Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Dire Pup


a Tale from Ivy’s Youth

            “A wolf is a wolf,” said the elder Wood-Mage.

Ivy, the young tracker who had gone to the trouble of capturing the cub, did not understand.  She wondered, Is this good or bad?  Two days prior she had proudly led the cub into the village on a twine leash she herself had woven.  It was no small matter to divert the two grown females guarding the litter. But, she smirked, nothing the scent of a new slain boar could not overcome.  After she was certain the females were gone into the vale to investigate the new death she had run near-silently to where the pups were at play.

Not being choosy, she grabbed the first she could from the litter of three.  The other pups watched her trot away into the tall grasses and then disappear, the gangly legs of their brother angling oddly under her arm.  She swept into the reed-cover, her movements soundless as the wind.  One day more was spent in a stand of oak perhaps a league upwind, to make sure the adults were not tracking their lost child.

By then the pup had a name.  She called him Tumas, after the marshes near where he had been born.  Following the usual boasting and envy getting among those her own age, concerns from the elders clouded her pleasure and made her the center of a different sort of attention.  Council was called and now both she and the young dire-wolf were before them.

For his part, Tumas was still bound by the leash.  Only now it was attached to a stake in the earth.  He lay in the dust before them, black eyes watching the proceedings.  His pelt was already beginning to grow long and the ends were matting with dirt and dense tangles of fur.

“Perhaps three moons old,” Albayth continued, “and as tall as a lamb.”  Others near him nodded.

Was this good or bad?  Of course a wolf is a wolf.

“Return him,” he said.  “He is out of place.”  Again, the others nodded.

She swore a little to herself and before thinking asked, “How?  The pack may have moved by now.  They must be wary.”

“The bringer must learn to bring forth again.”  And then, “Set out tomorrow.”

This, she decided, is not fair.

“He is now a risk.  And you brought it to us.  A wolf is a wolf.  These kind speak among themselves.  Already last night he howled for long minutes.  Who knows but what could hear those cries?  Who knows but what shall answer.”

When she had been allowed to go to the human town last summer, the children there had pets; dogs on ropes, birds in wicker cages, one family even had a goat used neither for cheese nor milk.  This luxury she wanted, a pet.  But humans slept easily in their town, in their houses of lumber and stone.  It was gated and surrounded by wall.  Her village had not that luxury, either.

Albayth’s eyes widened.  Ivy nodded, no more questions.

She woke before dawn, dressed, slipped her small traveler's pouch over her shoulder and took only the thin-hafted javelin, same as before.  She went to where Tumas lay, near the center of the elder’s yurts.  He had howled again during much of the early evening.  She untied the cord from the stake.  The pup stretched itself and yawned. Knowing both the positions and the wariness of the night wards, she left the village on the same path she had used days before.

The land descended through tall fir and pine.  The needles amassed on the ground and masked the noise of their passage.  At the bottoms, she held to a cliff-line of shale and flint and then descended further into a sharp ravine.  That morning a brace of pixies saw only a slender elf maid, gold-skinned by sun and wind, hair youth-brown, not yet auburn, leading as it were a tall dog on a leash through early morning mists.

The forests gave way to the grasslands where Pepper trees and oak began to grow.  She paused at a stream and they both drank.  And at this point she was standing on the edge of the truly wild lands.  Ivy examined the ground for tracks.  Her quick grey eyes noted nothing unfamiliar or dangerous.  She broke and ate a portion of pemmican, offered some to Tumas.  He would not have it.  She picked it from the ground and put it back in her pouch.

From the stream she could see the small bump on the horizon that was the copse of trees where she had slept three nights earlier with her new pup.  From there she knew it was a long morning’s walk to where the pack roamed.  If they were searching they could easily be nearby. She looked at Tumas who stared back at her, his eyes shining like small pots of black ink.

They crossed the creek and made for the trees.  The scrub gave way to the grasses that were as tall as she.  The air warmed and changed, she smelled the swamps to the west.  It was a bright day and the sky was rich blue, the king in His robes of blessing.  The clouds were a thin spray of gauze and her thoughts wondered over many things as they walked.

By late afternoon she again sat in the woven stand, built into the tallest tree.  From that height she felt she could see everything.  Behind her was the tree-line of the forest and further to the west the dark line of marsh.  To the south was a small valley where she had slain the boar and to the north the grass extended and widened as a sea whose limits she did not know.  Nightfall was near.  She pet Tumas and pulled bits of dirt from his coat.  They napped.

She awoke in the dark with inspiration.  She hefted the cub and climbed from the tree.  She untied the rope from his collar and stood.  Tumas looked at her, shook himself, and walked in the direction he knew as home.

Simple as that.  This bringer has brought forth again, she said aloud to herself.  One night in a tree, then home I’ll be, an old proverb taught to the children.  She returned to the stand and sat.  She ate another half of pemmican cake.  It was dry and she wished for water.  But that will have to wait until tomorrow.  And it was thoughts such as these that distracted her so that she did not see the rustling grass moving in a long arc around the trees.

She heard a yip and a heavy wet growl.  Ivy peeked over the edge of her nest and saw Tumas directly below.  Points of silver shine stared at her.  He turned his head behind him and growled quick.

Then there was an even deeper howl, and then another, a third, and fourth.  She stared beneath her and watched them emerge; three females and male, he as tall as a horse.  Their thick manes of matted fir bristled nearly straight from their necks to their tails.  The eight black eyes with pin-pricks of red stared at her.  One of the females, a young Ivy guessed, jumped at the tree but fell short by half.  They circled and growled, yapping in almost vulgar snarls.  She saw their white teeth and blood-red tongues and she wept.

After a while she lay down in the middle of the stand.  She did not sleep but did not look down. Ivy played endless variations in her head.  How they would leave, how Tumas might speak to them on her behalf, how that something would happen and they might be satisfied to merely frighten her.

At dawn, with the first fingers of sun, she looked again.  Carefully, as carefully as she might, peeking over the edge of the stand and her heart quickened.  Two of the females were still there, both as tall as she.

Ivy had no illusions of outrunning them.  She had no illusions of killing them with her javelin.  She looked at the spear, less thick around than her wrist, and doubted even a village warrior could kill a dire-wolf with such a thing.  Her mouth was dry and small trembles made her close her fingers into fists.

Strips of clouds came from the north though at times the sun blasted through them, creating wedges of gold on the land.  During the day she ate pemmican.  The adult wolves were never far and at times the grass would move where the pups played and roamed.

This is my second day without water.  I have but one more.  She collected her options but could find only three.  She could sit, or run, or fight.  Each led to the same conclusion.

Once during the last hour of the day the male and the other female returned.  They growled and snarled among themselves.  The pups lay on their haunches to the side.  She could no longer discern the one she named Tumas.  As the final bars of light closed over the west, the pack trotted into the grasses.

Ivy closed her eyes and listened.  She heard nothing, not even a night bug, not even a cicada.  Pins of gold, fireflies, darted in clumps before they too darkened.  Peeking once again over the edge of the stand, she saw nothing.  Rising a little she scanned in each direction.  Neither motion nor creatures were to be seen.

She clutched her javelin and after a deep breath descended.  She paused on the ground, knowing how quick they were.  Seeing nothing she set off at a trot towards the tree line.  At a good pace it would take her a third of a night’s passage to reach the creek.  She was nearing three-hundred steps when she heard a deep growl behind her and she swore.

Behind her heart, fear grew wings like a spreading net and she sprinted as hard as she could.  But no matter.  To her side she saw one of the females, loping at half-speed.  She heard rusting grass along the other side and behind her more sounds of padded feet.  After perhaps another fifty steps she stopped.  Before her, less than a javelin cast distant, was the hulk of the male, head down, the black rim of his mouth upturned.

Ivy gulped great draughts of night air thinking how strange it would be if her last thoughts were of thirst.  With her javelin before her she turned and turned again.  But the wolves did not advance.

Then, from the grasses, approached the pups.  Their fur bristled and in half-crouches they roamed within the boundaries set by the adults.  They snarled and yapped among themselves.  The elders sat back like dogs, grinning.  Ivy knew but could not articulate it; they were letting the young ones kill her.

Tumas, she said. Just then one of them ran and leapt at her throat.  She pushed him back with her javelin.  He rolled and came back to his feet.  Then a second, hoping to pin her from behind, leapt.  Ivy stepped to the side and turned in the direction of the third, hearing the jaw snap close to her ear, and then felt the spittle splay on the back of her neck.  Ivy thought, I’m not going to be able to do this.  This one prepared to leap full upon her and she knew the others would join.

It seemed at the last, though perhaps she had a few more moments, there stood Albayth, long curved blade in hand.  He spoke new words, words she had never heard before, “Aarngmafell Aaringus Slidalsk,” and then was a sound like pottery crumbling.  The two elves were suddenly on the other side of a receding wind. The fur of the dire-wolves pushed back gently and they began to look to one another.

There were slight bird-like yelps from them.  They turned their heads to either side, looked away into the night sky, and then loped off into the grasses.

Ivy felt the Wood-Mage take her hand in his.  “We must yet run.  This will hold only for a while.”  He sheathed his blade and they set off together through the night.

“How?” she asked.

“At the village," he said to her, "save your breath for the village.”

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Recipe for Happiness

Jane Goodall spent 45 years studying the social interactions of chimpanzees in Tanzania.  Through the course of those years she has written dozens of books, has helped produce movies and documentaries, and has received who knows how many awards for her authoritative work.  Did you catch that?  Her work is authoritative.  Jane Goodall knows what she is talking about.

Then there's me, living as the isolated male of the household for seventeen years.  I am no closer to writing an authoritative anything on the social mysteries of the female than I was on day one.  And no, I am not comparing women to chimpanzees.  That's your own mind at work.  Shame on you, you chauvinist hog!

Yet, let me share a principal that I have known for a while, and then provide an example of something that works.
The principal is this:  a general course towards happiness is best.  Not a course towards male happiness, but towards keeping the ladies of the house happy.  And even this is fraught with peril, as anyone who has spent time amongst them knows.  We men all have our stories about the best of intentions crashing down in abject failure.  No one does hysteria better than a teenage woman-girl.
Here is the example of something that works:  white chocolate bread pudding (recipe to follow).  I vouch for this.  I made a pan of WCBP and in that magical way of chocolate and baked goods and women, managed to lead two daughters, my wife, my mother-in-law, and my grandmother-in-law to what can only be described as a twelve-hour afterglow of being satisfied and thankful.  When was the last time you did that?
It is not a healthy recipe.  But then again, you're going to die anyway.  Every once in a while a little splurge doesn't hurt.  To make amends, let me recommend a cup of hand-roasted, single-batch, coffee from a very health-conscience coffee house, to top it off:   www.johnsjava.net.  Johnsjava also offers gluten-free flavored coffee.  It's good stuff.  Try it, you'll like it.
BTW - Most cooking is not complex.  If you are not a cook, all the more reason to make this.  Relax, think of it as a chemistry experiment.  That's all cooking is anyway - chemical reactions.  Also, don't cheap out.  Do it right the first time, in all of its buttery, sugary, eggy wonder.
Anyway, here's the recipe.  Good luck.  Thank me later.

Ingredients for:  WHITE CHOCOLATE BREAD PUDDING
  • 1 loaf of stale French Bread - cube it - don't tear it to pieces like a lazy man, cube it with a knife
  • One-half pound of white chocolate coarsely chopped.  Do not get white-chocolate chips.  They have already been over processed.  Get a bar or a square and chop it with a blade.  Remember, you're a man and you like chopping things with blades.
  • 1 quart of milk (whole is best, 2% works, and if you want to add a little whipping-cream, more power to you)
  • 4 large eggs, beaten like they are going to be scrambled
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons of REAL vanilla
  • 1 Tablespoon of nutmeg
  • 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon
  • 4 Tablespoons of melted unsalted butter
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Place the cubed bread in a buttered baking dish.  This is different butter than what is in the ingredients above.  The bread is going to swell in the heat, so make sure the dish has room at the top.  Then sprinkle the white chocolate pieces on top of the bread.  Take your time and cover it uniformly.  Melt the butter and then mix the remaining ingredients over a low heat and then ladle over the bread and chocolate.  I said ladle!  If you pour the liquid over the bread it's going to slop and push the white-chocolate away from the point of pouring.  Don't want that, ok?  Trust me.  Take your time, love can't be rushed.  Bake this for one hour at 350 degrees.  If you have a cool oven you can increase the heat to 360 at the start, or you can bake it a little longer.  It should be crispy on top and soft towards the bottom of the pan.

Then there's a sauce.  Did I fail to mention there's a sauce?  This adds to the ooh-aah factor.  This takes about twenty minutes so coincide making it with the cooking of the bread.  These ingredients are in addition to the ones above.  Take one-quarter pound (a stick) of unsalted butter and melt it in a pot with one cup of sugar.  Stir it and baby it.  Food is not laundry.  You can't put it on the stove and leave it with a timer.  When it is all melted together and translucent / clear - remove it from the heat.  In another bowl beat two more eggs.  Then, using the ladle, take small dabs of the melted butter and stir them into the eggs.  Do it this way because if you pour the eggs into the still hot butter/sugar, they will cook and that's just gross.  Nobody wants bits of eggs on top of their WCBP.  When that's done, you're done.  Although, some people put a quarter to a half-cup of bourbon or whiskey in the sauce for an added zing.  Me being a Baptist Preacher, I can't tell you do that, but you know…
Place generous helpings in bowls with forks and cover with the sauce.  Serve and stand back, knowing that happiness will surround your house for at least the rest of the day.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Flowerman

Go look at photo 30:  http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/32-awesome-explanation-less-photos-from-russia

Alike and yet unlike Narcissus, Shakti was a flowerman.  Particularly fond of crataeva, varuna, bilva tree, mandara – to these he devoted himself and wished ultimately to exscind his flesh, keeping only that which would be acceptable to the Trimurti.  It was his deep life’s work that began from his own mother who wore the bindi to the day of her death; his father had been an American businessman who sold plumbing systems to third-world high rise developers.

Now himself an old man, Shakti grew the sacred plants in the well-kept greenhouse of rarities at the botany school, up near the nursery that sold hardy shrubs and grass-seed and concrete benches to upper Midwestern households near a great lake in a township called Bliss.  He used his own grant money to build the place on land not his own.  They bolted a copper plaque above the front doors with his name and a date on it.  In time, the letters bled green and white and were forgotten.

Like the subtropical trees and flowers he tended at the university hothouse, Shakti never truly prospered there.  Yet, life had moved him to this place and, somehow, protected and allowed him to continue.  He was happiest at work when alone and among the long leaves and branches whose sensuous bending turned, he was once almost sure of it, whenever he entered the house of raised beds and windows condensed with fog.  A time came when he no longer guessed.

He earned money as a researcher and lecturer – a rare find, lettered and well-renowned in his field, a treasure for the school, a draw, a small bright pin on the map, and a way for administrators and marketers to tout their world-class horticulture department.  It meant, of course, they employed one world-class horticulturalist and an array of lesser mortals interested more truly in tenure and the other clich├ęs among the collegiate strata of employ. And better still, Shakti was published in those obscure international journals devoted to growing rare things.

### 
Outside, winter blazed in frost and wind and Sturgeon Bay froze hard for five weeks.  Some college boys took a Saturday to go fishing there and huddled in their little tarp tent that crinkled in the wind while they drank and watched the monofilament lines bob and pulled their pike and walleye for the evening fry.  There were three of them, Midwest boys, corn-fed and broad shouldered with close cropped hair and quilted flannel coats.

Mike took a swig and said, “Tell Tim your Shaky story.”  Shaky was Shakti’s nickname among them.

Tim pulled the grey wool hat to the bottoms of his ears and looked to Trevor, the oldest of them.  Tim was a junior, an AG major, required to take just one more elective in his major.  He ended up with Professor Smith and a 400-level botany.

“Yeah, well… Thursday I was walking to Further Hall, thought I’d cut across, save some time.  You know.  And I went by that big greenhouse Shaky lives in.  I mean, he’s always in there.  Lights were on.  And I was just walking by and looked in.  Sun was out – real cold though.  And Shaky was in there.”  Tim pulled at his pint of peach schnapps, grimaced, and continued, “I kid you not…first thing, guy didn’t have a shirt on, and then he’s all raising his arms and this big orange bush in there, he was shaking it.  I don’t know what he was doing.”

They laughed and swore at the craziness and kept fishing.  Tim did not tell them, but had since wondered, how did Shaky move the bush with his arms above his head?

### 
On the lengthening days of early spring, the vestige of sun grew and, to help, it had warmed.  Shakti felt strong and fine and his knees hurt less and his breath came more easily than it had in several weeks.  A visiting scholar, young from the sound of her voice, wanted to discuss an article of his.  She had become a follower, “so to speak,” she told him on the phone.  Would he meet with her?

They would, at the town square where a campus restaurant could give them a place to sit and discuss Nymphaea and Nelumbo and how, possibly, could the plants be spread to climes not naturally their own and how she admired his efforts to do so these many years.

And so he walked from his office, a longer trek than he had taken all winter, and there she was, very young and lovely with long hair and smiling and in his old heart a secret wish emerged and was placed aside, all in less than a moment. 

She knew him without asking and held her hand to take his and greeted him by name.

“I am Kami,” she said.

“Kami?” and he knew that name well and wondered at the coincidence.  “Kami?” he repeated.

“That’s right.”  She did not release his hand.  “And nothing else.  I know you.  I hear you daily, speaking from your work.”

In that moment Shakti became a Saddhu and saw brightly in her eyes the long-limbed Mundi connecting everything and all, and they were joined and in his place began to grow a spray of flowers that did not, nor ever before, belong in that street.  Shakti Smith closed his eyes and started the long walk on the way to his wedding.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Hydrogen-2-Oh

There were two fish.  It was morning and they were swimming along.  From the other side of the lake comes an older fish.  He nods to the youngsters.  Asks, “How’s the water?” and swims away before either of them can answer.
One of the young fish turns to the other and asks, “Who was that?” 
The other young fish says, “I don’t know.  And what’s water?”

This is the parable of education.  It’s like being able to drive to a location without being able to give accurate directions on how to get there.  Education is being made aware of things that were there all along.  And being aware of things isn’t going to hurt.  Instruction, on the other hand, is when someone shows how something is done.  The young fish swimming already swim.  They don’t need instruction on that.  Maybe their form could benefit from some coaching.  I don’t know.  But either way, I do like education.  Formal helps.

In the snobbish snobbery of literary academe, some writers are lifted up, while others are sniffed upon.  Case in point, Jack London; he was a cool writer who knew how to tell stories.  Yet, he was self-taught (sniff, downward glance along the nostril plain).  London was no James Joyce, they say.  How about this:  No duh!  James Joyce was James Joyce and it would be weird if Jack London were also James Joyce; different fish, same water dip-wad!  I’m waiting for Stephen King to make it in the Literahuture Anthologies.
Then there’s this jibe:  those who can, do and those who can’t teach.  There is some truth to that.  It probably depends on the area.  Math teachers…  they can do math, and howdy.  But history teachers?  How, exactly, does one do history?  I like history more than math.  I know more history than math and yet the math is more doable.  History has been done and even re-enactors are making new history.   Strange, huh?
Getting back to writing… amongst my esteemed peers in the English Department, there are a number who venture seldom from the email / Facebook / twitter realms of putting their thoughts into a document.  Yet, they teach writing.  When was the last time you wrote a research paper with sources cited and a bibliography?  Uh, like freakin’ never ago?!
Sometimes these professors get all snotty with their students and run ‘em down for being’ eegnert and stuff.  That’s a lack of empathy is what that is.
What follows is my own horn.  I will now toot it.  Every semester I write one of the assignments with the classes.  This semester I’m going to write a paper with my Composition 1 students and another with my Composition 2 students.  It gives me cred and great examples to show on the projector.  Plus, I learn stuff.  As they struggle, I struggle.  We hold hands and sing ‘Michael Row Your Boat Ashore,’ when finished.  The horn is being put away now.
Let’s say a person wants to be a writer.  The challenge is this:
A) Go into six figures of debt and get one of them there MFAs with an emphasis on Creative Writing, or
B) Lock yourself in a room for three years and write for three hours, every day
Which person will know more about how to write and which person will know the nomenclature of how to talk about writing?  Who will have written more?  The room-locker-inner will write circles around the stolid scribe with the letters after the name.   But, <nose sniffing> we’re talking quality versus quantity.
Hey – how about this literature boy – how about writing stuff people want to read as opposed to writing stuff people are forced to read to get the three credit hours?  If the hidden classics didn’t suck so bad they wouldn’t be hidden, now would they?
There’s this kid in one of my classes.  He says he wants to be a game designer.  So I ask him, “What kind of games are you designing now?”  He looks at me like my left ear just fell off and landed in his cookie-jar sized Mountain Dew coolie cup with a sickening green-ear splash.  I know, right?  And I’m like, “No, really, what are you doing now to design games?”  And he’s all like, “I, uh… <breathes through mouth> uh… I’m going to school.”
And therein lay the lie.  Since when does a person need a couple of letters after his name before he can try something he says he wants to do?
How about this – instead of wearing a two-hundred dollar pair of athletic shoes that are never used for athletics (trust me on this one), and instead of having the latest version of the latest iteration of the next generation cellphone, and instead of plopping down sixty-dollars on the next cool video game every two weeks for your bleeding-edge system with the ear phones and micro-plug-in with your buds until four o’clock in the morning three times a week (all on mommy’s dime anyway), why not get yourself one of them there integrated development environments and learn how to use it?  Go design a video game, dude!  Don’t need a diploma for that.  Don’t need it!  AND (the earth might crack open on this one) – it is possible to work on developing skills and go to college at the same time!  Save me the little boy talk about devoting yourself to your studies.  Pu-FREAKING-leeeeeze…
First time out of the box, said young fella might not create a very decent game.  But he will have created one and learned scads and scads so that, as his academic career evolves, he’ll be in a better position to continue.
About a hundred years ago I was responsible for hiring and firing people.  I met many people who had the diploma but who didn’t know how to do anything but talk about their diploma.
If you want to swim, swim.  Don't need to know water is comprised of two hydrogen molecules bound via polar covalent to one oxygen molecule.  I mean, on Jeopardy that might be handy or it might be something you are interested in.  That's cool.  But for swimming, a person doesn't need to know that.