[lit-ideas] Hereabouts

  • From: david ritchie <profdritchie@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 29 Nov 2015 11:27:33 -0800

L. and I drove out into the country with two aims: to see wetland birds and to
get a plant for Mac’s grave. I remembered nurseries out on Highway 99, but not
did not recall exactly where they were in relation to the wildlife sanctuary
that the Tualatin river people have created. We stopped at a likely looking
place and picked out a Tom Thumb Cotoneaster. It’s described as “virtuous”:


There is a less virtuous Cotneaster. We have two in our yard. Birds spread
its berries everywhere, with the wee plants popping up all over. Since
chickens, for some reason, ignore the other plant, I thought the virtuous one
would be a good choice. Ha! It took the chickens only a day to remove most
“Thank you very much.”
“Very much."
“Very tasty, that.”
Mac's memorial is thus looking pretty scraggy and we’ll see if it survives.

The cats have been quite freaked by Mac’s disappearance; they’ve never lived
without a huge friendly beast in residence. Jeeves jumps at every loud noise.
You can see him thinking that whatever did Mac in may yet come for him. Which,
in one sense, is correct.

The chickens mentioned this week that they are in favor of mixed messages. To
demonstrate, they gathered beside the door to the kitchen and launched into a
kind of purring sound. People who have recorded the sound for YouTube seem to
believe means what it means to cats—contentment. Not so, the girls say.
“It *can* mean that we’re happy,” said Mimo, “but not necessarily.”
“Not necessarily,” Cheddar agreed.
“More complex than that,” said Appenzeller.
“No, no, no, no, no.” They wandered around like dancers being gas molecules in
Brownian motion.
“Pedisis,” said Cheddar. “Is what that is.”
“What does it mean?” I asked.
Cheddar can be astonishing sometimes, “Brownian motion? Doesn’t mean anything.
It’s what molecules do.”
“No,” I said. “Purring. We were talking about purring.”
“You want to be more careful with your pronouns,” Cheddar was on her high horse.
Mimo took over, “It’s a little hard to explain."
“Say for example that there was a hawk circling,” Appenzeller added, "and we
had gathered, all of us, close beside the door to the kitchen…as we are now…”
They gathered in a tight knot.
Peccorino wanted a word, “Purring.”
“Purring,” Cheddar agreed.
“Like this.”
They all purred.
Mimo shoved her way out, “That would be the right noise for a co-operative
“When in danger...” Cheddar elaborated, “purr."
I wondered aloud, “Keep calm and carry on? Would that be an approximation in
“It’s altogether better,” said Rocky, “if one screams. ‘If in doubt, shout.’
Something helpful like, ‘there’s a hawk.' Better safe than sorry.”
It’s Rocky’s turn to moult. Her status has plummeted with the temporary loss
of tail feathers; no one agreed with her or even acknowledged she’d spoken.
From the top of the pecking order to behind Cheddar in a single week—how the
mighty have fallen.

Cooking the turkey was not my job; I did leaves. In the garden I'm quite o.k.
with the natural processes of decay and so I leave most leaves and offerings
from firs and so on where they fall. "Let them make soil," is my motto. On
paths and steps different rules apply; can’t have guests plummeting. By the
time guests arrived the paths had an clear. The chickens congratated at the
back door to get a good look and to find out whether they might be included in
the feast. I reported what they were saying but few guests seemed to believe
me. Someone asked if we ever let them into the house. People do though, let
chickens in. You can see that on Youtube too. Food and wine were both good.
I’m glad to say that no one potlucked us with green bean casserole, the kind
with the Campbells soup fresh removed from the can. Small mercies. Here’s the
funny thing: I talked all evening with a friend who’s about my age and the
following evening I talked with someone else, also about my age, at a party at
someone else’s house. These two men do not know one another but, according to
my wife (who knows) the first man’s ex-wife is now married the *father* of the
second. ’strawdinry.

To puzzle neighbors, just a bit, I ran up our flagpole a Scottish red ensign or
duster, which I happened to have handy. As one does. That flag was last used
on ships when the Scots had a royal navy of their own-- circa 1707. To
celebrate the Davis Cup victory I could of course have flown the Union Jack,
but this seemed more fun. First triumph since 1936.

David Ritchie,
Portland, Oregon

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