Field Stones

The drive up to my in-laws for Thanksgiving was not too hard. Though the way up was prematurely darkened by changing seasons and daylight savings, it was nice to get out of the house and then farther away from the city where we spend much of our time when out and about. A few years ago, Jack and Ellen decided it was time for them to look for a new place to call home. Back in the Last sixties, they were fleeing New York and Jersey City and landed for many years in a valley of central Vermont. Having raised their children there, they had grown accustomed to country living and even after the kids had all moved away to other New England states, they stayed in their valley for many more years. As grand kids entered the scene, they took to driving long distances to see recitals and ball games, baby sit and gather for holidays. As the years went by, they decided that it was time for a change of geography.

Unlike many their age, they elected to move north, rather than join the conga line to the southern golf courses and bridge tournaments. That’s not their style, at any rate. They’d go crazy in two weeks. With two out of their three children living in Maine, they sold their house of thirty or so years and moved to the Pine Tree State. They live about an hour and a half away and though in a pleasant location, it’s not what I’d call picturesque. It’s farm country, plain and simple. Slowly rolling hills and young tree forests where vast fields used to cover the landscape. The old, colonial style farmhouses still perch on the hillsides, looking down on their slowly shrinking and mostly unused fields.

Even so, there’s still a good deal of farmland being used, mostly for hay and corn. One of these small “gentleman’s” farms sits next door to my wife’s folks. Being outgoing people and good of heart, they immediately became friends with the old bachelor farmer who lives in the old, white farmhouse nestled in a dip on the way up a hill, leading out of town. Short Stack loves visiting there too. There are chickens!

The morning after we arrived, a heavy fog was sitting over the land, giving things a softened quality that one would usually associate with snow. Snow had, in fact, already arrived just a few days before but didn’t have cooperating temperatures to keep its foothold. The five or so inches that had covered everything was gone with the warm front and had found new life as the fog and a heavy rime-ice dew that gave what would otherwise be smooth surfaces, a spiky shell of minute crystal. The grass, though wet looking, would crunch under each footfall. After getting the various children fed, visiting with rarely seen relatives and topping up my internal coffee tank, I decided to take a walk in the foggy fields.


One of the things that I love about New England is the stone. More accurately, I should say, the stonewalls. This area of North America was covered in a massive ice sheet over a mile thick during the last ice age. The action of that weight and motion ground down our mountains to their roots and left us with few imposing peaks. Where all that stone till went was directly into the soil. This makes for a difficult soil to plow since it’s full of beautifully smoothed, rounded rocks ranging in size from a small orange to a plush living room chair.

Years ago, I went for a walk with a friend of mine who grew up in Nebraska. As we strolled along path through a deep wood, he stopped at a pile of boulders and exclaimed, “Will you just LOOK at these rocks!” When I replied with something witty like, “Um. Yup. Those sure are… rocks” he set me straight. He explained to me that where he was from, a rock was about the size of an unshelled almond, and that was it. To him, the stones that had vexed New England farmers long enough to turn most of them into Nebraska farmers, we amazing to see littering the ground.

With all these massive balls of granite filling your fields and cows that were none too clear on where they were supposed to graze and where they were not, it was natural that stonewalls would quickly crisscross the landscape, and indeed, they do. If you go out for a walk in any New England wood and head off in just about any direction, I will guarantee that you will eventually find a stonewall. Eighty percent of the state of New Hampshire, to give you an idea, was open farmland just a hundred and fifty years ago. Now it’s eighty percent forest. The trees here grow quickly. When the leaves have fallen but the snow has yet to obscure things, you can fly around in a small plane and get a clear picture of the way things once looked. The arrow-straight walls run off to the horizons, transforming the rolling geography into the ghost of a quilt, long since nibbled away by nature as she reclaims what was always hers.

As I crunched out through the field across the road from the house, I was lamenting the use of a modern electric fence to keep livestock in place, rather then the traditional wall. So many traditional, if labor intensive fixtures of life have disappeared from our culture. The modern solution, though simpler and faster, will simply not stand up to the test of time. That’s for sure.

I walked a bit farther on in the mist and could, in the silence of the countryside, just make out the sound of a brook somewhere. What my eyes I couldn’t see through the fog, I found by ear. As I got closer, the sound was beautiful and entrancing.

Download Running Brook 2.WAV


The farmer had dug a huge drainage ditch to allow a stream to pass through this place with a minimum of flooding come spring. It measured easily ten feet wide and was roughly five feet deep in a smooth half pipe curve. The entire bed of it, he had lined in beautiful round stones, doubtless from his fields. Beneath the layer of rocks came the sound of a hidden run or water, showing its self only briefly here and there before once again vanishing under the bits and pieces of broken and smoothed mountain tops. This, the traditional building material of the northeastern farmer, will endure, and that makes me smile.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A story for you all later. Right now, I’ve got turkey and stuffing to get into and a pumpkin pie lurking in the distance. If I can move after the feast and make it past the relatives, I’ll get something proper put down.

A happy Thanksgiving to you all who celebrate it! To others in far off lands… just know that in my book, today is the perfect day to eat far more home cooked food than is decent and reflect on the good things in life.


-Turkish Prawn

Stewardship of a Friend

I hope I won’t be tossing too much of a wet blanket on things with this story but I’m writing this entry as more of a catharsis than a literary exercise. More than anything, I just want to get some of the emotion off my shoulders. Tomorrow morning, I will be putting an old and deeply loved pet to sleep. I’ve only done this once before and I’m dreading doing it again.

It’s been a rough year or so for pets in our house. A few months ago, I told the story of Peanut, the mouse and his discovery in a box at my shop. He was a good little mouse and though the extent of our interactions could be boiled down to feeding and cleaning his cage, I liked having him around and miss seeing his antics. For a mouse, he was ancient and finding that he had passed away in his cage one evening was hardly a shock. Tomorrow will be something totally different. It’s time to say good bye to my cat, Sylvester and he’s been with me a long, long time.

Action Girl and I wound up with Sylvester and his sister some time back around 1995. The road that went from my place to her apartment also wound by the local animal shelter and every time we drove by she would try to talk me into stopping. One day, weakened by home made pancakes and sweet talk, I pulled the car in. As we looked at the various cats in their sad little cells, I noticed that each one had a card next to it. The card detailed the name of the cat, its age and what it did well with, such as other cats, dogs, kids, etc. One little black and white cat sitting in his little cage caught my eye. The card said that his name was Sylvester, which is hardly original for a black and white cat, I’ll grant you. What was interesting was what it said he did well with.

“I do well with _Misty_”

As I looked to my left, there sat a scared looking calico who was, sure enough, named Misty. We decided to test drive them in the petting room and Sylvester quickly proved him self to be a lover. What he wanted to do was play, rub and purr. He was a great self promoter and I had no doubt that I had just found my new cat. Misty, on the other hand, hid under the chair. When we asked about them we were informed that they had been brought in together by a woman who had become allergic. Because they were brother and sister, the shelter really wanted them to go to the same home. The problem was that they were already past their time at the facility. This was not a non-euthanizing shelter. The woman who were were looking with said that there was someone who wanted Sylvester, but not Misty. They had hung on to them a bit longer in the hopes that they could still be placed together and both saved. We were hooked and took them both. We actually were ushered out a side door since shortly after filling out the adoption paperwork, the woman who wanted just Sylvester had come in the front. We were told that she would not be pleased.


Oddly enough, we changed Misty’s name to Jade but kept Sylvester as is. He immediately proved himself a great cat and his antics would send us into peals of laughter. Jade, on the other hand, clearly wanted to be a single cat. She simply did not want to be part of a two cat show and took it out on her clownish counterpart. A short time later, she found her way to my folks house and lives there now, fat, old and happy to have all the love and affection. Sylvester has been with us ever since, squeaking his paws on the wood floors as he tore around the house at top speed. Along the way, we picked up a Maine Coon Cat named Beeswax and the two of them became best buddies. They kind of reminded me of the Odd Couple. Beeswax as Oscar and Sylvester as Felix. They made life a lot of fun and we enjoyed their company if not the lost space on the bed. They’ve moved to many new homes as we have tried to find our spot in the world.

The last addition to the fuzzy side of the family was our third cat, Owlie. A fluffy little fool who, being far younger than the other two, took over the difficult stage work of keeping us laughing and gave the other two old men a chance to kick back and heckle from the box seats.

For a while, we were a three cat household. That, for the size of our house and the fact that they were all indoor cats only was just too many cats. Someone was always underfoot, puking on something or shedding on your new coat. Then you toss an infant into the mix, and things were really getting crowded. We loved them all though. Then about a year and a half ago, Beeswax started to fail. He had been a huge cat, weighing in at over twenty pounds without an ounce of fat on him. In a few months, he had lost a lot of mass and rapidly went down hill. He was fourteen and on his way out in a long, drawn out illness. It was the first time I had to help a pet go. He couldn’t do it with out me. So, as an adult and father, I took our wonderful Beeswax down to the vet and he passed quietly and painlessly away in my arms. I heard his heart’s last beat. I was a wreck for the rest of the day.

That was over a year ago and now, it’s time for Sylvester to go and meet his friend. I had noticed that something was wrong a few months ago. It was one of those things that only a long term friend would have known. Even though outwardly he looked fine, I could tell that things were not right. Even after this summer’s routine checkup at the vet’s this which he passed with flying colors, I knew he wasn’t his old self. Over the last week, things have fallen apart. His coat wasn’t being cleaned, his appetite dropped and then, he started to stumble. He’s lost a lot of weight and a blood test that we had done confirmed it. Acute kidney failure. For him, there’s no turning back. He’s dehydrated, week and feels sick. He’s still a lover though and will purr at the lightest touch.

(Sylester In younger and healthier days)

Tomorrow at ten, we’ll get a home visit from the vet. He’ll pass away on his favorite pillow on our couch. Short Stack will be away at pre-school, but I’ll be sure he gives ‘Vester a kiss goodbye before he heads off to play. It will be hard to explain later, but I’ll tell him that he’s with Beeswax now. There are some who would say that animals have no souls. I know this cat’s soul. He’s bared it to me for seventeen years, just as I’ve bared mine to him. I’ve breathed his breath and he’s soaked up my love.

I’ll miss you terribly, my friend. I know it’s your time to leave and we both knew it was coming. It doesn’t make it any easier, though. You’re the best black and white cat there is.

The Sewing Circle

Every day, I get to learn more about my neighbors than is normal, or sometimes, comfortable. I hear about whose car is dead, whose child is having trouble at school, and why someone I know isn’t speaking to someone else I know and how someone else’s vacation went. All this information comes to me daily and none of it is solicited for. Well, almost none of it.

How many of you have struck up conversations with the person in the seat next to you on a flight to somewhere? Perhaps you’ve made a connection with a total stranger on a long bus ride and said things that really out to be reserved for loved ones, the confines of your own head or a therapists couch. Oddly, it seems to be a fairly universal occurrence. A strange phenomenon happens to people when you throw them together on some form of transportation. We seem to open up and talk with people whom we would normally pass right by with nary a nod or a smile.

Over the years, I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of this experience. The nice girl I met as I flew home to the States from Brussels. She had just finished visiting friends in Europe and was returning home to find a new job. She would be living with her mother for a while until she got her feet under her. Or the young man that my father got to meet on a flight to Hawaii. He was nervous because he would be meeting his fiancé’s parents for the first time. He was Caucasian, she was Japanese and the prospective in-laws were very traditional and old fashioned. It could be any one you meet. All you need to do is add forced confinement with moving in some form of public transport. Amazingly, it almost always seems to lead to loosened tongues and open conversations in my experience, any way.


I have even had a brush with celebrity… sort of. He is famous, at any rate. I recall vividly the two hours I spent chatting happily about nothing in particular with a bearded, old man at a gate in Newark airport. He was animated, extremely interesting to listen to and a great listener in return. He told me about growing up in New York City when he was a little boy. About the day his mother, who was sweeping the front steps of their town house called to him excitedly to run to the front door. When he emerged and looked up, he was just in time to see the Hindenburg pass quietly overhead, heading for Lakehurst. Two hours later, it would be a smoldering wreck. We talked about this and that: kids, parents, friends and history. In the end, we boarded our flight and he wished me well on my trip. It was a pleasure to meet the distinguished Dr. C. Everett Coop, past Surgeon General of the United States. Of all the random chats with strangers I’ve had, his name alone do I remember.

Most folks, I suppose, would attribute this strange opening up of personal space to the rational that we will son be leaving our new found confidants in the next seat and can walk away with no worry of seeing them or any one they might know, ever again. Well, it aint true. It’s got to be something else. I don’t know what, but I know it’s not that. Here’s how I know.

I live on an island and every day, I take a ferry ride to the mainland. The ferry is the great equalizer for the folks who live on the rock we call home. People from big houses and people from small houses alike must ride the boat. It doesn’t matter if you own, rent or are staying with a friend. If you want to get to town, we all ride together. The ride is not a terribly long one. Adding the time you spend sitting in your seat and waiting for the boat to depart on schedule, you’re looking at anywhere from twenty to twenty five minutes. In that short time though, we all get to reacquaint our selves with what’s going on with who.

Conversations are struck up with people whom you only ever talk to on the boat. You might never get together over a cup of coffee and a danish out on the island, but you could easily wind up chatting with this person every day for the length of the boat ride. Even if you don’t participate in the great chatterbox that is the ferry, you still get the benefit, if you can call it that. Though topics of conversation might be a little more restrained than if you knew you had anonymity, you do still hear the details of your fellow islander’s lives as the chatter floats among the seats of the cabin.

A woman down the street from me is going to a conference for a couple of days. She’ll be talking a cab to the bus station and then will be heading for Boston. She’ll get to the station early since she anticipates it being crowded. Her husband is worried about the roof on the building next to his new office. Snow is coming and it looks like it needs work. I find out about a private marriage ceremony on a boat in the marina; the parents, uninvited and the bride, many months pregnant. The public works guys a few rows back are explaining to a fellow islander how the budget for their department works versus the fire and police, and just what they think of that. A young couple I know will be going on a camping trip to Hawaii soon. They don’t know where they will be camping, but they are excited since neither one of them has ever been there before. One of the local fishermen experienced a hernia while he was out working. He made himself a girdle out of duck tape to hold things together until he could steam back to shore and get to the hospital.

None of this information was part of a conversation that I was active in. It simply came to me like radio waves, broadcast across the aether. There is a simple truth to living where I do. There are no secrets. People talk about six degrees of separation, but here, it’s more like two. Though I am continuously amazed at islanders I know doing foolish things such as having affairs, I conclude that they are either just that naive or simply don’t care that they will be inevitably found out. We all know each other’s business and if we don’t, we will soon.

And the truth of the matter is, that’s okay with us. The vast majority of islanders simply don’t mind. Who cares? In many ways, it’s defiantly helpful. There’s less to hide about your life, mostly because there is no point in expending the effort to hid it. We all know each other far better than we should. It also means that we tend to take care of each other pretty well. We know who’s sick and we bring them soup. We know who needs a ride to work and we offer it to them. We know who’s having a party and we show up with clam dip. It’s not quite communal living, but it is community living, to be sure. News travels fast here, good or bad and I rather enjoy that. Why invest in a telescope and a wiretap when all you really need to do is make sure that you’re on the five o’clock boat heading home.

“She’s been seeing HIM? No way!”

Decoding the Downchucks and White Smiles

Children do not see things like we do. The world is being viewed through eyes that have not seen how a lot of thing work and because they don’t expect certain outcomes form certain events, their wide eyed interest in any given event is honest and open minded. If cars started growing wings and flying around, your average three year old would just roll with it. As far as they know, that sort of thing might happen every day. So what? They might be excited, but they wouldn’t have the mental logic hemorrhage that any adult would experience.

This same, “I guess that’s supposed to happen” view of the world also allows kids to implement their own limited experiences and logic on any given situation. Two of these leaps of logic come to mind from my own childhood. I don’t remember them myself, but the stories have been retold by my parents enough times so that they have become family folklore.

The first involved the clothes dryer. I was a very talkative child and used to enjoy following my Mom and Dad around the house, talking to them until their ears tried to flee their heads and hide in their armpits. On one of these days, I happened to be sitting on the cellar stairs, chatting my Mom down to a nub as she did the laundry. As she transferred the clothes from the washer to the dryer, I reportedly reminded her to check for filt.

“Filt? What’s filt?”, she managed to get in edgewise.
“You know? The filt. You have to get it out before you start the dryer.” I happily burbled.

What I was getting at was that she needed to clean out the filter on the dryer before she left. To a kid’s mind, it made perfect sense. Well, to mine it did, anyway. If that was the filter, what else could it be that was collected? It had to be filt! To a young mind, it only makes sense. To an adult, it’s like a code that needs breaking before you can tell what on earth your child is talking about.


The second kid-encryption that I know of from my own past, was the downchucks. Downchucks scared the hell out of me. This one stumped my folks for a long, long time. I was just old enough to say a word of my own invention clearly enough for others to understand it, but not old enough to explain what they were. All they knew was that the downchucks were in their bed room versus mine and that they worried me enough to keep me out of the place if it was dark or if one of my parents wasn’t with me the whole time.

Normally, this level of kid decoding requires a parent with a lot of personal understanding of what their child tends to see and imagine. In this particular case however, it was my aunt Janet who worked it out. From time to time, she watched me while my folks were out and one day while reading me a book, one line jumped out at her.

“Down, jumped the woodchuck, into his burrow.”

Then it dawned on her.

“Burrow”… “Bureau!”

She asked me if the downchucks were on my parent’s bureau. I replied that, yes, they were. She walked into my folks room and looked that the bureau. Specifically, she looked at the drawer pulls. This being the nineteen seventies in America, everything was required to have a colonial American theme to it. It was the ubiquitous style of the era. The plates on the face of the drawer pulls were American eagles. Not too intimidating… until you looked at the negative space and not the eagle. OH MY! If you ignored the eagle, the dark wood showing through the cut outs under the wings looked like very mean and scary eyes. The dressers in my parent’s room looked like two totem polls of nasty and malevolent gremlins! Those were the downchucks!

Short Stack has naturally come up with a few of his own zingers in his time and I’m sure we’ll be in for plenty more as time goes along. Most seem to come from his ability to “almost” get a long and tough word. He’ll make an admirable stab at it and then, right or wrong, go with it. We’ve figured out some while others have to simply be filed away for decrypting at a later date.

“Henra-ta-denra” was one of the more recent cracks that, having worked out on my own, I’m particularly proud of. He had been saying this for some time now and we always just shrugged our shoulders and smiled. Then, a few weeks ago, I looked in on Short Stack as he happily watched a kid show we have on the computer. In the video, a magician waves his magic wand and says, “Abracadabra!” Short Stack, big smile plastered across his chubby cheeks, immediately retorted, “Henratadenra!” I called Acton Girl right away when I finally had that code cracked!

The one that still has us stumped is “Viveeder”. Apparently, it has something to do with cars and trucks, but what it is exactly, we have no clue. Short Stack will point to some random vehicle and tell us emphatically, “This is a viveeder! It can viveed!”


The one that I worked out tonight was more on par with the downchucks than simply getting a word mixed up.

I had put Short Stack in bed and after the required three books had been read, I tucked him in, turned off the light, turned on the night light, gave him his kisses and headed down stairs. A few minutes later, I thought I heard whimpering. I walked to the foot of the stairs and was proven right. Something was wrong. I headed up and immediately got a big, worried hug as soon as I was safely within launching range of the bed. Then, the explanation.

“It’s a big, white smile! Who’s dat big, white smile? He has no legs and he’s peeking at me!”

This is the sort of thing that as a parent, you need to solve and solve fast. I looked around the room and could see nothing that looked even remotely like a “big, white, legless smile”. Hmmm. As soon as Short Stack was calm and sure that he was safe, I asked him to show me where the smile was. I picked him up and with him clinging to me like a baby monkey; we walked to the open doorway to his room. He thrust his round finger out accusingly at the wall.

“Dare it is. Dat’s the big, white smile!”

He clung on even harder. I still didn’t see it, but I had the idea. Taking him back to his little toddler sized bed, I lay down next to him. As I looked at the open door way, I tried to see things like my son did. I defocused and I looked at the doorway in front of me… and then I saw it. The big, white smile.

Well, to be honest, it was hard to see it as he described it, but to be fair, he was using the only words he had access to. What it turned out to be was a pool of light being thrown on the stairway wall by his night light. In the middle of the pool, was a series of knots in the wood planking that covers that section of wall. If looked at from his pillow, it looked kind of like a goofy smile. To him, it was like being watched while he was alone in his room. I understood immediately from my own childhood experiences with drawer pulls. Some time spent explaining what he was seeing on the wall and a quick relocation of the nightlight fixed the problem. The “big, white smile” was gone from view and he felt as though things were safe enough to fall asleep.

I don’t know if I can always decode the fears of my children on the fly like that, but I’ll sure as heck try. There’s a lot that catches you unaware when you’re a small child. The experiences of life have yet to come down your road and the things that are safe versus the things that are not, are easily confused. While my children are with me, I will do what I can to call them as I see them, and if I’m very lucky, I might even learn a few things from them as well.

I just wish he’d tell me what the heck a “viveeder” is.

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