10/2/03-Thurs.-We now are having sufficient cool, relatively low humidity days to make for truly gorgeous times outside. On a walk a couple mornings ago I came upon this splendid young garter snake specimen basking in the sun where he might have gotten run over or trod upon, and so carefully picked him up (easier as he was still lethargic from the cold), brought him home, and released him to our backyard.
10/8/03-Wed.-Recent personal developments have been troublesome. The biggest difficulty has been from ongoing communication hassles, not only with my mom, still not responding significantly to recent e-mails (though she did at last get back with us on the Yellowstone question, and does intend to make the trip next year), but also with at least minor bickering between Frances and me, and with my most prolific and rewarding pen pal, after she had installed an anti-virus program, being unable now to get her letters to me at our regular e-mail center, significantly disrupting the correspondence.
The destabilized geopolitical situation, most recently exemplified in the successful California recall movement and the predictable quagmire in which the U.S. is becoming mired in Iraq, seems a fitting backdrop for my own latest circumstances.
The best that may be said of politics as currently practiced is that, by creating more volatility, the resultant bargains may substantially benefit the careful investor.
My right eye is acting up again. Besides the floaters and flashes bothersome since just before our WI vacation, there is some unseen irritant under the lid which is causing pain and swelling.
The inventory of negatives is not complete without mention of a fresh spot on my face, apparently a new cancer lesion. For the last several weeks I've been eating from one-third to one-half a lemon daily, peel and all, after learning that this level of fresh citrus consumption decreases skin cancer incidence about forty percent. Since making this dietary introduction I'd imagined that, with a healthy lifestyle and such a supplement, I just might go a few years without another neoplasm. If the doctor determines later this month the abnormality is indeed cancer, it will instead be only about four months since the last one was noted that required surgical removal.
I suppose that, once again, it is time to renew the commitment to a more meditative lifestyle, so that hopefully I may better appreciate things just as they are, not becoming as distressed when they aren't precisely as I wish them to be. Indeed, the best course would be to not even identify with this or that set of expectations but to take existence just as it comes, like Siddhartha no longer placing demands on himself or his life, content to simply operate a ferry and fill his time with watching the flow of the river.
Fran is doing great as usual, except perhaps for occasional inclinations to smash her spouse with a skillet during one of our disputes. She's taking literally thousands of pictures with her new digital camera, some quite amazing, like an image of a huge spider after dark. Though holding a flashlight in one hand and her little camera in the other, Fran still nailed the shot, in all its gruesome, predatory detail, the stuff of nightmares. An additional "night gallery" picture revealed a multi-barbed caterpillar in the first phase of changing into its chrysalis form and showed it exuding a mysterious white substance that was slowly flowing down over it. These photos, when seen later on the computer terminal, often crystal clear even at ten times normal size, offer us a novel view of the world, akin to the realm opened to our perception when we'd each first begun looking through microscopes.
Pepper is not happy to be back in TX after having had over a week of delightful times in WI, and has, accordingly, been again not eating well. She also drags a lot when taken on walks, though she'd kept up well in that northern state. In the house, she is easily bored and sleeps too much.
We're considering getting her a private refrigerator with a doggie entrance/exit door. We thought too about adopting a couple young kids and three or four other dogs to help stir things up, the way she experienced daily life in WI, but decided our dog's happiness is not really worth that much sacrifice on our part. (Actually, I too miss all the mayhem - and cooler weather - we enjoyed in WI. And now we hear our relatives up there are buying a 268-acre property, along with its huge farmhouse. We are deeply green with envy!)
This coming weekend, beginning Friday, Fran and I will be headed a little north again, to the Plano and Murphy area of TX, for my primary family's annual reunion. It promises to be the least well attended of any such gatherings so far. But then we do not have the incentive this time of any 50th or 80th birthday anniversaries to celebrate, and the area is not nearly so motivating or inspiring as, for instance, northern CA was for us in 2001. It will also likely be more low-key than most such events for us. The hosts, one of my brothers and his family, are partial to church activities rather than other more cultural, natural, or entertaining amusements.
Am beginning another book, just bought yesterday, which I believe will prove quite entertaining and move ahead a bit my education in the best Twentieth Century world literature: The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel, a 2002 paperback edition published by Norton.
Now that the issue of whether or not to make the trip next year is settled, we're getting "into" the idea of a vacation to Yellowstone National Park. Reservations for small, spartan rooms at Yellowstone Lake have been made, for me and Fran (in one) and my mom (in the second), for next 9/10-9/15. Yes, I know getting exited about something nearly a year away may indicate we should "get a life," but, well, that's how it is! Central TX just cannot compare with northwest WY.
And now we learn that the Yellowstone area is way overdue for another huge caldera explosion, that would make the average volcanic eruption look like a match flame. Were we there when this cataclysm occurred, we'd be among the millions of tons of material instantly blasted toward outer space. What a way to go!
10/13/03-Mon.-We're back from our annual family reunion with my side of the extended relations, in Murphy, TX, held this time at Ernie's place. As these things go, we had a rather good time. To my surprise, there was a celebration of my upcoming (10/26) 60th birthday anniversary. We had a lot of fun. The highlight of the weekend was a talent show with karaoke singing Saturday evening.
Fran enjoyed chatting at length with our nephew, Jim, who is closer to her IQ and musical interests. She also took hundreds of pictures using her digital camera, after I had run out of film for my point-and-shoot and could no longer record the event. Joel, Ernie, and I watched the OU vs. UT football game, until an OU victory outcome became obvious. Ron and Ernie, and then Ron and I, played horseshoes, a long-term tradition at our family's big get-togethers.
I also had my first opportunity this weekend to see my newest niece, Sharon, Allen and Nina's daughter, born last month.
Several could not make it this year, including my sister, Alice, who has a symptomatic ovarian growth. There is now concern the abnormality may be cancer. She had a similar problem previously, in 2000, which turned out to be an ovarian cyst, not malignant, but nonetheless requiring emergency surgery. The experience was quite traumatic for her. Indeed, she has felt she's never fully recovered and has been troubled by post-traumatic pains ever since. Her overall array of medical concerns, even before the newest ovarian difficulty, has now been diagnosed as fibromyalgia. Though the condition is not always taken seriously by the medical community, for her the pain turns out to be quite real and disabling.
10/21/03-Tues.-Coffee and a biscuit at the nearby Wal-Mart's in store McDonald's restaurant, while waiting for Fran's car to be ready. It's been using oil too much, so I'm trying to be sure it goes no more than three months or three thousand miles between motor lubricant changes.
There's a cute little girl, maybe two years old, at the next table. She is easily distracted from her breakfast, to her "Nanna's" (grandmother, I presume) mild distress, and tries to get eye contact with me, then waves a petite hand and arm and smiles when we lock eyes. Who could resist?
Well, Fran could, of course. She is not positively swayed by such irritable behavior. Fran is proud of never having heard the ticking of any biological clock. "It's just instinct," she says, pleased to be above the genetic fray.
I'm not certain at all that I'd have been a good father, but my clock, too late, has been ticking quite noticeably. And Fran's reactions seem strange and somewhat ironic to me, as if a person with complete color blindness were to assert her superiority to those beset by all those obnoxious colors she could neither see nor accurately imagine.
Fran takes after her mother, Linda, I think, in a relative detachment from much human warnth, where children are concerned. Linda must have been a rather distant mother, much as my dad seemed aloof from most tender fatherly feelings. I suppose it is less than coincidental that I chose Fran to be my mate. Yet she, like most of us, is a complex creature, and no simplistic analysis does her justice. She is also quite brilliant. I suspect if she were more typically representative of her species, she'd have less talent and a diminished capacity to focus exclusively on one thing or person. Unconflicted, all of a piece, so that "what you see is what you get," Frances makes friends more easily than I. Considering that I trained as a counselor and see myself as more a "people person" than she, that is perhaps the greater irony.
A cat has captured my attention as if it were a mouse. Day before yesterday, one of my newest and nearest neighbors, Jan, a young lady who likes flouting her religion and politics, it would seem (for she has an Ichthus fish symbol affixed to the back of her car, and she and her husband have placed a sign in their yard saying "We support our troops and our President"), stopped at our front door, rang the bell, informed me of her name and that there was a large orange and white long-haired cat caught in their largest tree, and asked if it belonged to us. I introduced myself, in turn, and assured her he was not ours. I wished her luck with the problem. "Well, he is orange and just sits up there. He's been there already for four days," she complained, as though she did not believe me when I said he was not ours and wished, in any case, for us to do something about it. Nonetheless, when I emphasized that we were sorry, but he was not our cat, she left.
I assumed that, upon canvassing the neighborhood, she'd find the owner who would come get his or her cat down, would call the right authorities for removal of felines in trees, or that she and her hubby would finally take the matter into their own hands, using an extension ladder to go up after the cat or perhaps, as I'd done in a similar situation, hosing the cat down with a strong blast of water just above it, till it saw the error of its ways and removed itself expeditiously, discovering long forgotten tree climbing-down skills with which to hastily beat a wet retreat.
What I did not expect, though, is what happened. They did nothing more. Now brought to my awareness and clearly visible whenever I go into our backyard, plaintively meowing at me over and over again, the cat sits up there like a nagging mother-in-law, long after I've gone back into the house, reminding me in memory that it has now been up there for five days, then six, and then an unbelievable seven days and nights. I figure that now, with each additional day, the creature must be using up one or two more of its original credit of nine lives. Even for a cat, though, the end must be near.
Actually, softy that I am, on the morning of the sixth day, yesterday (when government and charity organization offices would be open again after the weekend), as I was beginning to hear that pathetic meowing in every room of our house, like Poe his "tell-tale heart," I called various authorities myself: animal control, animal rescue, wildlife adoption, cruelty to pets, the fire department, the police department, etc. All told me a surprising and sad same story, that nobody does anything about cats in trees in our fair metropolis anymore. The police dispatcher and animal control folks suggested I call some tree service people.
Well, if it were in my tree, there is the slimmest chance I might go to that trouble and expense. But I cannot believe, if it were in one of our trees, it would take more than a few minutes for us to get it safely back on the ground, much less a week! The animal is only about three feet above our neighbor's roof. Even if hosing were for some reason ineffective, they could climb up there and use a pole or hoe handle or long umbrella to poke and prod it back down the trunk, or they could lure it onto the roof with food and water and then throw a blanket over it, wrap it up and lower it down, or ...
But instead of any practical option at all, they just leave it up there.
I'm afraid our neighborly relations have not gotten off to a good start. Seeing that they were away at work after I'd done all my calling, but the cat was still calling me, I considered trespass and dealing with the matter more directly. However, for once they had locked their gate into the back. Climbing over in full daylight to try to effect some remedy did not seem wise, for as surely as the police would do nothing about the cat, they'd be there in a minute to arrest me if I was so obviously invading my neighbors' property.
I wrote the neighbors a polite letter, sympathizing with their problem and that I understood why they'd not been able to get the cat out through official means, but suggesting two or three methods I might try, were it my problem, that I figured had a good chance of working. I left my note in an envelope taped to their front door.
When I heard them drive up later in the day, I figured they'd read the note and, shortly thereafter, before it got dark, they'd give one or two of my ideas a try, or stop by and ask if they could borrow our big ladder, or thank us for our ideas but tell us to please in future to mind our own business, etc.
But, again, they took no action whatever. The cat continued, hour after hour, to meow away its remaining lives. Dark fully descended. Today, there is no change. They've left for work. The cat, looking and sounding more tired and pathetic than ever, meows whenever he sees me, and intermittently through long periods of time in between.
Now I'm hatching a "Raskolnikovian" plot to kill my neighbors in their sleep, make it look like some thief did it, and rescue the cat before it is too late.
But, realistically, I know I'll do nothing more. Territoriality is alive and well in this country, particularly among the Christian right wing. That poor cat is apparently doomed.
Later. It's after 5 PM. I just heard activity in our neighbor's backyard and went to check. The ill-fated cat is now more than twice as high in the huge tree, close to thirty to forty feet above the roof and forty to fifty feet off the ground, far out on a branch too thin to support a person, even if one were inclined to go way up there to save it. He's beyond the reach of any standard extension ladder or garden hose. The cat is still meowing as the neighbor man ineffectually calls to it from below, "Here, Kitty, kitty, kitty!" Perhaps, from now on, the less said of this sorry matter the better.
10/22/03-Wed.-Fran's this morning over visiting a friend, a fellow musician, for some fun practice, chatting, and hanging out.
On Sunday, she met a new gardening acquaintance, who lives over in the Travis Heights area, and Fran came back grinning, her arms and hands full of new foliage, and saying his place is a jungle! He, his live-in partner, and her child, apparently have about the same size lot (1/3 acre) we do, but have converted all but the small house into abundantly overflowing gardens, leaving no yard to be mowed. Fran was quite impressed!
I took the reluctant mutt on a walk this morning. She only perked up when encountering a pair of energetic, bigger dogs out for a walk too.
The cat, still quite high in our neighbors' tree, was meowing plaintively yet again this eighth morning of his current predicament. I'm amazed at his endurance, apparently for over a week up there without food or even water.
We've had little rain for awhile. So I've been doing some watering around the house today, while Fran looks after the ponds' and gardens' extra water requirements.
We've just completed our fifth annual Halloween issue of the Wagnerian Express family newsletter.
A cool front is predicted for my birthday (10/26), that should finally reduce our high temperatures significantly. (Yesterday and today they're still in the high 80s.)
The floaters and flashes in my right eye vision are more noticeable again. How precarious our hold seems on normal senses and other aspects of good health!
I'm in the process of deciding whether or not to return to work. Long-term, I think I'd like sometime, perhaps after our next move, to have further employment, if only part-time or temporary. But in the short-term, our investment portfolio is already just shy of next year's end of December target, so there seems much less motivating me to become an employee again than was the case a year ago as the markets were terribly low. And, glancing every few days at the want ads, nothing inspires.
I note that, when I got into counseling, aptitude testing had showed this seemed a good match for me since the profession involved a blend of three factors toward which I was most oriented: intellectual; social; and artistic. (Of course, the tests did not warn that the work of a "counselor" in a government bureaucracy is in fact often so distorted by political ends as to be nearly unrecognizable as that for which I'd sought graduate level training.)
Perhaps, since our finances are at least minimally adequate, instead of worrying about getting a new entry level job, I might instead seek to add sufficient rewarding activities (in or out of a work setting) that my intellectual, social, and artistic needs are being met, without jeopardizing the freedom and leisure that make retirement seem worthwhile.
An aunt and uncle of mine, Kim and Randolph, are having their 70th wedding anniversary next month. This smart, talented couple is among the relatives Fran seems to like visiting more. However, they've been having major medical problems recently. We were thinking of going to see them, but now are not sure it will work out, because of their poor health and not being able to easily receive visitors.
We are heading into the silly time of year here, when folks like to dress up in funny or grotesque costumes, put on scary masks, or place carved pumpkins in their windows or yards, to frighten or amuse people. We also, on 10/31, give out vast quantities of candy to costumed youngsters who come to our house and yell "Trick or treat!" when we open the door to them.
When I was growing up, the kids took that threat seriously and, as my dad did not like to cooperate with "blackmail" and would ignore the bell ringing, knocks, and yells of costumed youth, we sometimes had our windows egged, our paint scratched, or our door cherry-bombed. (When I would go out into the neighborhood on Halloween nights as a youngster, I was required to give a treat for each one received and to simply say "Would you like to trade a treat?" Somehow this took most all the fun out of the occasion.)
Now, wary of frustrated kids' tricks myself and because I more enjoy the children than not, I tend to stay home that evening and give out the goodies, while Val usually tries to comfort the terrorized dog, who thinks she must protect our place from hordes of invaders looking and sounding pretty intimidating to her! The youth usually, by the end of the evening, have sacks or pillow cases pretty well full of candy and related treats. This cannot be too great for folks already tending toward obesity or diabetes, but the custom doesn't seem likely to go away soon.
10/26/03-Sun.-My sixtieth birthday anniversary.
The cat is gone from our neighbors' high tree. I've not had the nerve yet to ask them if it left on its own or through a law of gravity, and they've not volunteered the information.
We've been noting some changes here, of age, time, and temperature. A cool front predicted for early yesterday finally arrived about 9 PM, bringing breezes, drier air, and a drop in mercury of about 15-20°F. By now, the next morning, our gauge outside, if we had one, would be showing around 54°F, and this with gusty overcast conditions, so favorable a change from the hot, muggy, sunny weather of the last week or two that I intend going on a walk for fun, just for the heck of it.
We live in a strange world, though, one in which humanity sees itself as superior to the powers that be and, twice a year, arbitrarily alters what the natural rhythm has so well wrought. To stay in step, last night before we retired to our well deserved rest we set all our clocks, on radios, VCR, alarm instruments, watches, thermostat, and various other time pieces and software.
We thus have an extra hour in which to enjoy my day of added maturity but shall need to pay for it half a year later. I'd just as soon things were left alone.
I plan to merely take things easily today, not attempting any particularly productive activity.
Fran has kindly offered to take me to any eateries of my choice and also has a card and beautifully wrapped gift waiting on the dining room table, to help compensate for the completion of another year of life (and for thus drawing that much closer to death). I've chosen a tasty coffee and slightly heated donut (usually not on my diet) for the AM vittles, plus an ample later "to go" order of our favorite Indian cuisine, which we shall then enjoy with abundant rice over the next week or so. Later I'm also to receive a lengthy, muscles relaxing massage while we watch a quality nature documentary.
On another matter, in the last few days, not unusually for our relationship, Fran and I have had a bit more than our share of minor disagreements, common enough in fact that Frances may hardly notice most of them, her edges being somewhat rough, her manner abrupt and not always sensitive to others' feelings. Misunderstandings arise unexpectedly and for seemingly no reason beyond that, for instance, one partner chooses to make a big deal about precisely how something is expressed, the other takes exception to it, and so the cycle continues till one (or both) is keeping his own counsel while a sense of alienation or resentment pervades.
This morning it suddenly occurred to me how this overall relationship, abrasive at times on the face of it, is so like that between the Jane Fonda and James Caan characters in the superb 1978 movie, "Comes a Horseman," also starring Jason Robards, Jr., and Richard Farnsworth, in which the Jane Fonda character is depicted as aggressive, impatient, prickly, stubborn, condescending, defensive, and patronizing, yet the pair somehow manage to grow closer, then intimate, and they recognize the greater value of an equal involvement over one in which she is persistently keeping him at a distance by her relatively off-putting attitude. As the audience sees them in the process of working out this personal conflict, we observe their also managing and mastering the larger one, upon which her land and ultimately their lives depend, and we find insight and inspiration from a deeper development of character, revealing not at first guessed complexities and reserves in their roles. If the James Caan character, despite her initially hostility, can come to appreciate and love Jane Fonda's, and yet the actors can portray this realistically, so may Fran and I find common ground and rewards in our life together though there are interesting challenges here as well.