Category Archives: Essay

Damn!

Damn!

My subject today is swearing.  And cussing.  I am writing not about profanity in general but my own too-personal relationship with four-letter words.  Of course, my church weighs in decidedly against profanity, and my parents reinforced this teaching in our home.  Not what goes into my mouth defiles me, but what comes out of my mouth.  Jesus taught this truth one thousand nine hundred and ninety-five years ago, thereabouts.  Defiles . . . and defines.  I grew up knowing that swearing was bad, and I did not want to be bad, so I did not swear.  Then one day Continue reading

Assault with a Deadly Weapon

Assault with a Deadly Weapon

Well, children, that was my very first trial.  Assault with a deadly weapon.  What a disaster!

*  *  *  *  *

“Here are your cases for the week,” the secretary sighed, bored.  “You have a trial today.  Have fun.”  The other prosecutors cheered when I was hired because hundreds of their cases shifted from their desks to mine.  I was so new I had to ask directions to the courthouse.  I drove my grandma’s 1970 v8 Chevy Nova—it purred in idle and roared on demand.

I first saw that first case on the day of trial. Continue reading

Area 52

Area 52

The Colonel invited the Mayor and her staff for a day-long tour of Dugway Proving Ground.  Finally, I would have the chance to pass through the heavily-guarded gates and see Utah’s legendary Area 52.  “Let’s get a few things out of the way,” the Colonel began.  “Yes, we have the aliens.  Yes, we have the UFOs.  And, yes, we have secret tunnels connecting us to Area 51.”  I knew, of course, he must be joking, of course, but he was a U.S. Army Colonel, Commander of the nation’s advanced biological and chemical weapons defensive testing facility.  “I’m joking, of course.” Continue reading

Learning to Speak Goose

Learning to Speak Goose

Kayaking for the two-dozenth time on the same stretch of the Jordan River, a natural phenomenon new to me showed itself as I paddled along upstream.  The river is full of such surprises, which it gives me the honor of witnessing, a few at a time, so as not to overwhelm my feelings of wonder, and not to dull my sense of the miraculous.  A gander, a Canada Goose, led a small pre-fledged gaggle of goslings upriver, the mama goose in the place of caboose.  I approached them carefully, paddling slowly against the current, to say hello.  And they responded by gathering speed and flicking their beaked heads nervously this way and that.  Though of course I had no intention of hurting them or frightening them, or even teasing them, nature dictated that they fear me.  And rightly so, for I am sure I seemed to them a giant malevolent alien goose-hunting weapon-wielding creature, easily capable of ending their lives.  The gander knew I was gliding faster than he could ever swim, and abandoned his effort to outpace me.  Switching strategies, he prepared for flight—a smart plan, with a good chance of success, since he could fly infinitely faster and higher than I could fly, though I wondered about his abandonment.  But he could not seem to launch, instead flapping his wings loudly and frantically on the water, as if hurt.

That Mr. Gander sure tricked me.  He fooled me good.  His antics made focusing on him irresistible.  Finally yanking my attention away from the frantic papa goose, I looked back to the mama goose and goslings to see how they fared, but saw only fading ripples.  They were gone, disappeared, and did not reappear while I sat and drifted, befuddled.  Resuming my upstream slog, I almost failed to notice the same number of goslings of the same age and fuzziness ensconced safely behind a leafy branch hanging low over the bank, some one hundred feet from the dive: clearly the same goslings who gave me the slip while I focused on the feigning father.  That gander had drawn my whole attention to him, for the sake and safety of his little ones, his progeny, and his mated partner.  I had failed to understand that by slapping his wings on the water he was signaling his objection to my invasion of family space, and warning me to keep away.  I had ignored his clear Goose-speak (I really need to learn Goose), and he had water-slapped away, not abandoning his family (of course), but protecting his family.  I will keep my distance next time the wings beat on the water, and respect the family space.  The Jordan is goose home, after all, and I am just a curious occasional uninformed rather rudely interloping human, who doesn’t know the language.

(The Jordan River, named by 1840s Mormon pioneers fleeing to Utah from religious persecution in the frontier United States, flows north from the freshwater Utah Lake into the vast fishless Great Salt Lake, reminding the refugees of the homeland of their God Jesus.)

Image of Goose Family by TheOtherKev from Pixabay 

Black Ice on the 72nd West Bridge

Black Ice on the 72nd West Bridge

November 13.  A Thursday night in 2014.  And John calls.

Dad, I hit some black ice and rolled the truck.

John, who was born in my bed after the big doula yanked behind her knees and pivoted her pelvis to get him out of there, all purple.

Are you okay?  Are you hurt?  What happened?  Is there anyone with you?  Are you hurt!!

I’m okay, Dad.  I’m with some firemen.  Can you come get me, Dad?

We’re leaving right now.  If the truck will start, hop back in and keep warm.

Dad, I am not getting back in that truck.

Okay, I understand.  Stay warm.  Stay with the firemen.  Don’t worry about the pick-up.

John, who the nurses wheeled away for the surgeon to dig a tumor out of his arm at Primary Children’s.  They filled the void with paste made from crushed cadaver bones, and the arm grew rock-climber strong and tae-kwon-do blackbelt tough.

There he was, by the fire truck, its red-and-white flashers blaring over the dark landscape.  After hugs and are-you-sure-you’re-okays, I searched for my white Chevy Cheyenne pick-up truck, and found it, crushed and mangled, at the bottom of an embankment resting against tall reeds and rushes.  It glowed in the night in flashes of red.

I don’t know what happened, Dad.  I wasn’t speeding, honest.  There was no snow or rain or fog.  When I started to cross the bridge the truck just slid side-ways and rolled and rolled and I crawled out and the fire truck came and I called you.

I stared hard at the pick-up then turned to John with a choking love and worry, knowing now he should not have walked away from that truck.  I side-stepped down the hill for a closer look.  The cab was crushed.  The windows smashed.  The doors twisted shut.  How did he even get out?  And I am carrying little John in one arm while the other wrestles the 5 hp garden tiller.  And we are loading logs on the hydraulic splitter and stacking and stacking that winter’s wood.  And we are assembling the bouldering wall he designed.  And we are pedaling our mountain bikes seven miles up the canyon’s Dark Trail.  And he is guiding his frightened little sister up the rough multi-pitch rock.

How did you get out, son?

I don’t know, Dad.

And I am stupefied and paralyzed with the horror and grief of what might have been and should have been and nearly was, but wasn’t.  And I am stunned and speechless with the mystery and miracle of what is.

“How does this work?”  I asked at the wrecking yard.  “You give me the title, and we waive the tow fee and the storage fee.”

Done.  On the drive home I stopped at the scene.  There were the tracks of the front and back tires sliding at an angle into the gravel shoulder.  There were the launch marks where the truck left the ground.  There was the crash point where the cab struck and crushed, and the gouge where the side mirror dug in.  And there were the roll marks and roll marks and roll marks.  I had turned tracker, reading the scars in the soil and the fractured grass straws.  The only mark on his body was the striped seatbelt bruise.

There the truck had sat, after three complete rolls, the crushed and mangled truck, the truck John was not getting back into to stay warm, the truck he does not know how he crawled out of.  And tracking back up the hill I picked up the coins from the spare change bin and the rearview mirror and the individually packaged Lifesaver mints for driving with dates and the loose axe head I found at the county dump and thought I might re-handle but never did – all flying around the cab, around his skull – and his Black Diamond beanie which cushioned his head when he broke the driver side window, and lots and lots of pieces of windshield glass.  And I gathered it all up and saved it to remember the blessing of my boy crawling out of that crushed and mangled pick-up truck.  And now he is married to his sweetheart and they hope to bring babies into this world to love and teach and guide as they grow.  And I am stunned and speechless – still – with the mystery and miracle of what is.

John and Alleigh Baker (August 2020)

Bless You, Keep You

Bless You, Keep You

We converged on Atlantic City, from every high school in the state.  Not to gamble or surf or sunbathe: we came together to sing.  I practiced for weeks for the tryouts, and somehow, with my teacher’s encouragement and training, the judges selected me: to sing in the New Jersey All-State Chorus.  Three days in Atlantic City in 1980, rehearsing, perfecting, bringing together pitch and tempo and nuance, four hundred voices moving together as four, like the ocean in its swelling and racing and tumbling and calm.  We gathered for dinner in the ballroom, the first night, seated and hungry at round tables with white tablecloths.  I was accustomed to prayer in my home over steaming meals, asking the Father in the name of the Son to bless the food for our nourishment and health and strength and wisdom and protection, though I did not expect prayer would be offered that night at the hotel in Atlantic City – would one say Lord Jesus or Adonai or Allah…?  Would one say Amen?  But then the room eased into spontaneous song, a prayer sung, without accompaniment, only song.  Soft and gentle.  The Lord bless you and keep you.  I did not know this hymn.  I had never heard this hymn.  Slow and reverent.  The Lord lift his countenance upon you.  How could I never have heard this melodic sweetness?  From the first notes I felt swept away toward some immense imminent mysterious culmination of Beauty and Spirit.  Even the syncopated coun-te-nance trickled into a soft pool of silence suspending the line in time, bridging to the next but savoring the sound of now before moving on.  Lifting and lofty.  And give you peace.  And give you peace.  A Numbers 6:24 blessing pronounced upon the children of Mosaic Israel.  An anno domini 1900 blessing of peace composed by choirmaster-professor-dean Peter C. Lutkin.  An offering of peace composed for the first American a cappella choir.  And here we were, an a cappella choir of 400 souls singing his benediction.  The Lord make his face to shine upon you.  And in that moment the face of God and the love of God and the beauty of God felt so exquisitely real.  And be gracious.  The Lord be gracious unto you.  And I knew God was gracious for allowing me to receive this song.  And all of this lyrical melodic harmonic beauty presaged a chorus of the glorious folding swelling four-voiced sevenfold A-m-e-n rising to permeate the grand hall and press against constraining ceilings and walls, hovering, hovering, and slowly settling with one long low final  A – m – e – n – softly upon the soul, the beautiful wave foregoing its crash and roil to resolve imperceptibly into receiving coastal sands.  And as the sound waned, I sat bewildered and weeping, and wondering what miraculous extraordinary thing had just graced the world, and the utter hush that followed.

double LP album cover

Enjoy this inspiring two-minute rendition of Peter Lutkin’s benediction The Lord Bless You and Keep You sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Lead photo by my son Caleb James Baker of southern Utah (c).

 

Car Wash at Yankee Stadium

Car Wash at Yankee Stadium

He took us boys to the new stadium to cheer for our baseball team, the New York Yankees, and our favorite slugger-star Reggie Jackson.  We brought our mitts for long foul balls and dreamed of aromatic hot dogs with sauerkraut and mustard.  He drove the biggest, longest, squarest car I have ever seen or sat in, his Lincoln Continental Town Car.  At a red Bronx semaphore near Yankee Stadium, tall lanky dark men in white tank tops emerged from their bivouacs with buckets of soapy water and squeegees in both hands and hurry in both feet.  Without inquiry or consent they washed and wiped every window on the enormous car, even the two little luxury-liner portholes.  “You don’t say no,” Leon chuckled to us over his shoulder.  “And you had better pay.”  He did not say No.  He did smile and say Thank You.  And he paid.  And he drove away and told us of a driver who said once “I don’t want you to wash my windows” and who got his windows washed anyway and who pulled away without paying and who got his windows smashed.  He stamped a period on the story: “You don’t say no.”  And his story stamped on me a fear of Black men with squeegees and clubs.

Sundown on Sunday on the Washington Bridge mid-town, and the Audi breaks down, and two white kids are standing scared by the Audi with its hood up and steam hissing, and wondering what to do, and wondering how long it will be before they get mugged on a Sunday night in New York.  And this old Puerto Rican cabbie stops to see what’s the problem.  A hose is cracked and steaming, and the brown cabbie takes me searching for an open auto parts store on a Sunday night with the sun going down, and store after store is closed, of course, but he keeps driving me deeper into mid-town and up into up-town and finally we find an open store, and it has the right hose, and I buy it.  And the cabbie talks with me about my family and his family and my life and his life and my job as a student and his job as a cab driver and takes me back to the Audi and we clamp on the new hose and the car starts right up.  And the cabbie smiles and waves good-bye and says buenas noches and will not take the money I am holding out to him, and he drives away and is gone.  The nicest man I ever met.  An old brown man helping a couple of scared white kids in trouble in Manhattan.

Sorting people, brothers and sisters, by the colors of their skin, by the shapes of their noses, by their eyes slanting up or down.  Measures absurd and obtuse to weigh human worth!  The squeegee washers want what I want.  And the cab drivers and bakers and shoe shiners and hot dog sellers: they want it, too.  They want family and love and affirmation and security and opportunity – and fairness.  So, if you are looking for me, you might find me driving around town looking for brothers and sisters whose hoses are cracked, and taking them to find the open store, and we will chat and chuckle, and I will accept their thanks, but decline their green, with grace.

(Image by Paul Merino from Pixabay)

___________________________

Roger Baker is a career municipal attorney and hobby writer.  He is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.  Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births.  The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Gunshot at Grandma

cherry-pie-723199_1920

Gunshot at Grandma

Grandma recounted how the revolver exploded like a last horrible heartbeat, how the bullet breezed her bangs as it bansheed by, and she showed me the bullet hole in the bedroom door, the door to that space where lovers should love with gentle minds and searching hearts.  The blue-hats told him knowingly to gowalk around the block” and “cool off,” as if overheating were his problem and all he needed was a little cool to salve the steam, but they would not see that the radiator was cracked and fouled.

In the mists of memory the boy came home from elementary school to an empty house and mixed flour with salt and cold shortening and cold water, and stewed a handful of raisins, and baked a raisin pie, and nibbled as he sat in the overstuffed chair and rocked away the silent hours.  The butcher knife leveled at the boy now a man because he dared to say no more hitting and to stand his ground and stare the knifer down and say No More Hitting! until the tyrant dropped the weapon and walked away.  There was thereafter no more hitting.

Grandma stood with me by her bedroom door as she recounted the revolver, and I cannot say for certain, now, whether the bullet hole was in that very door or in the vision of the storied door branded in my brain, in another bedroom, in another house, in another city, in another time, my vision of her memory merged with the immediate door of here – and I knew it did not matter, for the hole in the door was real, and the breeze of the bullet was real, and the ear-bursting bang of the gun was real, and the grimacing man was real, the overheated man steaming from the unbearable burden of her, my Grandma, making it her fault she was nearly murdered in her own bedroom.  To murder was not his purpose, of course, rather to compel the belief that he could and would if she stepped out of line.  To make her cower.

(Above Image by pixel1 from Pixabay )

My Grandma (1909-1994)

_______________________

Roger Baker is a career municipal attorney and hobby writer.  He is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.  Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births.  The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Windmill on the Coast of Portugal

Windmill on the Coast of Portugal

Whistle and whoosh come from the aged acrylic, old plywood behind, the building white and blue, though the eight arms stretch suspended and still, hung on my wall in a frame, and I remember these thirty years yet.  Clack . . . Clack . . . Clack . . .  round and round turned the granite circle stone, heavier than heavy, lifted once with a wooden windlass crane to the third-floor attic where eight men heaved and pushed and positioned this stone atop another: only the upper stone turned.  And the clacking stick jiggled the chute and the wheat stones drip-dropped into the center and ground and gristed into white farinha powder to mix with water and yeast and salt and oil to ferment and bloat into the steaming aromatic crisp and chew of bread.  The noise of fitting wood cogs and turning and grinding stones heavy as mountains and the incessantly clacking stick, and outside: the sails, four of them, white canvas, catching the Atlantic and whooshing wildly around with insistent hurricane power, and I knew if I stood errantly and a long arm struck, I would be flung clear to Madeira.  And the jars, those terra cotta jars, an angry orchestra of clay shrieking in thirds and fifths and octaves as they led the sails and followed the circling sails.  I did climb the stone stairs inside the round stone walls to watch everything spinning, the cogs and the wheels and the stones and the central beam – even the roof rotated to bring about the sails – with clouds of choking kernel dust – that central beam one foot square pointing a mile toward the sea, the great roiling ocean of Magalhães and Vasco da Gama and Bartolomeu from whose ship sterns the lusty homesick men watched the sails shrinking and waiving interminably, the shrieking jugs weakened to whispers and then gone, the tiny sails waiving in circles to the big caravel sails on the sea.

(Title painting by Erin Baker)

 

Portuguese Windmill

(Image by Horácio Lopes from Pixabay)

Half the Student Body

Half the Student Body

“If we had known the severity of your handicap, you would not have been admitted.”  That is what the law school averred, in 1960, when he was wheeled into class – speaking intentionally in the passive, because he could not wheel himself, nor could he write or type, turn the pages of his textbooks, raise his hand in class, feed himself, or use the restroom.  “We don’t have the facilities for you.”

Our anger was a fury sparked by profound injustices.
And with that rage we ripped a hole in the status quo.

But having arrived somehow at the school, he kept rolling on.

I call for a revolution that will empower every single human being
to govern his or her life.

Roommates hoisted him to the floor and turned on the shower so he could roll around to bathe.  Women gathered at his door each morning to greet him and push him to campus.  Law students took long notes longhand, holding them up for him to memorize one page at a time.

Disability is an art.  It’s an ingenious way to live.

At the phrase “I need to” Nelson took him to the restroom, lifted him from his chair, lowered his trousers, clasped him from behind to hold him up at the urinal, or set him on the commode, then tidied and dressed him and took him back to class.

I am different, not less.

Sitting at a study table, when he sneezed from a cold, his head flopped over and hit the table with a bang.  He lifted his head just in time for another sneeze and thump.  A clang every time.  One could not very well hold his head all afternoon in anticipation of a sneeze.  The sneeze simply erupted when it wished, with a heavy clonk on hardwood.

I’m already healed.  Just because I can’t walk doesn’t mean I’m not whole.

He graduated from college.  He slogged through law school.  He was their friend, and they were his friends.  They helped him: half the student body.  He ennobled them by inviting them to join him on his journey.

When everyone else says you can’t, determination says, YES YOU CAN.

A student in a wheelchair, whose name I never knew.  He graduated from that law school where they tried to tell him No.  He became an attorney in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C.  And he married a lovely girl.  And he fathered dear children.  And he lived a life full and long.

Alone we can do so little.  Together we can do so much.

Quotations from these Powerful Able-Disabled:
-Judy Heumann
-Justin Dart
-Neil Marcus
-Temple Grandin
-Ed Roberts
-Robert Hensel
-Helen Keller

(Image of Stephen Hawking by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay)

Roger is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist.  Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.  Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births.  The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Jordan River Cantor

Jordan River Cantor

Dearest Mother,

Tonight I kayaked on the Jordan hoping to see a beaver, for lately I have noticed bits of beaver sign, like newly-gnawed box elder bark, and willow stems sheered with a single toothy slice. Porter’s Landing offers a rubber launching mat, a picnic table pavilion, and a merciful portable toilet: I put in there.  I paddled hard upstream, tense and anxious for wanting to arrive, to see a beaver.  But I regrouped and reminded: when I want to see wildlife, I must release my need to see wildlife.  One cannot ever coerce an encounter: one must allow to happen whatever wishes to happen.  Soon I settled into a smooth rhythmic stride.

Garish orange-black orioles chittered at me from the treetops.  Goldfinch on an eye-level branch watched me paddle by.  Great blue heron glided slowly in, dangling long gangly landing gear.  Cormorant, oil-black, rounded a bend low over the river then veered sharply away.  Kingfisher kept a hundred feet upstream, scolding with each irritated launch.  Canada Goose parents with six fuzzy new goslings paddled single file, an adult fore and aft.  Wild iris sprouted in clumps near the bank boasting delicate butter-cream flowers.  The river was calm and beautiful and slack and dark as the sun began to sink.

One hour upstream would see me back just before dark.  And at that one-hour mark a willow switch swam slowly against the current and stopped at a grass-hidden bank.  I glided slowly by, and there sat a beaver, upright on her haunches in the shallows munching.  A beaver!  Alive and real and close and wondrous – two famous enormous buck teeth, long tawny whiskers, tiny black-bead eyes, little round ears, rust-red fingers holding the branch just like I would hold a branch.  She chewed quickly and loudly and contentedly, completely unaware of my ogling.  But when she heard me she straightened and turned slowly and dove, nonchalant, and as she dove she raised her tail lazily and slapped the water with a cross crack.

My encounter with the beaver felt beautiful and personal and honorific and close.  I will take Hannah tomorrow.  We will ride our bicycles on the riverside trail, and I will show her where I saw the beaver.  We will sit on the trail above the bank and munch our sandwiches and whisper to each other until she comes.

I hope to see you soon.  Love always,

Me

(Image above by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay.  Images below by author.)

 

jangada

jangada

Caymmi crooning How sweet to die at sea, singing the anguish and longing of the fisherman’s widow and mother and child.  On the green waves of the sea.  Painting with his guitar.  Sculpting with song.  He sings the good souls of the penurious pescador, fishermen, uncut gemstones, too often squandered at sea – singing the unsung.  He made his bed in the bosom of Iemanjá, the great sea goddess of African Candomblé.  Take a four-logged Asian jang, add logs five and six for a Brazilian jangada, a poor man’s fishing skiff.  Launch at sunset into the surf and the curious sail hauls him out 75 miles, six logs and a sail and a fisherman, inconsequential specks on an unending ocean, under starlight, under storm.  The ocean wrenches his soul toward fishing.  Watch over our pescador, Lady of the Sea.  Bring our boy home.  His name is Chico Ferreira e Bento – my Chico.  Bring his jangada home.  And the storm arose and the ocean swelled into roiling liquid mountains and that little flat raft bobbed and dipped and splintered and flung Chico into the bosom of Iemenjá.  And his jangada, the Pôr do Sol – Sunset – tumbled to shore two days after, with no Chico, with no Chico.  When the fisherman leaves, he never knows if he will return.  His mother kneels in the surf, Crying as if not crying.  Logs fastened with hardwood pegs and hemp fiber lashings and an upstretched sail of stitched cloth.  The fisherman has two loves: One on land, and One at sea.  On a plywood square a student poured glue and meted colored gravel carefully for a sandy surf and a tumbling blue and that creamy sail turned upward to the sky, wind-bent and heavy, and the brown fishermen working nets and lines and paddle and sail.  The glue and the gravel lie fixed but I hear the water flowing and the sand shifting and the men whistling about the big fish they will heft home for their Chiquinha and Iaiá, their children, to eat, and the big fish they will sell for food and school books and a trinket or two on their birthdays.  I went for a walk one day, and every path led to the sea.  He who comes to the sea will never wish to forsake her.  Sail home, Chico: sail your jangada home.

 ____________________

Artwork above by my father, Owen Nelson Baker, when a post-graduate student in Brazil.

Caymmi released his LP Dorival Caymmi E Seu Violão in 1956, each song a story of the hopes and griefs of poor Brazilian fishermen and their loved ones, and of the ocean’s capricious waters, both treacherous and divine.  I still have the old vinyl LP, pictured here.  These songs have stirred my soul longer and more deeply than any other music.  The italicized lyrics in the essay, above, are my translations from the Portuguese.  You can hear some of Caymmi’s folk songs here:

 

Tattoo

Tattoo

Needles and knives. Maori face chisels. Dark ink and scars. Tattoo – from tatu of Tahiti, tatau of Samoa, Tongan tatatau – from the tapping tools of tattoo. Symbols of virtue and strength worn by warriors and kings, mariners and queens. Tattoo from before prehistory. Tattoo for souls lost, and found. Four inked stories in swirls and silks and symbols, the what and why of four lives, seeking and finding, declaring this is me. Their lost-and-won battles, their peoples, their idyls – in tattoo. These four I know and admire. These four I love. My canvass is empty: I wear my scars inside. These four exhibit their beautiful selves in tattoo. Ways to be.

_______________

Paul and His Victory over the God of Death

I had wanted a tattoo for years, but couldn’t decide on what I wouldn’t regret. We weren’t happy together, and when we separated, I should have been happy alone – I was free – but the darkness closed in and accused, “You’re a failure. Failure. You don’t matter. You should just kill yourself.” Why is suicide always on the table? I don’t want to die. I drove down dark streets fighting with the voice that wanted me to end it all. And then, there was the parlor, and he said he had a cancellation so he had time for me, and I knew, finally, suddenly, what it was to be. I want these words and I wrote them on a paper scrap, and he said, Sure, but we’re going to make it art, not just words, ok? Okay. I might have given in, given up, but everything fell into place and the words came, the words that saved my life, and today I wear these strong words: What do we say to the God of Death? Not today! I don’t know where they came from, they just came, like electricity, like a bright light, like instantaneous knowledge: a revelation. And I felt whole. And I knew I mattered.

_______________

Todd the Bear

Dude, I am the bear. I always walked through life’s pine-tree wilderness alone, not needing anyone – or so I thought – and all the time I felt sad and worthless and flawed and needing others desperately, and clawing my way through the thorny crushing wild. I am still that bear, but I no longer walk alone. My loved ones: they are the birds overhead always. I know I am not alone. I know I can make it. But I am still the bear, and I have to make my own way through this dense forest. The paw prints on the path are mine – no one makes them for me – and the directions I travel are mine. The choice is always mine. The path unfolds before me even as I choose it.

_______________

Sione’s Island Home

Io. This tattoo is my island, and my family and my clan. My family name means We who carry Kings on our Boats on the Sea. These sea turtles are symbols of my island. These are my people, who fish and sail the sea and climb the coconut palm barefoot and grind the meat and press the milk and drink the ground kava and remember the sacrifice and sadness where the tree first grew. These patterns here, we put them on the big tapa cloth with black hibiscus dye and red hibiscus dye. I am in my people and my people are in me. Io. Malo.

_______________

Liddy, Her Angels Entwined

I wore a tiny silver cross, wore it always in faith and in supplication for those I loved, for those I wanted to see protected and blessed, a silver cross on a silver chain around my neck always. One day I sent it to you, my silver cross, to you, because I just knew you needed something special from me, that the tiny silver cross would be your blessing now. And I wear these angels, gently entwined, entwined in the idyl of love, enwrapped in the gift of each other. I wear these angels like I wore the cross, to believe down deep, to cherish, to remember that love is the key, the only key, to that door in the sky. These angels I wear for you – and for everyone – and for me.

Angels Sing

Angels Sing

Prayer was opaque.  Holy writ just words.  I did not know where God was.  We lifted things from the cardboard box, cupping them like fragile hatchling chicks: ukulele – senior yearbook – prom  photo – drawings and doodlings – Church worthiness card – Eagle Scout medal – employee-of-the-month certificate – Godzilla action figure – hoodies and pajamas, smelling of him, a good clean smell.  We planted a linden tree, tall and straight, ringed with daffodils.  He didn’t know who he was.  He didn’t have any sharp edges.  Not.  One.  The only thing I hated about him was that he hated himself.  I have to wonder if one more text, one more call, one more conversation or smile or hug might have tipped the scales.  You slipped a letter in before the casket closed and asked him to remember playing Legos in Grandma’s basement and having play fights with Godzilla.  A small thing, you said.  I am numb and sick and angry and sick and numb.  A man told me once, I am going to walk through that door, and when I do, the darkness will not come through with me.  And the man walked through the door, and the darkness had to stay behind.  Fight to choose light over darkness.  Always.  But our boy was not that strong, yet.  A finger twitched.  A demon slug.  In the end, all we can do to make a difference in this world is to love.  In your quiet times, you will feel a sweetness in your heart, a soft presence, and you will know it is him.  And then, that Church conference on YouTube with the whole world watching during Covid-19 and the audience stayed home to watch and the tabernacle choir stayed home to watch, but recorded choirs sang from conferences past: and there he was, on the back row by the big organ pipes in his black suit, singing and singing and alive!  Our angel alive and singing.

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This piece is a word collage gathering the expressions and feelings and images of many family members surrounding our beloved Korey following his death by suicide.  We love him, and feel him with us still, and always.

One Night in Maine

One Night in Maine

Don’t snap it.
Sweep a smooth long figure 8 and gently lay down the leader.
Your mayfly will hover then rest on the water, the last of the length to touch.
If you snap, you will break your knot and lose your fly.
Imagine 600 feet per second.
That’s it. That’s better.

Lakeside grass is smashed here where bear sat munching meager blueberries in morning’s mist.
You may pick a few for tomorrow’s pancakes, but leave the rest for our friend.

The lake glows burning amber with the sun behind the pines, our water glowing and still, and mayflies dance and bob, and aquatic creatures leap and slap and leap and slap.

A silhouetted loon swims low in a patch of smoldering amber and sings the saddest haunting song laced with hues of joy and reconciliation.

(Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay.)

 

Little Growler

Little Growler

A lion sits on my bed, a little lion, named Little Growler.  He clambers onto my pillow each morning after I make the bed.  Hello Little Growler, I say.  He guards the small house all day.  And he shuffles off to his secondary perch when I draw back the blankets at night.  He does not demand anything of me.  He does not growl or bark or mewl or drool.  He does not whine or glare or fume.  Little Growler came to stay when I moved away.  She brought him with her one day and introduced us.  She knew I was alone now.  She was 9.

When she turned 10, Olaf skated home with us from Disney on Ice.  He joins Little Growler with a grin that refuses to dim.  Pooh Bear with his round rumbly tumbly completes the trio, wandering in from California when the girl was not quite 2 and we met a giant Pooh and a giant Tigger and they happily squeezed in with us in a photo of the family: together.

I wave to the threesome at night – company in the dark is comforting – and manage to smile and say Good night little friends and remember Hannah at 9 and 10 and 2 and know we have had some happy times and I am not irreparable and I am very much alive and moving into something mysterious and beautiful and that Little Growler will be perched on my pillow when I come home at night.

They Fell from the Sky

They Fell from the Sky

Hundreds of them.  Eared Grebes.  The birds precipitated from inside crystalline clouds where the sunlight flashed in an infinity of ice atoms swirling and refracting in a frozen explosion of brilliance, as if the sun raged coldly right there inside the clouds.  The birds became utterly hopelessly disoriented in the icy intensity, blind, not knowing up from down.  Hundreds of grebes dropped from the mists to bounce into buildings, cars, trees, yards, and parking lots.  And there she stood, unmoving, in my parking space, her olive-brown feet stuck frozen to the ice.  My office key made a crude chisel for chopping around her toes – they bled and flaked skin already.  I wrapped her in my coat and sat her in a box by my desk, with cracker crumbs and a bowl of water.

The children begged to open the box and see what was scratching inside, and exhaled exclamations of wonder when they saw.  What IS it?  She’s an Eared Grebe.  Look at her pointy black beak, her long flaring golden feathers that look like ears, and her crimson eyes.  Do you know what you call a group of grebes?  A Water Dance!  Can’t you just picture the family flapping and paddling and splashing their delighted dance on the lake?

What are we going to do with her?  Can we fill the bath tub?  Our grebe paddled around with obvious enthusiasm.  What are we going to feed her?  How about fish!  Tub-side with a bag of goldfish, the children clamored for the privilege of feeding their bird.  Our compromise: eight hands held the bloated bag and poured.  She darted after the fish in a flash of black and gold and red, a little paddling package of magnificence.  Look at her feet – no webbing.  Look at how her toes unhinge with little retractable paddles.  Wow! came in whispers.

That needling question of what to do with the bird in the bathtub?  We would try a nearby pond, and hope for the best.  The children watched her swim away and they looked sad and happy and I sensed how singular a blessing to have welcomed that bit of living feathered grace into our human home, to release her willfully, to be moved by her wildness and beauty.  And I hoped a small sliver of that exquisiteness would stay behind in memories of hinged toes and golden ears and red red eyes, and of creatures that dance on the water.

(Image by David Mark from Pixabay.) 

Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.

 

 

Our, Angel Gabriel

Our, Angel Gabriel

It was an unseasonably warm winter afternoon when Angel Gabriel came to visit.  I was baking bread for his great-grandparents who sat thin-jacketed watching him lead my angel sister toward the enormous long-needled Austrian pine – she carried a five-gallon bucket that could have carried him – where he hunted his favorite treasure: Continue reading

The Wrong Shade of Blue

The Wrong Shade of Blue

On my desk stands an assortment of cheap pens, conference swag stamped with the names of cities and malls, colleges and garbage haulers, hospitals and law firms, architects and engineers and janitors.  Some are fat and uncomfortable to grip, like writing with a broomstick.  Some scratch the paper with stiff unrolling ball points.  My favorite boasts a three-inch ruler, a level, and a screwdriver bit in the top: the engineer.  The pens rise from a rough clay jar we turned so awkwardly on a wheel when we were together and laughing and making a memory – Continue reading

Dragon Patrol

Dragon Patrol

This was his modus operandi:

arriving at a mountain lake and settling the family with picnic baskets and chairs and tackle boxes and poles, our father walked the perimeter, heading off on a trail if there was a trail, through bushes and over-and-around tree trunks if there wasn’t, to scout the best fishing and to gather perspective of lake and forest and meadow and bog and picnicking family from every vantage point to find what he could find.  He looked small on the opposite shore Continue reading

Just Like That

Just Like That

Not one prosthetic leg, but two—two metal legs where shins bones had been, fibula-flanked tibia, and metal feet filling running shoes laced tight and carrying bone and muscle and steel around the gym.  I did not pity him, but I did pity him—I couldn’t help feeling sorry that something violent had taken his legs, his shins, his ankles, his feet.  It could have been an improvised explosive device disguised as a cardboard box along the side of an Iraqi highway.  It could have been a land mine in Afghanistan.  It could have been a pickup truck rolling and rolling cab-crushing rolling down an embankment into cattails and reeds.  My curiosity couldn’t help but wonder.  He moved down the line of upper-body machines, hip flexors lifting metal in a slightly mechanical gait.  Men—guys—simply do not speak to other men at the gym, except for the group that ripple and strut and those that come as friends and spotters, for fear perhaps of misunderstanding or offense, or to project a cool stoic toughness, or to avoid the embarrassment of slack-muscled bald-headed types like me intruding on their pounding blue-tooth buds.  I did finally figure out a way to be friendly without being weird, playing to vanity by asking for tips for this muscle or that, and usually they were friendly, except for one hulk who sneered It’s all in the genes… which I guess meant I owned unfortunate DNA.  But asking the man with carbon-metal legs for tips would be an obvious ruse for selfishly satisfying a shallow curiosity.

Grandpa Charles had worked in the vast shunting yards of the old Rio Grande, getting cars where they needed to be, cleaning, inspecting, greasing, working levers and switches and leaping over couplings and tight-rope-walking tracks and a general hopping about, with frequent reminders that steel is unforgiving, until that day an inattentive engineer lurched a car and crush-killed Grandpa Charles.  Jesse lived alone for long decades after.  And the grandkids never knew Grandpa.

I walked up to him anyway, taboo and all, because I refused to be afraid of being friendly, and I said Hi and told him I think it’s awesome you are here living your life and that I was not asking him what happened, but I’m sure you suffered terribly and I’m sure it took courage to walk again and live again and choose to be strong and fit and social and I admire and respect your strength in adversity and he was nice and I felt happy and relieved and he told me he had been working in the railyard at an industrial depot that used to be an Army depot when he met a spiteful unforgiving train that lurched at him and his legs were gone just like that but he didn’t die and he decided to live again and I told him I would try to do the same when life got hard for me, and he said Nice to meet you, too.

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(Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay )

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Roger is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist.  Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.  Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births.  The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

Teasing Daddy’s Ear

Teasing Daddy’s Ear

I have been watching a man at church, sitting in his cushioned pew.  His child sits belted in a wheelchair because she cannot use her legs at all and would flop to the floor if unrestrained.  She is motion, her arms and hands fluttering around and her head wagging and her tight long ponytail swishing violently as if warding off some invisible and pestering thing. Continue reading

Life and Death (A Matter of)

Life and Death (A Matter of)

Life was about to begin for me when on a TWA jet I poked tentatively at the soft walls of the tight round room of my mother’s womb.  And after quick-passing days she deu à luz (gave the light) to me.  Fifty years later life ended.  Books describe divorce as a kind of death, for its permanence and its depth of loss and grief, and perhaps Continue reading

Whence Come These Lullabies

Whence Come these Lullabies

I once composed lullabies.

I suppose they began when my three-month-old baby, my first child, spiked a 103 fever, and I was frightened and he was sick and miserable and frightened.  And I cradled him and rocked him for hours in my aching arms gently and rhythmically as I breathed and whispered unconnected assuring words that began to connect and to coalesce with the rocking rhythm and began to hiss forth with sympathy and hope and desperation: Continue reading

Merlins and Holy Ground

Merlins and Holy Ground

Dark Trail earned its name for the tree canopy that shades and darkens its travelers.  Gambel oaks.  Mountain maples.  Box Elders.  Orange lichen clothes their trunks as they arc over the path.  I ride a round-trip seven.  The higher I go, the prettier the canyon, campsites yielding to firs and aspen groves and snow pockets still in June.  On Independence Day I launched from a mogul Continue reading

Mr. Whitlock’s Physics Class

Mr. Whitlock’s Physics Class

New Jersey.  East Brunswick.  High school physics class, with Mr. Whitlock.  (Mr. Whitlock was the band teacher, not the physics teacher, but they were both 50ish and ancient and pudgy (like I am now), and they were both nice to me, and I can’t remember my physics teacher’s name, though I wish I could because he liked physics and he liked us.  But I cannot recall his name, and his picture is not in my high school yearbooks: he must repeatedly have dodged faculty picture day.  So I will just call him Mr. Whitlock for now.)  I was a high school senior proudly registered for physics class.  The olive chalk board was full of Mr. Whitlock’s arrows on arcs and sine-cosine frequencies and equations with X and Y and Z and other wondrous letters and symbols with hidden meanings.  I was enthralled.  While the class title was merely Physics, to me the exciting subtitle was Relativity, Cosmology, Forces, Theories of Everything, and other Cool Space Science Stuff.  A willing sponge, I was eager to soak it all in.  That same year Cosmos erupted into my existence, by Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer and cosmologist with the deep nasal “billions and billions.”  I believed everything he said because it was the science and the truth of the universe.  That is what physics class was all about, right?  But while I adored and worshiped the ideas, I choked on the math—why is it always the math?—and I tripped over the translations of the pretty arrow-arcs into unintelligible long lettered mathematical formulae.  And I came quickly to understand that I did not understand and might never understand the mathematics of physics, despite the fact that I received an “A” in Trigonometry class the year before because I had memorized the equations and aced the tests and then forgot everything, the day after finals, because I had never understood the mystifying logical language of mathematics.

The inexorable dreadful day came when I carried home my report card, folded neatly in a 6×9 manila envelope, and we formed a line at the dinner table where Dad sat at the head before dinner, and we handed him our report cards, one at a time, me the oldest and me the last, and oh how slowly he opened the envelope and drew out my first-quarter report card and unfolded it and slowly and dreadfully scanned the straight As, with the C at the bottom, my first C in history, the C in physics, my favorite and impossible class, and he looked up and said simply, “Is this going to continue?”  But as I stood sickened and sweating, my insecure scared self supplied this translation: This is the best you can do?  I thought you were smarter than that.  I expect more of you.  A C, not being an A, might as well be an F.  F-F-F.  Failure.  You had better do better, son.  Dad meant none of that, of course, though he was and is the best smartest strongest man I knew and know, though his question simply revealed his own exhausted mind as lawyer clergyman handyman father-of-six, though my report card C was simply a small temporary bare blip of a fact, a diminutive letter written in a tiny box in a narrow column of my life, and meant nothing at all whatsoever about me and my value and worth and intelligence and my sense of wonder for the scientific world.  Dad’s question was simply a worry for his son and a hope for his son and an offer to help his son if he could.  I see that.

Please do not ask me why I majored in physics in college.  Please don’t.  Though if you do I will answer simply that I love cosmology and relativity and theories of everything and other cool sciencey spacey stuff.  I just could not do the math.

(Painting “Galaxy” by Roger, though I’m hesitant to claim it.)

Roger Evans Baker is a municipal attorney, homebody poet and essayist, and amateur naturalist.  Roger is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season.  Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit.  A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births.  The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.

 

Round Shells Resting

(The following piece tells in greater detail about the construction of my chicken coop and its inhabitants.  The article was originally published in 2003 in the Tooele County Magazine by the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin.  I offer it here as an appendix to Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.)

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The weathered hinges creek as I enter my patchwork coop.  Its quiet inhabitants, rudely rousted from their roosting, suddenly jabber with a cacophony of clucks, crows, honks, and coos.  They run nervously about as I turn over a bucket and occupy a corner of their space.

I sit quiet and motionless, and the chatter calms as their anxiety fades.  Soon they ignore me and go about their normal bird business: pecking at mash, scratching through straw, drinking from water they muddied the moment it was poured, brooding on freshly laid eggs, and general roosting.

This is where I come for quiet contemplation.  Here I am free from the suit and necktie that pay the mortgage but strangle my dreams.  If I sit long enough, I begin to see again a glimmer of who I am.

In the coop, the delicate fragrance of fresh, dry straw soothes my frazzled nerves.  An impressive portfolio of molted feathers decorates the room in abstract patterns that appear a mere mess to the unenlightened.  Eggs nestle comfortably, softly, in beds of straw—a perfect still life of brown, white, and pastel-green ovals.

I soak in the simplicity and innocence of feathered life.  I silently bless the absence of drool and bark and bray.  I relish the moment’s escape from trivial chatter and from the weight of the world’s woes.  My birds demand nothing of me.  I feed them; they eat.  I water them; they drink.  I leave them alone; they leave me alone.  We are together in a four-walled world of quiet being—no doing allowed—happily minding our own business.

* * *

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My chicken coop is unique in all the world.  It follows no blueprint or pattern.  Its configuration is determined wholly by the dimensions of the pallets that previously carried snowmobiles and four-wheelers to the local dealer.  The pallets were free, except for one blue fingernail, five stitches in a knuckle, and three dings in my truck.  Scrap fiberboard sides the pallets, with old storm windows framed into the south and east corners for winter light and warmth.

The finished product stands twelve by eight, ten feet tall in the front and six in the back, with more pallets nailed together forming the roof.  After driving the last nail, I stood back and admired my beginner’s handiwork.  Beautiful, I thought with pride.  The chickens seemed pleased, too.  A month later, Grandpa offered to cover the mottled scrap wood with exterior wood siding, and the roof with corrugated aluminum.  He said it would last longer that way—he was right, of course—but I could tell he was concerned about preserving my property value.

* * *

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Chickens and ducks share the coop.  Sometimes the billed birds peck at the beaked, but the coop is spacious enough to permit these distant cousins to live together in seeming familial friendship.  Maybe they merely tolerate each other.  I suppose at any moment an invisible tension could erupt into a flurry of feathers.

Despite both being fowl, however, they are really nothing alike.  They eat the same food—grain, mash, bugs—whatever is available.  But chickens peck with sudden snaps of the neck that bring whiplash to mind.  The hungrier they are the faster they peck.  At feeding time their heads lurch toward the grain with such ferocity that my head hurts, and I wonder what cushions their small brains from becoming mush against their skulls.  Their hunger satisfied, they meander around the coop, casually pecking at straw, feathers, grains of sand, but still with the same mechanical whip-snap motion.

Ducks, on the other hand, definitely don’t peck.  In fact, their heads remain practically motionless while they feed.  The head merely points the bill, which opens and shuts with remarkable speed, as if plugged into a vibrator.  My slow eyes perceive a vague blur as bills pulverize a strand of straw into straw-dust.

In contrast to whip-snapping chicken heads, chicken feet unfold and flex with a smooth, fluid motion.  This fact holds true with all chicken gaits, but becomes obvious to my eyes with the slow, searching gait employed in casual grazing and roost pacing.  I notice suddenly that each chicken breed has its own foot color.  White Leghorn: yellow.  Rhode Island Red: orange.  Araucana: steel gray.  Golden Sebright Bantam: blue-gray.

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Red combs flop around carelessly with the chickens’ bobbing heads.  Some combs reach over an inch tall; others resemble short, blunt spikes barely protruding from the head.  While the height of a chicken’s comb depends partly on its breed, the comparative height within a single breed indicates a hen’s egg cycle.  A tall comb indicates productivity.  A short comb tells me she’s taking a break for a few weeks.

I wondered one evening, Just what does a chicken comb feel like?  I had to know.  To find out, I employed my practiced chicken-catching technique to apprehend the subject of my curiosity.  I cornered a long-combed hen and inched forward slowly, rocking back and forth on wide-planted feet.  With a sudden stretch I grabbed her.  Terror struck her: she squawked hysterically, struggling to break free.  I cupped her head gently in my hand to calm her down.  Then I stroked her comb.  It was rough and firm, but fleshy, like an old, cracked rubber scraper.  I sat on my bucket and smoothed her ruffled feathers.  “Don’t worry, little one,” I whispered.  “I won’t hurt you.”  I began to savor this simple moment and to appreciate this creature who lives unfettered by the concerns and dysfunctions of humanity.

* * *

One evening, as I sat contemplating nothing, I watched a tiny field mouse skitter along a lateral plank, keeping to the shadowed corners.  It paused behind each pallet vertical like a thief slinking behind trees before a caper.  Yet I just couldn’t quite make the metaphor work: the tiny black eyes, soft, glossy coat, tissue paper ears, and delicate, bony hands painted a picture of sweetness, not deceit.  The tiny creature just wanted a little food, after all—and the chickens’ leftovers would do quite nicely.  The image of a poor vassal gleaning the fief’s fields fitted better.  But the chickens’ crumbs were far from subsistence: they were a bounty to the contented mouse.  Perched on petite haunches, it ate undisturbed from a kernel it turned in its delicate hands.

As long as I sat quietly, the mouse seemed to not be aware of my presence.  I noticed that the loud crowing of the big rooster registered not the slightest tremor in the mouse’s calm nibbling.  Neither did the soft hen clucking or high-pitched Bantam crowing.  Hmmn, I thought, and whistled a few notes.  No sign of rodent distress.  A little humming—still no observable trauma.  It must have thought I was just a big, motionless chicken, as oblivious as the rest.  Then I snapped my fingers with a crack.  The mouse jumped with a start and disappeared.  But my little friend soon peeked its dark bright eyes—small, but huge on its tiny snout—out from behind a board.  The mouse blended naturally with the setting: warm straw, yummy grain, lots of places to hide, and freedom from felines.

* * *

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Not only roosters like to roost.  Roosting, among chickens at least, rises almost to the exaltation of eating.  Old two-by-fours form their roosts, crossing the coop at different heights and angles.  As evening comes, the chickens instinctively return to the coop and hop up to segregated spaces.  The full-grown chickens claim the highest roost.  This Spring’s juveniles take the middle.  No one chooses the lowest.

I have never actually witnessed any pecking to this pecking order.  But I surmise that, when I am not watching, the mature birds throw off any pubescent ones who presume to attempt the highest roost, in a sort of king-of-the-roost affair.  I engineered some equity in their social order by positioning the roosts so as to protect the younger birds from getting dropped on by their roosting superiors.

Ducks don’t roost.  They prefer to cuddle comfortably together in the straw.  Long necks sway their heads back to settle in a fluff of wing feathers.  From this position, the ducks’ heads appear to rise neck-less from the middle of their backs.

* * *

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The crowing instinct has recently possessed my daughter’s young Bantam.  With no one to coach it, it is learning nonetheless.  But its attempts require an effort painful for me to watch.  Dropping its wings slightly, the young Bantam’s crow unfurls from the tip of its tail feathers through its small body, which contorts like a crawling caterpillar, and releases itself as a wheezy little croak, sounding like an old bicycle bulb horn.  Between crows, it struts around confidently, like a politician at his election party.

* * *

The big Araucana rooster paces inside its rabbit cage, to where it was banished for its summer misdeeds.  An amiable young rooster, the adult became arrogant and aggressive.  As I gathered eggs one morning, it flew at me, claws first, like an eagle swooping upon a giant rodent.  My denim-clad legs felt like they’d been struck with a willow switch, and I was glad I hadn’t worn shorts.  But the unprovoked attack annoyed me more than hurt.  A swift boot kick ended the fight, temporarily at least.  Each visit to the coop replayed the scene: flying claws; boot kick; peace.

Pulling weeds in the flower garden one Saturday, my seven-year-old began screaming hysterically.  I spun around to witness her racing across the grass with the big Araucana trotting after her like a miniature painted ostrich.  Its face devoid of emotion, I nonetheless divined its malicious intent.

With the rooster now securely in the rabbit cage, my children safely gather eggs from the irritated hens, whose pecks, after the rooster attacks, seem to them friendly taps.  I’ll some day expand the coop so the Araucana can enjoy life without ruining it for others.  It is a beautiful bird, after all, with luminescent blue-black tail feathers and a rich golden mien.  In the meantime, it paces endlessly in cramped quarters that cramp its tyrannical style.

* * *

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For the children, discovering the first egg was as exciting as finding hidden candy, not just because it was our first egg, but also because it was green.  Araucanas lay pastel green and blue-green eggs.  Some call the breed the Easter egg chicken, for obvious reasons.  Pre-died, you might say.

Despite the eight identical nesting boxes that line the rear wall, the hens insist on laying in only one box—the second from the right, to be exact.  Even when one hen is brooding a newly-laid egg, another hen, in answer to nature’s urge, oozes herself into the same one-foot by one-foot cubbyhole to lay.  Although they soon both give up on brooding, they continue to lay in the same box, day after day, egg upon egg.  Left uncollected, the eggs soon form a neat, multicolored pile, with the other seven boxes vacant.  The plastic eggs I placed in the other boxes to induce even distribution were pecked open and kicked out.

Each day, the children thrill to gather the eggs in their skirts and run to the kitchen.  At least one egg inevitably suffers a casualty, cracked or dropped along the way, sometimes before it even leaves the coop.  The chickens rush upon the broken egg, devouring its spilled contents in a cannibalistic frenzy.

Each broken egg tempts my irritation.  But a moment’s reflection reminds me that I love my daughters more than my chicken eggs.  Anyway, the majority of eggs usually weather the trip without incident.  I figure we have the chickens not just for the eggs, but for the experience of having chickens and eggs: to earn the rewards of work; to care for something besides ourselves; to nurture life; to find simplicity and peace in the midst of a frantically materialistic world.

Soon to come will be a pallet patchwork addition, with rooms for pheasants, jungle fowl, pigeons, quail, and maybe an exotic breed or two, like the iridescent Japanese golden pheasant.  We’ll admire their remarkable beauty and diversity.  We’ll cry when a raccoon spreads feathers and feet through the field.  We’ll curse as young roosters spur to defend their turf.  And we’ll witness the process of life as old birds die and new life emerges from thin, round shells resting in the straw.