Don’t Step in What the Bear Left. Part II

With a sigh that all but shouted the word “WUSS!” Mountain Man bent to the offer and as the motel came into view, we pulled into the mostly empty parking lot. Our residence for the evening was exactly what you’d expect of a motel that was out in the middle of nowhere. It was thread bare, tired, and I’m guessing, last updated in the seventies judging by the paint choices of avocado green and harvest gold. What it did do is keep up out of the rain that night. To be honest, it was a fairly light rain and the news didn’t report of any tornados swooping out of the sky in search of young girls in blue dresses and accompanying dogs. As I lay in bed listening to the patter on the roof that night, I admit I felt fairly vindicated. We might not have been in mortal danger had we camped, but getting damp involved the crappy shower in the bathroom rather than a squishy sleeping bag.

The next day we were out and on the road as early as we could stand it. Mountain Man had instigated a cunningly evil rule for our road trip. Something to get us moving and moving with determination. Breakfast could not be had in the town where we slept. We needed to rack up some miles before dealing with our stomachs. Out here, that could mean quite a spell. We trundled along and eventually found sustenance, but not our friendly waitress’s friend. It’s an imperfect world. By lunch, we were making some really good progress and were closing in on the upper peninsula of Michigan. We decided that we would take our mid day break on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes and pulled of the main road to search for food. What we found, were bugs. Lots and lots of bugs.

Here’s something that you might not know. The Mayfly is a little over an inch and a quarter long. It lays its eggs on the surface of fresh water, which then sinks, and hatches into a nymph. This nymph can live for about a year or so, nibbling on all sorts of aquatic interests. Then, one day, it will go up to the surface, break through its outer skin and emerge into the air as a fully formed mayfly, looking for love and looking fast. It often has only a day or so to fulfill its function. Now imagine all of these nymphs doing this at the SAME TIME. What you get is roughly a billion-zillion mayflies cavorting around, mating and getting squished on your car.

shadfly01

As we pulled into town, the place was literally alive with mayflies. They covered every horizontal surface. They covered every vertical surface. They covered you if you stood still for more than a minute or two. Having them crawling and flying everywhere was revolting but it wasn’t half as disgusting as the sound each foot fall made as you walked from your bug-guts covered car to the MacDonald’s, flattening mayflies as you went. The thing that finally killed the last vestige of my apatite was when I grabbed the door to enter the restaurant and my fingers squished a couple of mayflies that had been hiding out of site on the back side of the handle making whoopie. As I did my little gross out dance, furiously trying to fling the mostly crushed yet still wiggling remains of the hidden lovers from my hand, Mountain Man and I came to the same conclusion. We nodded, bolted back to the car and got the hell out of this freak show. I honestly do not remember getting lunch that day. It was going to be a while before I could face anything I would want to ingest.

It was shortly after this that the trailer caught fire.

Well, “fire” might be pushing it since there were no actual flames, but it was burning up. Mountain Man was driving at the time and happened to glance in the rear view mirror. What he saw was blue/white smoke billowing out from the left wheel of the trailer, totally obscuring the road behind us. He immediately pulled off the road and we leaped out to find just what the hell on an empty, open trailer could possibly catch fire. There was no break system, no electrical except for the lights and nothing not built of steel. As we waded through the evil cloud of burning rubber, the culprit made its self known. Each of the two trailer wheels sported a little sheet metal fender and the one on the right had come half loose. One of the two bolts that held it there had wiggled loose and dropped the fender on top of the spinning wheel and done a top notch job of chewing it up. The friction from the fender had just about completely burned through the rubber. So, a tire change was made with our one spare and the fender was reattached with a twisted bit of coat hanger until a hardware store was located and better fix made.

I remember getting some sandwiches at a truck stop in Minnesota and checking our next move on the map. It was getting late. By the time we left the last inhabited landmark on our map, it was dark. The episode with the bug invasion and especially the tire cost us a lot of driving time and left us looking down the dark railroad cut with me behind the wheel. It was right about then I noticed that the dash lights had died. All of them. It was a moonless night and it was pitch black in the car.

“All we need to do,” declared Mountain Man, “is drive down the railroad bed about two point five miles and look for a grassy landing on our right.”

“The problem,” I pointed out, “is that I can’t see the odometer. The dash light is dead. I’ll have to use the dome light.” This is the point when we discovered that yes; the dome light too had bit the dust.

I looked at the black spot where I gauged Mountain Man’s head should be as he sat in the passenger seat. “Do you have a flashlight?”

“Um.. No. Do you?”

“You’ve got to be kidding. Neither of us brought a flashlight?”

This was going to be tricky. You couldn’t see anything in the car and the only light to be had anywhere was from our own headlights. Not so handy to see things INSIDE the car, as it turns out. Then I remembered my keychain. About a week before as I had prepared for this outing, I had gone to make a pilgrimage to Eastern Mountain Sports, our local camping supply retailer. As I had been cashing out, I spotted these silly little keychain fobs that looked just like miniature Colman lamps.

coleman

On an impulse, I bought one. Inside the diminutive lamp was a sixteenth of a watt bulb that was powered by a watch battery. I fished it out of my pocket, turned the knob and, Voila, we had light. Not much light to be sure, but when it’s pitch dark, it’s amazing how the tiniest bulb can make the biggest difference. I set the “lamp” in front of the odometer and crawled the car down the cut.

Let me take a moment to describe this so called road that we were on. It had been made, perhaps a hundred years ago by the railroad to cut across the swampland of this corner of Minnesota. Having seen its last train decades ago, the tracks and ties had now been stripped and the top of the bed smoothed a bit. It was still fairly bumpy but more importantly though had the added bonus that it was almost exactly as wide as the wheel base of the car. Plus, it dropped off heavily on each side. If you happened to take your eyes off it as you drove, you and your hapless vehicle would very quickly slide down a forty-five degree gravel bank for perhaps eight feet and wind up in the trees. You might be able to recover form this situation if you were lucky. Maybe.

My hands were glued at the ten o’clock and two o’clock positions and my eyeballs were focused directly forward as I navigated the car along at just better than running speed. I had been driving unblinking like this for perhaps ten minutes when Mountain Man spoke.

“Um… I think we missed it”

More later…

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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.

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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.

vester
(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.

New dad, old friend, only brother

A quick entry for now. I’ll expand on it later tomorrow, but I wanted to seed it today.

As of 1:17 PM EST, my good-as-blood brother, The Doctor is a father for the first time. His Daughter and wife are doing very well and I got a great phone call from him today around five-ish with all the details (weight, height, etc).

As I said, I’ll expand on my thoughts tomorrow morning, over coffee. I just couldn’t let the day slip away with out saying “Welcome” to her and wishing the happy parents all our love.

We can’t wait to see her!

[following text added the next day]

The Doctor and I have been fast friends since the third and fourth grade. I’m actually one year his senior but he’s always been about a grade level ahead of me so it somehow works out. Both of us are only children and for what ever the reasons were for a eight and nine year old, became each others de-facto brothers. In fact, we often have referred to each other as “My brother”. The only real thing that kept us from spending just about every waking moment playing together was the fact that we lived on opposite ends of town with the added bonus that I live in the valley and he live on top of Mt. Everest. Actually, it’s called Chapman Hill, but to a non-driving nine year old, it was much the same. In both cases, Sherpa are involved. Just that in my case, the Sherpa are my parents.

When ever possible, were are at one of our houses together and having a blast. Being “only-ies”, we were used to self entertainment and more than once, what ever parents were around would feel compelled to come and check on us, since they hadn’t actually heard either one of us say or do anything for the last hour. What they usually found was both of us engrossed in our own individual project. Usually something like painting a lead figurine or working on a model or playing on the computer. We’d both be off in our own world and having a great time, but totally independent of the other. Our folks used to find that fairly amusing.

That’s not to say that we didn’t like collaborating. Far from it. To give you an idea of how close we were as kids and how strong our friend ship was and still is, I will give you an example so bold that it will make some of you go “Wow!”. Other’s might not get the significance, but I can’t help that.

We pooled our Legos together in one pile.

We both had a lot of Legos, but together we ruled the Lego universe. For those who don’t see what that means, I’ll just say this; once you put your Legos in with someone else’s, there is NO hope of figuring out who’s is who’s. AND WE WOULD DO JUST ABOUT ANYTHING TO GET MORE LEGOS!

That’s the kind of friendship we have.

Well, we grew up, went to schools, got married and moved away. The Doctor went off to Cornell and then to Dartmouth, got his Royal Smartypants certificate and now he studies how to save the world from infectious diseases. I went off to my own college experience, got my Fairly Smartypants certificate and tried to save the world from Third Graders. We stay in touch mainly through email but try to get together a few times a year.

So now, he has a baby girl. It’s amazing to think back to those days of playing GI Joe’s out in the woods and building secret Lego bases in the couch cushions and to now think about our growing families. Action Girl and I have two and now The Doctor has one as well.

The fun part will be when we can finally get together and all our kids can play with one another. Our daughters are only 6 weeks apart and Short Stack can lead the bunch on adventures in the yard. It’s going to be great. The thing that I really hope for is a comment that The Doctor made last year about maybe finding work here and moving to the area. I know it’s a huge long shot that he could find something in his field here, but the thought of having my best friend and brother living across town, not to mention our kids knowing each other well, is just too good not to wish for.

Who knows… maybe some new infectious disease research center will sprout up down town. I can only imagine the uproar over that! However, you can bet that I’d be the one standing opposite the protesters, cheering on cholera!

Welcome the the world little kiddo. You haven’t met me yet, but you have an uncle who will do anything for you.

Now where’s that box of kazoos and the drum set I’ve been saving for her?

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