Goodbye, Junebug

June, 2001 (copyright

June in 2001

Yesterday we said goodbye to Junebug.

Since I picked her in 2001 from among sixty inmates at the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, where she’d been living for twelve months, we never really knew how old she was. According to the lady at the shelter, the scrawny black and white dog was one or two when she’d arrived, which would make her fourteen or fifteen this year.

Friends and I in Idaho’s Wood River Valley joked that she was a genuine Wood River Retriever. The product of ne’er-do-well parents sporting substantial doses of Labrador and Border Collie in their questionable pedigrees, these middle-sized, athletic, poorly trained hounds are ubiquitous in the Valley. The B.C./Lab mix gave Junebug webbed toes, an unquenchable desire to run far, far away, and a dense, fluffy undercoat protected by a long, oily topcoat, with which she performed Olympian feats of shedding.

Junie was as strange a dog as her appearance suggests, by turns cripplingly empathetic and discouragingly aloof. In spite of her flipper-like feet and waterproof coat, she did not like to swim. Instead, she preferred to wade, and after our first month as a team, during which together we watched dozens of tennis balls bob downstream and out of sight, she finally succeeded in training me not to throw tennis balls.

But if I demonstrated undue optimism in the early days, I wasn’t alone. Every morning she woke up knowing that this–this!–would be the day that she would finally catch a squirrel.

She chased cats (although it’s important to note that not once did she chase Tesserwell), and she chased foxes, but her quarry of choice was the squirrel. Idaho, where she spent her first seven years, is ideal for such pursuit, boasting thirteen species of ground squirrel. All of them were faster than June.

This morning, teary-eyed while tying his sneakers, Mbot asked me to tell another Junie story. “Juniebug woke up every morning,” I began, “knowing–just knowing!–that that day would be the day she caught a squirrel.” I zipped the bots into sweatshirts and we shuffled over the new Bermuda grass, glowing green around our shoes, to the car. “But she never did.”

“Never ever?”

“Well, there was one time….We were housesitting at Nanny and Poppy’s. Now, you know how Nanny and Poppy don’t like the smell of onions, right? For some reason I can’t remember now, I had one with me, and put it on top of my car overnight instead of bringing it inside. Then I did some gardening at Nanny and Poppy’s and Junie spent the morning racing around in the grass and woods after squirrels. Now, Junie was fast–fast as a cheetah on the African plains. But not as fast as a squirrel.

“Well, just as I was getting ready to get in the car and go home, Juniebug prances up to me, and by jigger if she wasn’t carrying a squirrel in her mouth. Oh, she was so pleased with herself! She was prancing and dancing. Can you imagine Junie prancing and dancing? I, on the other paw, was horrified. By the look of the squirrel, it had probably been dead for a day. That would explain why it was so stiff, and also why it couldn’t outrun Junie. I took it out of her mouth–she didn’t care, she was still dancing and prancing with glee to finally get a taste of squirrel–it tasted just like candy to her–Squirrel Skittles, and Squirrel Duds–and I put it on top of the car next to the onion.

“Then I went to get a bag to put it in. I didn’t want it stinking up Nanny and Poppy’s garbage. But I got distracted, and forgot about it, and finished up the gardening, and called Juniebugs out of the trees, where she was looking to double her score, and she leaped into the back of the car–can you imagine Juniebugs leaping? Just like a gazelle on the African plains. And we drove home.

“And out on the road, I said to Junie, ‘I must look awfully lovely today! Everyone we pass is looking at us. Aren’t we a couple of beautiful girls?’ And it was true: heads were turning on the highway the whole drive home.

“And then we got home. I climbed out of the car and Junie jumped out and sat looking at the car. ‘What?’ I asked. ‘It’s time to go inside.’ But she just sat looking past me, and so I turned around, and what did I see? There on the top of the car were the onion and the squirrel. I had driven all the way home with an onion and a dead squirrel on top of my car! Everyone we passed must have thought I was going to make squirrel soup. Junebug particularly wanted me to, because after all it was the first squirrel she’d ever caught. Oh, that was a happy day for Junebug!”

By that time, we’d reached school. We bundled out of the car, navigated the parking lot holding hands, hugged and kissed goodbye, Junie temporarily forgotten in pursuit of the day.

I have told the bots that we need to be thankful that Junebug was part of our family. I can’t with a clear conscious tell them that she went to heaven. Unless heaven is our collective consciousness, the narrative through which we navigate past and present and future, as real and powerful and invisible as oxygen or gravity. We’ll tell Junebug stories.

And so Junie’s having a good day, today, chasing squirrels, and catching them.

Nope, no squirrel here any more....

Nope, no squirrel here any more….

Dispatch from the River: Washed Clean (and Not Just the Angry Bird Underpants!)

21 July 2013 SUN VALLEY 043-003

Southcentral Idaho. Peace reigns between the bots. Being in a new place does for Mbot what it does for me: washes out the mind like the rainstorm we drove through just south of the Nevada state line, like the ocean arriving all at once on our windshield, wipers arcing furiously to not quite keep up, white spray from the few passing trucks to the left obliterating the view—I think of the blindness that might occur temporarily if one traveled at lightspeed, or that occurs when I board an airplane to sit encapsulated for an hour or two or nine until deposited in a different geographic location, often thousands of miles from the point of origin, during which time (if one is traveling without bots) one has spent reading a magazine on home style.

On the first day of travel, we debarked at the splash park in Henderson, Nevada the first scheduled stop on our two day, thousand mile venture north, fresh out of the rain storm. The botmobile shined like it was new, the silky navy of the paint gleaming as though you could walk through it into another world.

And so we have.

Here, between the mountains and the prairie, the winds wash down from Galena Summit, thirty miles north, like an invisible river though the valley every morning, cool air seeking low elevations, warming through the day, and then flowing back up into higher climes each evening, cleansing the air ‘til every object takes on a crystalline appearance, sharp edges, unfiltered greens—that never fail to bring back the memory of my first pair of glasses, set on the bridge of my nose at the age of eight. How my environment snapped into focus–I could almost count the serrated green alder leaves and suddenly the towering blue spruces became communities of individual needles, where before the trees had loomed, undifferentiated from one another. Synapses that had lay dormant for perhaps years, fired the news: Vision! Vision! Vision!

And so it is, here: vision.

For as long as I can remember–ever since my family drove away from our house on the hill in New Hampshire and set off across the country in a VW squareback toward Alaska–travel has been as much about marveling at the wonders of a world that isn’t mine as much as turning to marvel from a distance at the wonders of the world that is. And then marveling at the marveling.

I sense the same neural dynamic in Mbot, for whom every Magna-Tile has taken on a new attraction in this place–as though the Magna-Tiles, and not the place, were new. Marvelously, his brother, too, seems to have acquired a certain sparkle (in Mbot’s eyes) in this high mountain air, and the bickering has dwindled to token poking, pestering and name-calling.

Gbot benefits from the attentions of Pam.

Gbot benefits from the attentions of the wonderful and talented Pam.  You, too, could be this cute if you came to Idaho. Pam could help. Although if you come here, visit Pam, and find you are NOT this cute, do not blame Pam.

This mental re-setting is a real thing, and I know enough now to recognize that it will always be an important part of how Mbot interacts with his surroundings. He and I will have to get out of town on a regular basis, to recalibrate our focus on not only our external environments far and near, but our internal landscapes.

Husbot, who has stayed in Arizona to take care of pets and business, isn’t wired this way. Gbot, too, is less influenced by his environment than by the internal Contentment Bug he’s hosted since birth. He’s truly the captain of his own ship, never mind the water and wind, and I’d trust him to get from here to there in any weather. Mbot and I are at the helms of our ships, too, but we’re buffeted by both the water and the wind, and we’re very busy looking at the view and wondering if we might go there and if we do, what here will look like once we’re there. It will not be easy for anyone in our regatta. But the journey will wash us clean, outside and in.

Mbot steers the HMS  "Huggie Mommy." I did not name her.

Mbot steers the HMS “Huggie Mommy.” I did not name her.

Not-So-Famous Drinks of Youth and Idaho

Children and fall: the prettiest reminders of change.

I am so consumed by the present that any glance back into the past is jarring–almost surreal. So much changed when I became a mother. Not just the usual big-then-saggy boobage, belly fat, hair-falling-out, sudden-fact-that-I-am-in-love-with-a-helpless-alien sort of things. I’d married Husbot just one year before; I’d met him nine months before that. I relocated from a place and community I’d lived in and loved for ten years to a foreign land. (Just because the same currency is used and the same language is spoken thirty minutes west of Phoenix, Arizona and the Wood River Valley, nearly two hundred miles east of Boise, Idaho, doesn’t mean the two locations are not as different as Amsterdam and New Amsterdam). At the same time, I lost a friendship–or at least, it changed, dramatically and irrevocably. I still grieve for it.

Things were different, and would never be the same.

The bots and I return to the Wood River Valley twice a year, and each time, I am confronted with the past. We usually stay with my parents, who retired here twenty years ago; I sleep under the same crewelwork image of a girl carrying a cat that was above my bed in Alaska as a child. There is news of the old boyfriend and his wife, who are friends of friends and family. Every visit to the grocery store in this small town offers chance meetings with former colleagues and acquaintances. Sometimes they recognize me but sometimes they don’t remember my name. I introduce myself. We catch up in that inane way that takes ninety seconds. And then we push our carts in opposite directions, the way our lives have gone.

And so it should not have been unexpected but was nonetheless very strange last night, while inspecting the contents of my parents’ liquor cabinet before dinner, to come across a drink recipe I’d written for my father about fifteen years ago. It was a remnant of still another life, when I was working in my twenties for a famous Denver restaurateur who foresaw trends sometimes a decade before they became trends. (He poured me my first Cosmopolitan in 1993, three years before Carrie Bradshaw first tipped one back in a move that would forever determine the cocktail of choice for women now between the ages of forty-five and fifty-five.)

This recipe was for the Caiperana, which never enjoyed quite the notoriety of its pink sister, but made a comeback ten years ago at wedding receptions and on creative cocktail menus across the country, and more recently has featured in one of Jo Nesbo’s bestselling thrillers, in which the hero, a Norwegian detective with a taste for anything fifty-proof and above, finds himself stuck somewhere in South America and glad that the only available drink is a local version of the caiperana, brewed from the fiery and wince-inducing native liquor, distilled apparently with little consideration for flavor from raw cane sugar.

Who knew you could find video instructions online? (cucabrazuca.com)

In a bow to the past, I’ll transcribe the recipe here as I wrote it back then. It made me laugh, which of course was a bittersweet kind of laughter, because I want it back. I mean, I want the parts of my past the made me laugh back. It’s a stupid thing to want–that’s what memory is for, that’s what stories are for. And soon enough–tomorrow, as it turns out–today will be the past that made me laugh.

Caiperana

For one drink:

1/2 lime

2 teaspoons brown sugar

3 oz. Pitu cachaca

dash simple syrup* (*double-strength hummingbird food)

rocks glass

little spoon (optional)** (**a swizzle stick will do)

First, learn to pronounce both the drink and the liquor. This will entail learning a foreign language, so be ready to practice. Practicing after having served your guests yields the best results as, while your linguistic skills may not improve greatly, your listeners, as they empty their glasses, will become much more accepting of the injustices you perpetrate against the Spanish language.

But practicing beforehand doesn’t hurt. While chanting ca-CHA-cha, ca-CHA-cha, slice the lime in a complicated manner. That is, cube it as if you were cubing a potato, if you ever cube potatoes, but don’t cut all the way through the peel at the tip. You will understand why momentarily.

Place the lime pointy-side down in the glass and pestle it soundly to squeeze out the juices. Meanwhile, repeat, ky-per-ANN-ya, ky-per-ANN-ya quietly to yourself so that your guests don’t know you’re getting a headstart on pronunciation.

Add the cachaca and simple syrup and fill the glass to the brim with crushed ice. Insert the little spoon.

Sip slowly and stir the drink constantly so that the ice dilutes the concoction and you remain scintillating for as long as possible before being reduced to a pleasant stupor. Keep prodding the lime with the little spoon to extract all the juices. If you have mastered them by this time, work the words caiperana and cachaca into the conversation at frequent intervals so that your guests will be duly impressed.

*   *   *

Skol! Salud! Here’s to the past. Here’s to change.

Mother Finds Something Resembling the “V” Word in South-Central Idaho

Take me home, country road.

We took the Strider bikes around the block our first evening here. The block in Idaho looks a little different than the one back home.

In the haste of coming off the conference and packing for an unfamiliar airline, which meant packing differently–only one big suitcase and three small carry-ons, I forgot my good camera. Which is a shame, because the bots are finally big and independent and trustworthy enough to give me small moments to fool around with stuff, both technical and non, without destroying the order of the universe.

“What’s the weather like up there, Cap’n Mbot?”

There is a pirate ship in the back yard.

“What else do birds like in their nests, Mom?”

There are ingredients to build birds’ nests. We came back from a walk down the dry creekbed with pockets stuffed with the wormlike tips of cottonwood branches, coin-sized river rocks smooth as gumballs, yellow-gold leaves, grasses, and even a few oriole feathers. After drawing directions for how to do it, Mbot carefully built a nest on the porch railing. He put a few pretzels in as bait. We check them periodically.

Bushwacking to the bewildered* garden (*a garden that’s nearly taken over by wilderness.)

The weather is perfect: frosty or close to it at night, mid-sixties at midday. Aspen leaves shiver in the chilly breeze and the light glows golden under the tall, tangled cottonwoods. We have practically lived out of doors since arriving. Out of doors in the Wood River Valley is my favorite place to be. It is apparently Mbot’s new favorite place, too. After our long creekbed excursion, while Nanny was preparing lunch, Mbot asked her, “Where will you move after this?”

“We won’t move,” replied Nanny. “We like it here.”

“But when you die you’ll move,” Mbot pointed out.

“That’s true,” said Nanny. “We’ll move to Heaven, I suppose.”

“Mom,” said Mbot, turning to me, “Can we move to this house after Nanny dies?”

I explained that we were lucky that Nanny wouldn’t die for a long, LONG time. And then we agreed it was much more fun being here while Nanny is alive.

And then we ate lunch, and went back outside to play–the bots chasing each other around the towering lilac bush, climbing the rigging of the yard swing pirate ship together, swinging in the hammock together, and discovering the bewildered garden together. It’s as though someone waved a cottonwood wand with a crisp tawny leaf at its tip and pronounced us the family of peaceful playing and quiet cooperation.

This has begun to acquire the feel of a vacation.

I Killed Your Chicken. Prepare to Dine.

Is it the challenge of hitting a small target? I dont’ really know.

To change things up from updates about where Gbot has last peed (in his Yo Gabba Gabba Vans), here’s a funny famous-person story for you:

Fairyland (from blog.oregonlive.com)

Once upon a time, in a fairytale land called Sun Valley, Idaho, where many a prince and princess of Hollywood rode on their noble G5s to their seasonal palaces among the chairlift towers and real estate offices, there once lived a serving girl named Betsy.

She was a sassy, competent serving girl, laboring by night at a fine northern Italian eatery called Piccolo (now, sadly, defunct). The servers brought gnocchi and lasagne bolognese to the common townspeople who dined there amidst the visiting cinematic royalty such as Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks, Michael Keaton, and Rita Wilson, and even occasionally the King of the balls, Matts Wielander.

Much Betsy’s favorite famous guest was Jamie Lee Curtis, who was funny, friendly, polite, kind to her kids, whom she always brought with, and a generous tipper. Her husband, Christopher Guest, accompanied them when they came to dine several times each summer. Now, where Betsy the serving girl could easily flirt with Ms. Curtis and exchange tips on where to find nice earrings with Ms. Wilson, she found herself intimidated by Mr. Guest. His expressionless face belied the razor intelligence and cutting wit behind such masterpieces as This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, and, Betsy’s favorite of all time, The Princess Bride. All the world must be so boring to him, for we are mostly morons in comparison to Six Fingered Man, the character he played in The Princess Bride. Who among us doesn’t repeat a young, thin, tight-wearing Mandy Patinkin finally getting the chance to say to Guest’s character in a Spanish accent: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”?

The Six Fingered Man, eventually slain by a young nobody. (overthinkingit.com)

Each time he came to dine, Mr. Guest ordered the famous Rosemary Chicken–a quarter bird smothered in olive oil and rosemary and then roasted at 800 degrees. No one had ever been known to replicate this dish beyond Piccolo’s kitchen walls.

Now, while the staff was flattered that Mr. Guest enjoyed the signature dish, there is no more effective way to gain a chef’s distain than by ordering chicken. Ordering chicken announces loud and clear that a diner has little confidence in the chef beyond her or his ability not to fuck up a chicken. Why not venture the fresh summer pea ravioli made of homemade pasta with brown butter? Or the local organic lamb grilled to perfection with the Valley’s best garlic mashed potatoes? Not that Betsy judged. She didn’t really even care. The chicken was delicious. And she, too, had been guilty of ordering the same dish over and over at certain restaurants. Although she never ordered the chicken. No matter how good, it was still chicken.

There came a sad night, the second-to-last night before the restaurant shut its doors for business, forever. Ms. Curtis and Mr. Guest brought their entourage and filled the banquette. Betsy chatted with Jamie Lee and nodded when Ms. Curtis reminded her to bring the check to her end o the table rather than her husband’s. When Betsy took Mr. Guest’s order, she raised her eyebrows. “Chicken again? Or are you branching out this time?” she asked.

“Chicken,” he said (or something like that). “Next time I promise I’ll try something different.”

At which point Betsy said something like, “I’ll hold you to it.” She felt giddy with exuberance. Surely her charm must have had an effect.

But the exchange must have simply strengthened Mr. Guest’s belief that we are all mostly morons. Because, of course, there would be no next time. Betsy didn’t think of this until later that evening driving home.

It made her wish that she’d had the balls to present the chicken as she’d fantasized all summer. She would approach the table. She would lower it before him. She would say, in a bad Spanish accent, “Allo. My name ees Betsy Andrews. I keeled your chicken. Prepare to dine.”

She would have had nothing to lose. Jamie Lee was doing the tipping.

Such are the regrets of a serving girl.

And here, in one of life’s fun ironies, is a Princess Bride reunion article that Lil’ Bro sent from Japan the same day I thought of writing this post:

Christopher Guest was not in the picture; he was probably still at a table subtly abusing his not-so-smart server.

Room for Cream?

I should be celebrating: one week! One week of daily blogging! Woohoo!

Instead I am tired.

It’s just the tired that everyone gets. The tired that wants to lie down, maybe on a beach, for a week. In this fantasy, I do not even have to get up to go to the bathroom.

But if I weren’t tired, it would mean I didn’t have a job, and if I didn’t have a job, I wouldn’t have a place to go every day. No matter that the place is right here,  as I roll out of bed, keeping midgets who do not know better from self-destructing.

Long ago, in 2001, I worked, for five weeks, as a barista at a locally owned coffee shop in central Idaho. A gorgeous woman came in each morning, ordered green tea, sat at a table in the slanting morning light, drinking it, sometimes with a friend. Maybe it was her ptkm (pat-the-kitty moment. see post #1, 9/13/11). A man came in each morning, sat at the counter, swiveling his head toward women like her. One morning, they happened to be there at the same time. He struck up a conversation. He was a dot com millionaire of a particularly useless kind. Had bought up a few domain names he’d predicted would become popular. He’d been right. Now in his early thirties, he had all the  money in the world and nowhere to go. He wasn’t needed, it seemed, in any way. He sat in the coffee shop every morning waiting to be noticed. Waiting for someone to make him feel important. Waiting for some human contact. Waiting to feel real.

The gorgeous woman was polite but it went nowhere. Mr. Shrewd was there again the next morning, alone and trying not to be.

It is easy, as a mother of young children, to forget the human longing for physical contact, for the warmth of skin on skin, for the pressure of body on body, when every day is a dance of the toddlers, lifting, cleaning, hugging, kissing, swatting. It is easy to forget that yawning absence that occurs when we are not needed. It is easy to forget lots of things. I left my coffee on top of the car today, along with the keys. My phone dropped onto the bathroom floor and I didn’t notice it was missing for an hour. We made it to music class, five minutes late, and no one was there–class is tomorrow.

What have you forgotten lately, and why?

 

*coffee picture from http://www.letslaugh.net