While my human pours over maps and speaks with delight of this . . . this creature, this Mickey Mouse (?!) I sit on the back of the couch and tap her head with my gorgeous, hairy paw. I purr lovingly in her ear. When all else fails, I vomit on her favorite chair. (For a clever beast, she is appalling inept at scouting her surroundings, and she swears like a pirate.)

I roll over to show her my lovely belly (yes, like a dog!). I prance behind her wherever she goes, twitching my perfect plume of a tail. Sometimes I even condescend to bat at her shoelace. (A favorite activity of hers; I love her, but she is a simple creature.)

But – all to no avail! What to do, what to do?

Oh, she tries to comfort me! The boy will stay with me, she says. The boy! He has a dog! A large, clumsy, revolting savage! He drools; he reeks. (The dog, not the boy; the boy is at least moderately civilized.)

The girl will visit me frequently, she says. The girl is entirely too busy and will spend no more than an hour or two each day (!!) paying homage and making tuna offerings. She does not come close to comprehending what is required of her and, indeed, she can often be observed talking to the bird (Pretty Bird, she calls it! Never noticing its failure to fashion real sentences.) She stops in the yard and pets the dogs! Before petting me!

This is unspeakable! It cannot be endured.

Where is this home of this M. Mouse? (And how did he come to be ruler there?) Will it be possible to follow the humans? I am ill at the thought. They travel in a horrid little box on wheels which plays the most atrocious music and smells of coconut air freshener. The man loves speed and curses at the other little boxes in the road and the woman wears atrocious pink sunglasses.

But I digress.

Surely, dear reader, you can comprehend the scope of my difficulties. The fateful day fast approaches. If you are reading this, I beg you, send help.


Want more Dark Lord of the Grimalkins? Check out his last post "Curse of the Stone Arms: Kitty-Boy's Tale" here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"These Iris Are Her Own"

It is, at last, the time of year when every window - each little glass pane – in the house at the bottom of the hill is filled with green. Jeweled, sun-dappled – emerald, jade, and lime. The evening air has an aqueous feel to it - as though one is moving, at all times, slowly and languorously underwater, the overhead leaves swaying delicately to moon tide and earth’s pull.

Iris time. The stems budded out, now, swollen and ready to pop, the thick, woody leaves crowding densely over the sandy ditch soil.

She goes out with tee shirt sleeves rolled and feet bare, toes grass- stained. Kneels by the iris bed and loses herself in the scent of weeds and grass, the crumble of dirt beneath her fingers, drone of honey bee, swoop of swallowtail.

Iris – possibly the sweetest scent in the entire known universe. Something like grape Kool-Aid, childhood, and grandma’s kitchen all balled together with lemon sun and dew-wet mornings.

This patch runs the entire length of sidewalk in front of the house, and that would seem extravagant had her grandmother not lived there before her. Grandma, now – she filled the entire lot next door with her peonies and iris. People came from all over the county to marvel at the varieties, to inhale the sweetness, to find their elusive happiness along the winding paths or tucked beneath the arbor.

But these iris are her own.

“I want iris,” she’d said one morning to her husband-to-be, and the next day he’d pulled into the yard with the bed of his truck clear full. The sheer romance of that gesture had stolen her breath away. Who loves somebody else that much? A hundred iris, maybe a thousand! They’d planted every single bulb. Those are the great big pink ones – nobody’s ever seen blossoms like that, before or since, so fat they fall over in the ditch before you can pluck them
.
They smell like heaven – sniff them; your soul will remember.

Here, at the far end – the pale, pale yellows. They’re called Irish tune. A true-blue friend, a friend who could make her laugh and cry in equal measure, had given her those bulbs and then died hardly a year later. Nobody thinks about flowers outliving people, but there you go.

The dark crimsons come from a haunted house. She’d dug (stole) them in the middle of the night and a ghost had said, just at her shoulder, “don’t take them all!”

Purples from her mother; rubies from her sister.

Fifteen years gone by, and while that isn’t such a long time - not really – it was in those years that the kids grew up. Every May at iris time, they had weeded by her side - bellyaching, arguing, sometimes, yes, even laughing, but so there that to imagine them grown would have seemed absurd. How had it happened?

And Jewel! What a gorgeous little dog she’d been! Curly tail, laughing mouth, thick black coat that devilled her all summer long. She’d watch the work from beneath the bridal wreath, tongue lolling – every summer, all the way from puppyhood to old old age while the iris thickened and grew out front.

The sun ducks behind the hill long before it’s truly dark, but the air has cooled and taken on lavender shades when she straightens from her work at the iris bed. Swipes the dirt off on her jeans and stashes the trowel in her back pocket.

The May flower moon is rising, another iris day gone by.






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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.

Spring.

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.

                Now.

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!
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