The beginning of wisdom, as the Chinese say, is calling things by their right names. (E. O. Wilson, as cited by Elizabeth J. Rosenthal, Birdwatcher: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Walks with Mway

copyright 2009 - 2013

Walks with Mway is a novel that parodies a blog (and at the same time a blog that parodies a novel), using the blog form for its structure and medium of publication.  The main page matter, the posts, and the comments are all parts of this original work (certain news reports and other materials that have been written by others have been appropriated, to a limited extent, for artistic purposes).  Since this blog novel is a literary work (literary though it explores the realm of the “subliterary”), it must be remembered that all the statements that appear in it are the expressions of fictional characters.  When the blog opens up on the computer screen, it appears in reverse-chronological order.  To follow the narrative of the work, the posts should be read in chronological order, and the comments appended to each post should be read as they appear..

The Author

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Moi Suggests What I Can Do Next Year

December 24, 2010.  Friday.
Situation:  When I go down to the kitchen this morning, Moi, sitting at her laptop, tells me, “I’m being slovenly this morning.  I didn’t wake up until it was light out.”  She discusses the weather, talks about clearing out some of the junk that’s been piling up in the music room, shows me a photo from a family we don’t know that was mistakenly sent to our address, demonstrates for me how Woody says the word “rat” when he fetches his little cloth rat.  I have no work today or tonight.  The Boy will be arriving here tomorrow night – he works both today and tomorrow – and we’ll be getting together with Jazz this Sunday, after I come home from work that afternoon.  Moi lets Mway, who’s been pacing around the kitchen, out the door.  When I mention having to take her for a walk, she suggests that we can take her for one together.  I agree.  She lets Mway back in the door, then goes to take a bath before we go out – I, on the other hand, don’t think it makes sense to wash up until afterwards.  I go to put on my walking clothes, Mway hanging in the door way, staring at me.  When Moi comes out of the bathroom, I ask her if she saw the black hair band I found yesterday.  “The what?” she asks.  “A black hair band,” I say, “I found it on the path and put it on your laptop.”  “A head band?” she says, “I don’t know, I didn’t think about it.  What, will this take up a whole chapter in your journal?”  When I go downstairs, with Mway at my heels, Moi yells down, “You go ahead on your own.  I have to dry my hair, and I don’t want to be rushed.”  I tell her I’ll wait.  I sit down and have a cigarette, then I put on my snow suit and boots.  While I’m standing at the door, Moi comes down fully dressed, sits down to roll a cigarette, moaning about all the cleaning she thinks she has to do this weekend.  She brushes back her damp bangs, shaking her head, “My hair’s still wet.  You can go and take Mwayla out on your own.”
State of the Path:  Moi must have let Mway out the door a second time, for when I step out, she’s suddenly charging from the porch toward the hedgerow, where I can see a rabbit hopping along among the weeds.  There’s also a sudden loud cawing – I think at first it might be the chickens clucking and crowing, but this definitely sounds like crows.  Mway gives up on the rabbit and heads down the path ahead of me, turning down the side path.  She doubles back before I get to it, but when she sees me coming that way, she turns back around.  She stops to try to poop, but creeps ahead to try again when my steps come to close.  I myself feel like I could poop – ideally, I should have sat on the toilet before coming out.  I’m walking about the same as I did yesterday.  On one step I take somewhat jerkingly, I feel a twinge of pain briefly in the foot of my good leg.  Coming around the hedgerow, I see one small honeysuckle bush that still has some leaves on it – they’re withered and rotting, but they’re still green, and I wonder why they haven’t yet fallen completely off.  When I see that the weeds around the cedar look flattened down, I think about walking to the tree to look at its cones, but then I don’t bother.  The path is brown and hard down to bug land, edged by bits of green grass and a scattering of gill-of-the-ground.  (As I’m writing this, Moi interrupts me to say, “What I’d like is a leash and harness for Wood.”  I nod my head, wondering if I’m supposed to go out and get her that today.  “Then next year,” she goes on, “you could write about taking a cat for walk.”) 
State of the Creek:  I pause below the tree stand, looking at the broken tree framed between the posts of the electric pole, then at the poison ivy twining up the clump of oaks at the corner of the lot.  I stop at the former log jam to poke at the ice, noting the brown oak leaves frozen solid in it.  When I reach the narrows, I hear pecking in the trees.  Gradually I see a bird on a branch jutting from a tree, pecking downwards – it looks too small to be a woodpecker, but then I see the white-speckled wings that it seems every species of woodpecker has.  I look for red on its head, and when the sun comes out briefly behind the clouds, I think I discern a spot of red, but I can’t be sure.  Another bird, small, sleek, and tawny, lands on the trunk behind the woodpecker, then takes off – I have no idea what it is.  The woodpecker stops pecking for a while, and I wonder if it’s aware of me staring at it, but then it starts pecking again, and I walk on.  I cross the swale, then the feed channel, and when I reach the pin oaks, I suddenly think I glimpse in the water beneath the thin transparent ice some black things darting like minnows, but I see nothing as I keep looking for more movement.
The Fetch:  Mway is waiting for me at the clearing.  When I start pitching the birch branch, I note that with the weeds starting to fall down you can now see the evergreens that Moi planted better.  We make the circle, Mway a couple times dashing off in the wrong direction, then having to sniff around to find the stick.  Into the second round, she starts coaxing me to play “Put it down.”  I think about only doing it once or twice, but then I keep yelling it and we make a full round of it with me yelling “put it down,” until my shouts are as loud as her barking.  Finally I feel we’ve had enough, but as Mway’s growling and chomping at the stick, waiting for me to say something next, I have a little trouble formulating the words I want to say.  Finally they come out, a little stiff-sounding as they break the air: “Okay, that’s enough.”

Friday, December 23, 2011

Find a Black Hair Band

December 23, 2010.  Thursday.
Situation:  I wake up late, and Moi tells me she’s already taken Mway for a walk, “or least out to fetch stick” as she immediately qualifies it – I begin to wonder how often she really takes Mway for a walk.  How often has she taken her down to the creek this past year?  A couple dozen times?  Even less?  I rush to read emails and get paperwork in order then get ready to go to work.  Moi asks me if I’ll be home in time to help her carry out an air conditioner she wants to give back to Ezra before she goes to work herself tonight.  I tell her I should be.  Work takes longer than I expect, and to get home to help her, and also before dark to take Mway for her walk, I make a number of questionable maneuvers in my car as I encounter heavy traffic on what locals call the Golden Strip, including illegally driving up the berm along a stalled line of cars to reach a turning lane onto back roads (in my defense, I can only say the berm looked like the turning lane).  When I get home, Moi has already carried the air conditioner out herself.  Mway follows me from room to room, up and down stairs, as I get ready to go out.
State of the Path:  I’m still having trouble walking.  Although my gait is not halting, there’s definitely a stiffness in my walk, and probably a perpetual wince on my face.  The sky is yellow on the western horizon.  Gusts of wind blow in my eyes.   Where the side path comes back around to the main path, I spot a flouncy black hair band in the path.  Must be Moi’s, I think, and I pick it up and put it around my wrist – then think to myself, she definitely goes at least this far on some of her walks.  Near the wigwams, I hear the ground creaking beneath me.  My walking stick makes a hollow thump against the dirt.
State of the Creek:   I stop at the former log jam, looking at nothing in particular.  An oak leaf falls into the water then floats to the edge of some ice.  As I walk along, I realize most of the ice in the pools has melted, and I’m surprised it was that warm today.  There are still quite a number of thin white ice shelves along the banks.  I try to break some of the ice in the swale from bug land, but it’s pretty hard.  I don’t look at much more, as words are going through my head, phrases like “stiffness to my walk” and “wince in my face.”
The Fetch:  When I reach the clearing, the western sky is turning pink.  Mway is waiting for me, smiling.  We make the circle, and a few fetches into the second round, she starts coaxing me to play “Put it down.”  I play it a couple times, then tell her “that’s enough.”  Back in the house, Moi is gone, and I realize I don’t know whether she’s already fed Mway or not.  I pour out some dog food for her – maybe she has two suppers tonight.  Then I remember Moi asked me to check for eggs, and I have to put my boots back on to go out to the coop.  I find one.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Try to Hear the Trickle of Water

December 22, 2010.  Wednesday.
Situation:  I wake up a little earlier than I did yesterday, 15 minutes or so before nine, but just before I get up I hear Moi slamming the door and Mway barking.  After I pee, start up my computer, and get a cup of coffee, Moi comes back in with Mway and tells me they went down to the creek.  So that means I’m stuck with taking Mway for a walk in the afternoon, sometime before I leave for work tonight and when I’m more in a rush.  Last night Moi helped me with setting up my blog, and we discovered that the post I tried to make the other day didn’t appear on the page simply because I hadn’t successfully put any content in it.  We corrected that, and so now there’s a first post on the blog for December 21, 2010, which contains what I wrote up as an introduction.  In three more days, counting this one, I’ll be making my last entry in this journal, and then I’ll start posting each day of the journal up on the blog, exactly a year after they were written.  I’ll still be taking Mway for walks, but I won’t be writing about them – one year of doing this has been enough, more than enough.  I don’t know if I had written this in a different year, if it would have been any more exciting, say in a year when it had rained more, and there might have been more plants to try to identify.  But this is the year I disciplined myself to write about, and so this is the year that you get.  There are some things I wanted to mention in the course of this journal, by way of background, but never got around to.  Maybe I can take the time now and mention them quickly:  This farmhouse in which we live, a log house covered in clapboard, may have been built in the 1700’s by one of the earliest European settlers in this area, famous in local history for being killed by Indians and buried in the cemetery of the village once named after him; I first became aware of the house in the ‘70’s when it was an isolated party house and I played music with friends here, and Moi and I, hearing from my father that it was up for sale (and Moi wanting to move out of the city of Rochester) bought it in 1987 from the guy who owned it, an excommunicated, sneaker-wearing, 70-something-year-old Old Order Mennonite, who was married and soon divorced from a 20-something-year-old English girl; about ten years later Amos Peachy was murdered in his auction barn, his body mutilated with facial stabbings and a “Vietnamese necktie,” by the boyfriend of a young woman whom he had not paid, in his well-known parsimonious fashion, for her sexual favors; shortly after that Peachy’s family put the farmland around us up for auction, several of the local farmers, including an organic farming friend of ours (once jailed for a year for sending fine grades of marijuana to his accountant through UPS), trying to buy it but being outbid by a developer; after which I instituted a zoning challenge to the township, for whom my father was a supervisor and my then employer was solicitor, claiming that, based on the township’s zoning objectives of “maintaining the rural character of the township and preserving prime farmland” (and a bunch of other things), the township had illegally zoned the farmland around us, and indeed all the farmland in the township, by permitting large housing subdivisions to be built in those areas, my zoning challenge eventually ending up in the Court of Common Pleas and found to be “frivolous”; local rumor has it that I lost my job because of these actions, but despite the unsuccessful challenge the township supervisors did change the zoning regulations to preserve the prime farmland of the township, although nothing could be done about the farmland around us; because the development was named S____ Glenn (sic), Moi dubbed our place S____ Swamp, painted the name on our mailbox and across the front of the house next to a scowling Lady Liberty marching forth with an American flag.  So there, that’s all said and out of the way.  There are a number of other things I also would’ve liked to have mentioned, maybe more about family matters, about Moi making corn husk faces from the corn around us, having peacocks, ducks, and geese, and growing pumpkins, about the kids growing up (how, for example, the Boy, when he was about 14, drove transmission-broken minivans backwards through the old orchard), and certainly more about the dogs we had before Mway -- Spot and Blue (not to mention Moi’s first dog, the all-important Maggie May).  Regarding the dogs, I do think it’s important that I explain how we started taking them for walks in the first place, for at one time we just let them out and let them roam wherever they wanted.  Spot, whom I believe I’ve mentioned once or twice in this journal, was the Australian blue heeler that the kids brought home with them one day (assisted by our neighbor friend) and just unleashed in our bedroom while Moi and I were both in bed sick with the flu.  Spot was a problem dog, but she never strayed far from the house.  However, Blue (a German-shepherd, Australian-cattle-dog mix, whom Moi picked up from one of her friends a few years later) did like to venture far from the house.  He used to pick up a dog friend of his, Rufus, and the two of them would strut over the ridge to Route XXX to beg for food from the places of business along the highway, including a state police barracks.  The only way we knew about this is that eventually we would get calls from the places telling us our dog was there (our phone number being on the collar), with the people on the phone saying, “No problem.  Just wanted to let you know.  He’s a nice dog.  We’re just giving him doughnuts.”  However, eventually a woman who worked at the state police barracks told us that we had to start controlling our dog or there could be serious consequences.  So I started taking Blue and Spot on a walk, with each dog on a leash, up and down our right-of-way over the farm fields every chance I could, and eventually Blue learned to stay around the house, even when he was not on a leash.  When the development came in and houses started to be built along our right-of-way, the walks gradually moved to where Moi and I take Mway for a walk now.  We also found out that by taking the dogs for a walk over our own property, we could keep open a path down to the creek, which we seldom saw in the summer time until we started doing this.  So that’s the origin of our walks with Mway –  a warning from the authorities.
State of the Path:  The halting gait I had yesterday is pretty much gone.  Only about every ten steps or so do I feel my tendon twinge or something and then I lunge forward with a sudden jerk.  Yesterday I asked Moi if she had noticed that there were still leaves on the willow tree – she said she hadn’t; but there they are, still there today – I wonder if this is typical of willows, to hang onto their leaves into winter?  A lot of the trash in the walled garden that Moi hasn’t been burning is strewn about – maybe the chickens have been poking around here looking for food crumbs.  I decide to take the side path, since I haven’t been back that way in a while.  It’s very quiet today; I hear no birds, no sounds from the McNeighborhood, not even the rumbling of traffic from the highways.  The only sounds I hear are the briars, goldenrod stalks, and bare honeysuckles branches brushing against my snow suit, the leaves crunching underfoot, and when I get down past the wigwams, the cracking of frozen dirt and ice underneath the ground.
State of the Creek:  I stop at some rocks to see if I can hear the water trickling, and now I hear a distant plane overhead: I barely hear the trickle of water, like someone trying to say something through the rumble of the plane.  I see a stick stuck in some multiflora branches and make a mental note that this is a stick I can count on if sometime I need a fetching stick.  I stop at the narrows to smash up the white ice formed around some debris, but it’s firm and doesn’t break under my walking stick.  I cross the plank over to the skating pond crest and see a white object in the distance.  When I get closer, I see it’s a glob of white on the car tire -- must be from a bird.  After I round the crest, I spy Mwayla in the skating pond walking through the brown grass amidst the catty-nine-tails.  Later she catches up to me in the path, thrashing through the weeds of the marshy spot between the ridges.
The Fetch:  She passes me by and runs way ahead of me as I step slowly over the ice that crusts up like a rumpled rug around Moi’s pines.  She is waiting for me when I reach the clearing.  We start making the circle, and on about the third fetch, she must prick herself on a little briar stalk that sticks up alone in the middle of the clearing, for I hear her yelp and pick up her paw.  But it must only be a slight jab, for afterwards she makes the round without showing any signs of being hurt, although I have to coax her along a little by playing “put it down.”  I think we even make it as far as a third round.  A couple fetches into that I tell her “good enough.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ice on the Creek

December 21, 2010.  Tuesday.
Situation:  Last night I didn’t get home from my job until 2 am, so this morning I wake up later than I have been, about 10.  Right away Moi needs me to follow her into town while she takes her car to Kantz’s.  When I get back home, some rush work comes in by email, so I rush around to fix my breakfast of Ramen noodle stir fry with food from my Sunday job and to get dressed.  Everywhere I step, Mway seems to be at my heels, staring up at me.  I finish up my work and get home about 4.  I have to take Moi in to get her car, and when I get back I put on my snow suit and boots (because I have the snow suit on to protect me from briars, I figure I can just wear my lounging-around clothes underneath, what Moi calls my “fat pants”).  Before I step outside I remember to check the music room for sticks, where I find the birch branch.
State of the Path:  I try to walk as normally as I can, following Moi’s advice that I should not tense up my muscles but try to work them instead, and this seems to help a little with my walking.  Yet my walk could still be described as a halting gait, since I pause when my left foot is forward and my hip is swiveling and right leg is readying to return to a forward position.  A sliver of red hangs in the western horizon.  I see some little birds in the shrubs around the walled garden, but the light is too dim for me to be embarrassed that I probably don’t know what they are anyhow.  I keep my eyes on the path, my thoughts on trying to even out the motion of my two legs.  Before bug land, the path becomes choppy, the ground torn up, I guess, from ice and water.
State of the Creek:  At the log jam, I poke at the ice.  It stays firm.  Around the root and the debris that sticks out from the creek bank, there’s a higher shelf of thin white ice, which I smash to pieces, and as I’m doing that, my stick plunges through the main ice right close to the bank.  As I walk along the creek, I notice the rocky spots are ice free, the pools covered with transparent ice, and the branch and leaf debris surrounded by more thin, white ice shelves.
The Fetch:  Mway gets way ahead of me, and as I’m slowly coming up to the clearing, she runs part way down the path to meet me, then runs back, waits a moment, then runs down part way again and back.  We make the circle, Mway spinning and barking between fetches.  It seems to me that I’m bending over quicker than I was yesterday.  The birch branch, covered with teeth marks, has withstood weeks of Mway’s chewing on it, but it’s impossible to tell it was once a birch, its bark completely gone.  Two pitches into the second round, we play “Put it down” twice.  Then I tell Mway “that’s enough” and we head down the path where I’m surprised to still see a gash of red on the horizon.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Walking Slowly and with Difficulty

December 20, 2010.  Monday.
Situation:  I wake up early and meet Moi standing at the door.  She says she’s taking Mway for a walk before heading out to some sort of store or other.  I tell her I can take Mway for a walk, so she says she’ll just take her out for a quick fetch in the back yard.  I still have a little trouble walking, especially up and down stairs, but on a level area I can almost swivel my legs like normal.  I haven’t taken Mway for a walk in two days, and I feel like getting out, although I’m not looking forward to stepping outside in the cold.  I have to work late tonight, and I don’t know yet if I have any work to do during the day.  Last night I visited my blog site and entered some matter in the title and description and “about me” sections.  I certainly don’t like the format and the strictures they impose, and I’m wondering if there’s some way I can fit the matter better on the page – maybe Moi knows her way better around the design controls.  And I’m still unable to view the introduction I supposedly posted the other night.  Well, I’ll take another look at the site when I come back from taking Mway for a walk.
State of the Path:   When I appear in the hallway in my walking clothes, Mway springs up from the floor where she was lying and rushes down the stairs.  After I slowly put on my snow suit and boots, I remember I left my wool cap and garden gloves in the car, and as I drag myself across the back porch, I realize I’ve overestimated how well I can walk.  I don’t find any sticks on the bench, so I limp back into the house and find four sticks in the music room, including the birch branch that I like to toss.  Holding onto the railing I carefully hobble down the back stoop, then seize my walking stick, and as I lumber down the sidewalk I see this is not going to be as easy going as I thought.  My hip swivels well enough, but when I lift my right leg or bend the right knee I feel a slight pain in a tendon or muscle in my calf, not enough to hurt a great deal, but enough to cut my usual walking speed in half.  By the time I’m at the pig pen, I see Mway running back down the path toward me to see if I’m still coming.  My foot seems to drag across every bump in the path, and I feel like I’m lopsided every time I swing my right leg forward.  Every goldenrod stalk I brush against remains flexed for several seconds until I move past it.  At the dip in the path just before bug land, I lose my balance slightly and sway a little into some blackberry briars.
State of the Creek:  I make several stops along the creek, more or less just to rest.  I don’t bother to lean over the bank to poke at any ice, lest I lose my balance.  There are some brown oak leaves lying on top of Moi’s green plants frozen in the ice, and I see the green underwater plants frozen rigid beneath the ice.  Before the locust trees, I stop again, and while I’m staring across the creek at nothing in particular, I hear a pecking sound like a woodpecker.  I look around on all the trunks but I see nothing, then I spot a black-capped chickadee, or a bird that closely resembles one, walking up and down one trunk of a tree.  It’s nipping at the wood, but it doesn’t seem that that could be making the pecking sound.  Then further down the trunk, I spot a smaller chickadee, nipping away at twice the speed of the other, but it doesn’t seem that the pecking sound is coming from that either.  At the narrows, I have to lift my legs over the branches lying in the path, and I nearly stumble.  But I hear the pecking sound growing louder.  I start keeping my eye on one tree and as I sidle down the path eventually a bird comes into view in a crook high in the tree.  Its pecking motions readily align with the sound of the pecking I hear.  This woodpecker, or flicker, or tree-clinging bird, has white-flecked wings, and I look for, but don’t see any, red on its head.  In the Audubon bird book, it looks like every kind of woodpecker has white-flecked wings.
The Fetch:  Over the ice along the ridge I move very cautiously, stepping onto grass as much as possible.  As I hobble up the slope toward the clearing, I see Mway watching me coming.  Over the past couple days I’ve had to bend over many times to set up equipment, so I know I can bend over okay, but I’m not looking forward to Mway trying to rush me.  It seems with every fetch she’s able to get in a few more barks or an extra spin as I’m bending down to pick up the stick.  We go a few pitches into a second round when Mway brings the stick back without dropping it, and as soon as that happens, I tell her “that’s enough.”

Monday, December 19, 2011

Because That in It He had Rested

December 19, 2010.  Sunday.
Situation:  I did manage to work last night, although it was a tough time.  Fortunately I had help carrying my equipment, so that wasn’t a problem.  But I hadn’t eaten anything all day, and I felt very weak during the whole job.  By the end of the night, though, my appetite was coming back, and I was able to eat much of the clams casino served to me at the end of the job.  A long drive home – 138 miles round trip.  This morning I woke up with my appetite fully restored, so I was looking forward to food I would get on the job today.  I was still having a little trouble walking, but I was assured I would have help moving my equipment again today.  Before I left Moi read something she’d written up.  “You know,” she said, “how people send out these letters at Christmastime all about what their family did all year?  I think they’re stupid, but I wrote one up.”  She read it to me.  The letter touched on all the major events, Jazz’s wedding, the Boy getting a job with CBS in NYC, Moi working as an enumerator for the US Census, the family pow wow up in Awkwesasne, Jazz’s photography award, Moi not being able to shoot a deer but discovering the inspiration to write about it.  When she finished I said it was good, but Moi wrinkled her face.  “It’s stupid, isn’t it?  I’m not going to send it out.”  Right now I’ve just gotten back from work.  Moi was on the phone when I walked in the door, so I haven’t talked to her yet.  Typical Sunday: work all day, when I get home it’s dark.  No walk for Mway from me today.  I’m hoping tomorrow morning my leg will feel much better and I’m able to take her for a good walk then.