Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Cranes & Cows & Plains

Latecomers entering the theatre.
(Appropriately late, as this post is being submitted 8 hours later than usual.)
Why is it that the people in the center always get there after the people on the aisle are seated?
Smith River, California

This is a column about frustration. Even the typing has become frustrating as for whatever reason unknown to me, Word 2003 is refusing to show me what I’m typing. All I get is a white screen with a moving cursor. When I highlight the space I’ve just covered, the words are there, just not visible.

There should be a lesson here. Today (and I’m calling it today, even though at this point it’s technically speaking yesterday) I have felt as frustrated as at any time in recent memory. First a payment I was expecting did not come through in a timely fashion, which meant that I needed to go into Crescent City to move funds at the bank—again. Then you’ll remember, if you’ve been reading along, that Charter Communications was supposed to send a technician out to check my cable modem wiring. That meant staying home all morning, even though the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and my camera was singing “Use me, use me!” There will be other sunny days, I promised it. After all, as Annie taught us, “The sun will come up tomorrow.” That said, there is no promise that the sky will be blue tomorrow, or that conditions will be good for photography tomorrow. Just ask Carl’s photographer friend Richard who flew out from New York City to work on a project documenting Del Norte County and was able to work about half the time he was here. The sky just didn’t cooperate with his large format camera.

Well, Lord knows there’s much work I need to get done at home while I’m waiting for Charter, so sun or no, I’ll make the most of it. Mother’s been gone for 6 weeks now. I should get her life insurance questions resolved. Open up the important papers box, find a policy from a company called Reliastar, and call the toll-free number. Oh, you get a recording that tells you to enter your social security or tax ID number then waits. And did I mention that either the name of the company has changed, or the toll-free number has. I never did catch the name given by the recorded message, but it wasn’t Reliastar. Looking through the important papers box I could not find Mother’s Social Security number. Now I know it’s here somewhere, but where? I was able to find Father’s number, so on my third call I entered that. “I do not recognize your response,” the recording answered. I did finally get through, somehow, and yes it is the right number. I still don’t know what the company’s new name is, but I guess I will find that out when the paperwork gets here. By that time I will have found the 12 copies of the Death Certificate I ordered from the Court House. They’re here. Honest they are.

Somehow it’s now time for lunch, and I still had to get to the bank, so… After fixing lunch and cleaning up the kitchen, and still no word from Charter, I gave up, grabbed Gypsy and the cameras and headed out to Crescent City. Yesterday, driving home from watching the surfers, gulls and starfish, I passed a field populated by large white birds. No, they weren’t domestic geese. I’d never seen so many cranes in one place, but as there was no shoulder and also because a California Highway Patrol car was right behind me, I drove on, making a mental note to return. On the way to the bank, I took the same back road, and sure enough, the cranes were still in the field. Even more than I had noticed on Sunday. Still no place to pull off the road safely, but it is a back road, what in Montana would be called a Farm to Market road. Throwing caution to the wind, I tried snapping a few shots through the passenger side window, but that was unsatisfying. Leaving Gypsy in the car, and the flashers flashing, I left the car half on the pavement and slowly approached the fence line. No good. The birds spook very easily. Keep trying; you never know what you might get. And after deciding that I wasn’t going to get anything terribly good, I reached in my pocket for the car keys and … No keys. They’re still in the ignition. Gypsy is in the car. Now picture this mentally as I have no photographic record of my panic. If you’ve tried to get a key made for a late-model car, you know it’s no longer a matter of running into Ace Hardware and handing the “friendly hardware man” your key. Volvo keys are particularly expensive and have a chip embedded in them that has to be programmed from Sweden. For this reason, I have only one key. It’s in the car. With a dog who can lock me out simply by jumping against the door. This is close to my worst nightmare. AND I HAVEN”T BEEN TO THE BANK YET! Fortunately, Gypsy had been just inside the tailgate watching me, and I was able to get back without her jumping against the door lock button. All controls in a modern Volvo are buttons on a flat surface, and Gypsy has managed to lock the doors, unlock the doors, roll down the windows, shift the car into winter driving mode, turn on the flashers. She has turned on the radio, changed the station and ejected the CD. She means well, and usually she’s very well behaved, but a trip in the car? Well, Daddy, I have to be able to see out, and—oh, you’ve turned on the turn signal, something must be happening. It’s so exciting! This is why her travel crate is always in the back of the car.

My Flat Cat (Hommage to Walter Hook)
One of the feral cats living in my backyard
(when Gypsy isn't out)
Smith River, California

Another hundred yards down the road and, Oh My GAWD! There’s a great blue heron right at the side of the road, not moving, looking very intent on staying hidden in plain sight. And I have nowhere to pull off. Have I mentioned that it was a frustrating day?

Once at the bank, I put Gypsy in her crate, did my banking, and headed home. Still no safe place to get off the road, and no GBH in sight this time, but the cranes are there. Once more I ease the car half-way off the road and hope that it will be safe while I try, again, to approach the cranes. I don’t want to get too close—just close enough for my 200 mm lens to pick them up clearly. But no luck. They are extremely skittish. The photograph submitted to Eyefetch I titled “Fly Away, Fly Away” as each time I came close to getting the birds in range, they rose up on their great wings and moved just a bit further on.

Home again, and no messages on the machine from Charter. I step out in the back yard, and there is one of my camera-shy feral cats, just lying on the top of the patio screen. He reminds me of Walter Hook’s series of flat cats. For copyright reasons, I won’t share my inspiration with you, but if you click on the link below my cat portrait, you’ll see what Dennis Kern and the Rattlesnake Valley Press produced as part of the Montana Centennial Portfolio, a project I was honored to be part of. While you’re looking at Walter’s “Fancy Feline,” take the time to check out Rattlesnake Valley Press. Dennis has done a lot of very good work.

By the way, Charter never did call—and if the guy called while I was away, he didn’t leave a message. My frustration level was so high that I couldn’t bring myself to work, to write, to look for those damned death certificates. But just like the words on this screen, they’re here somewhere. As is the answer to my frustration. If only I can find the button to push so that it all becomes clear.

Cranes, and Cows, and Plains
Thank you Burt Bacharach for putting that thought in my mind
Smith River, California

I tried to find a poem about cranes to share with you, but I have no thematic index. And if you do a Google search on cranes + poetry, you get lots of stuff on Hart Crane, Stephen Crane, and a few sites looking to sell you anthologies of Chinese poetry. I did find one lovely poem by Marilyn Peretti who has dedicated herself to saving cranes. I have reproduced the poem here, taking it off her web site:


It’s now 5:15 a.m., and in an hour I leave to take the Volvo in for service. Blessings and peace to all who have hung in there this far—and to those who haven’t as well. There’s enough blessing and peace for all, if we only accept it.

Birds in brMarsh Beds

Marsh Beds

Birds in branches
for the night
do not mock
long legged cranes.

Gravity pulls us all
to our own beds
for respite from
day’s winged work.

Trees of leaf
do not hug marshes
but leave them to the sky,
to wane and swell,

like black wet mirrors,
waters soaked with beds of
grasses, shallow, where
tall cranes stand, and sleep.

Marilyn Peretti

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