Bevies of Boys

Here’s the thing about winter in Minnesota: we complain about it (and, thanks to social media, we now complain to an international audience), but secretly we love it. We love the challenge, we love the beauty, we love the thrill of the ole Man vs. Nature-type conflict. We love the elemental, primal pain of the freeze of skin, the bite of wind, the soul-crushing squeak of a boot against the ice. We love it.

Here’s the thing about this last winter: even people who love the winter got sick of this dang winter. It was the dinner guest who would not leave, the bar patron who nurses his beer until five a.m. It was the guy who raises his hand at the end of the meeting and goes on to ramble for an hour before someone shuts him up. It was the pitbull of winters – the jaws locked, and it did not let go.

Until Friday.

At this time last week, I was shoveling thick, heavy, pitiless snow.

By Friday, I looked out my window and there stood my son surrounded by nine other boys from the neighborhood. All were holding a bike or a scooter, or some kind of wheeled implement of motion. All were sweaty, filthy and smiling. And none of them was wearing a shirt.

For the next sixty hours, the street rang with the calls of boys. (Girls too, but the girls on my block are quieter than the boys. Which is not to say they are quiet – they aren’t. But those boys are friggin’ LOUD.) And it was glorious.

Now here’s the thing about my neighborhood. First of all, it rules. I love everyone on my block. Knock on a house, and a writer answers the door – or an artist or a graphic designer, or a builder, or a small business owner, or a social worker, or a teacher, or a free-thinker, or whatever – and offers you a beer. There are front-yard bonfires and massive easter egg hunts and random coffee-klatches that last for days. A collection of smart, deep-thinking, widely read, independent, creative people, and I love them all. And the kids! Crowds and crowds of kids. They run from yard to yard, tangling in alleys and livingrooms, crowding into the playhouse in the back, running wild in the field behind my house. They make discoveries in the creek, make plans under the bridge, and build new worlds in the trees. There are twenty-seven kids living on my block (and two more on the way), and it rules.

The boys shed their shirts on Friday and didn’t put them back on until the start of school on Monday (with protests). They are drunk on spring. They are high on sunshine and dirt and mud and water and skin and one another. Tomorrow, for May Day, the temperatures will drop, and the snow will fall – in great gushes – once again. No matter. The game continues. The shirts will shed. The boys have declared their Summer Reign, and they will not be vanquished.

Every time I see them howling outside, I think of a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, called “Epithalmion”. Here’s a bit of it:

“By there comes a listless stranger: beckoned by the noise
He drops towards the river: unseen
Sees the bevy of them, how the boys
With dare and with downdolphinry and bellbright bodies huddling out,
Are earthworld, airworld, waterworld thorough hurled, all by turn and turn about.”

Happy Spring, everyone!

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In which Mysterious Things are observed in the forest.

Today, I took a long, sweaty run along the creek, past the falls, along the upper lip of the Mississippi gorge and onto the forested trail that leads to Fort Snelling. It’s one of my favorite runs and it was marvelous. Along the way, I saw two coyotes, fifteen wood ducks, three bald eagles, several turkeys, a raccoon and…..

a pair of shoes.

So I stopped. I’ve never seen a pair of shoes sitting by the side of the trail. Nothing else – no keys, no socks, no discarded bag. Nothing. Just a pair of shoes.

And they were nice shoes. Italian, by the look of them. They were square-toed, slim men’s shoes. Nice leather. Polished. Sitting side by side, slightly pigeon-toed, in the scrubby grass next to the trail. They looked like they might take a notion to walk away, un-footed.  They were shoes with attitude, shoes with purpose. Shoes that were going places.

“Anybody lose some shoes?” I called out.

The wind answered, the sky answered, the rushing river answered. The birds overhead. The scurrying rodents in the crinkling masses of last year’s leaves. They all answered, though not in any language I could speak.

There was nothing for it. I kept running until I reached that old Fort looking over the confluence of the rivers – where the milky Minnesota meets the wild Mississippi. When I turned back, I ran straight for the shoes.

Because the shoes, to my mind, seemed like some sort of sign. They were shoes with answers. These shoes – they meant something, you know? They belonged to a man with delicate feet. A man unused to walking on a ragged path. They belonged to a man who stopped to give his shoes a buff in the middle of a forest trail, before he took wing, lifted up, flew away.

I imagined him launching skyward, his long coat and loose pants flapping around his narrow body like feathers until he disappeared in the clouds.

This is what I believed as I pounded up the path.

This is what I believed as I approached the spot.

But the shoes – along with their flying, winged, magical owner -were gone.

Theories?

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today is my mother’s birthday. She is awesome. Here is a story that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about her:

Back in the early nineties, when I was in high school, my parents took my sister and me to see Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie performing at Northrop Auditorium at the University. My sister and I were dubious, but we went and enjoyed ourselves (because, let’s be honest, Pete Seeger is an adorable human being).

Anyway, on the afternoon before we went to the concert,  I came home from school and my mom was in the kitchen. Her cheeks were flushed; her eyes were bright.

“I did something,” my mom said.

Oh god, I thought. “What?” I said.

“Well,” my mom said. “I made a song request. For the concert.”

What?” I said. “How?”

“Well, I really wanted him to sing ‘I’m gonna be an engineer’, you know, for my teenaged daughters.”

“And?”

“And I figured that if he’s performing at Northrop, he’s probably staying at the Radisson nearby, so I called the front desk and asked to be transferred to Pete Seeger’s room.”

“You didn’t.”

“I did. They said he wasn’t available.”

Mom, I thought. Honestly.

“So I left a message. And he’s probably gotten it by now, and maybe he’ll sing the song.”

There was so much wrong here, I didn’t even know where to begin.

“Mom,” I said, speaking very, very slowly. “There is no way that your message is getting anywhere near Pete Seeger. This is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Well,” my mom said, utterly unflapped by my wet-blanket predictions. “We’ll see.” And then she started humming.

That night, we went to the concert. My sister (who is a year younger than me) next to one another and our parents on either side.

And Pete Seeger gets on stage. And he starts talking to the audience about “the folk process” and how all folk music originates with grandmas – the songs that grandmas sing to their grandbabies. And he sings this cute little song (one that I would, years later, sing to my own three kids) – “Creepy crawly little mousie from the barnie to the housie”, etc. and makes the audience sing with him. And he can do this because he is Pete Seeger, and utterly adorable. With his banjo. So everyone in the audience is singing and giggling and relaxed and prepared for a perfectly nice time with some folksy icons.

And then he says this:

“Speaking of grandmothers, my sister is a grandmother now. Great folk singer too. About twenty years ago, she wrote this song about a young woman making a path for herself, despite everything in her way. It was a pretty good song. And today, some woman called my hotel room and asked me to sing it for her two teenaged daughters. Seemed like a good idea to me.”

No, I thought.

It can’t be, I thought.

And my mom was elbowing me madly, her face shining like a dang jewel. She bounced in her chair. She poked my sister.

He’s talking about me,” she whispered at my sister.

He is not, mom,” my sister hissed. “Goll!”

“Actually….” I whispered back. I couldn’t even say it.

And then, goddamnit, he sang “I’m gonna be an engineer.” Because of my glorious mom – who also made a path for herself, in spite of her wet-blanket teenaged daughters standing in her way.

Happy birthday, Mom. Thank you for your enthusiasm, your support, your can-do spirit, your magnificent heart, your relentless positivity, your undying love, and your willingness to call random famous people in their hotel rooms, just so they will sing me a song. I love you more than I can ever say.

Regarding Harper

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I just wanted to give you guys an update on my crazy dog, Harper – who, as I have mentioned before on this blog, may or may not be 1,000 years old, who we brought to the wilderness of the BWCA and she almost did not come back. Who, back in February, laid down in my office, and couldn’t get back up.

Well?

She’s great.

She rallied.

We’ve had this dog since 1998 – the vet thought she was between 3 and 5 at the time – so she’s some age that would require math for me to figure out right now. (Stupid math.) She blew out her knee, and we had to lay rugs all around the house so that she could get around (wood floors were a problem). She refused to drink water, so I had to trick her by diluting beef broth. I had to coax her to eat her pain meds with cream cheese, and then when she wised up, hot dogs, and then again when she wised up I bought fancy goose pate from the fancy foods store. She loved it. Smart girl, that Harper.

My daughter, who usually takes her on her walks, started just taking her to the end of the block and back, and even then, she’d have to lay down and rest.

Slowing down, we thought. Months, not years, we thought.

And then, she could make it to the end of the block.

And then, she could make it much farther than the end of the block. Ella took her on walks along the creek. First to the low bridge. Then the high bridge. Then all the way to the Falls.

Last weekend, we took her on a three mile walk. She loved it. She’s not on pain meds anymore and she can finally make it up and down the stairs with ease. Her appetite has normalized,  she no longer needs to be tricked into drinking water, and – while she can’t go for a run anymore, and three miles seems to be her limit – she is utterly back to normal.

Which brings me back to my original set of assumptions: 1. Harper is magic. 2. Harper is one thousand years old. 3. Harper will outlive us all.

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

Dearest Readers,

Have you noticed that I haven’t been posting much lately? I have noticed and I am sorry. I am, right now, engaged in the process of novel revision, which means that I have lined my pockets with lead and have covered myself with post-it notes and have dangled baubles from every conceivable extremity, and then set out to run a marathon.

Or, I have engaged in the total reconstruction of a many-gabled house, with only my hammer, my hand-saw, a bucket of nails, and my own strong back, and I have to thread a new support system all on my own self.

Or I am trying to balance a boulder on the tip of a toothpick.

Or I am digging for treasure using an infant’s spoon.

Or something.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share some snippets of pieces that are currently on the desktop (because, of course, I am also writing short stories. I love extra work. And punishments.) And it occurs to me that I would very much like to see what you are working on. Because why should I be the only sharer here?

I’ll tell you what: I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. In the comments section, copy out a paragraph or two of something you’re working on. Pretty please? I’d love to see it.

Here. I’ll start.

From “The Invisible Dog”

My name is Jackson Marks and I have an invisible dog.
 I know what you’re thinking.
But it isn’t like that, I swear.
I’ve had him now for six years. I don’t know how old he was when he showed up, but he hasn’t grown. The top of his head reaches my knee. He’s got wiry fur and skinny legs and a tail that whips me in the face when he jumps in my bed and turns around and around until he finds a comfortable spot. And good god. He reeks. I suppose he’d smell better if I washed him – and believe me, I’ve tried. But he’s invisible. And he doesn’t like baths. So.

And then, from “The Unlicensed Magician”:

The junk man’s only daughter slides along the back of the low, one-roomed building that houses the constable’s office. The alley lights are out again – energy crisis. It is always an energy crisis. She appreciates the dark. She presses her hands against the wall, curling her fingers into the bricks. The sun is down and the moon isn’t up yet. The night air is a puckering cold, but the wall is still warm, and so are her hands. She can hear the constable inside, explaining things to the Inquisitor.
“I don’t care what you think you’ve heard, sonny,” she hears the old man say, “there ain’t been a whiff of magic anywhere in the county, nigh on fifteen years. Not a drop. Now you can write that down on your report and send it on up to your superiors. You got bad information is all. And not the first time, neither.”
  A scribble of pen on paper.
 An old man’s harrumph.

And then, from “Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch”:

The day she buried her husband – a good man, by all accounts, though shy, not given to drink orfoolishness; not one for speeding tickets or illegal parking or cheating on his taxes; not one for carousing at the county fair, or tomcatting with the other men from the glass factory; which is to say, he was utterly unknown in town: a cipher; a cold, blank space – Agnes Sorensen arrived at the front steps of Our Lady of the Snows. The priest had been waiting for her at the open door.  The air was wet and sweet with autumn rot, and though it had rained earlier, the day was starting to brighten, and would surely be lovely in an hour or two. Mrs. Sorensen greeted the priest with a sad smile. She wore a smart black hat, sensible black shoes, and a black silk dress belted at the waist. Two white mice peeked out of her left breast pocket – each one tiny shock of fur, with pink, quivering noses and red, red tongues.

So what’s on your computer right now? Or your notebooks or scratch paper or napkins? Share, please! 🙂

Love,

Kelly