Earthbound

     Time rolls on, a relentless tide. The measurement of its passage is painted in the mechanical rhythm of the timepiece and the unmarked tide of nature’s cycle. The polar opposites of life and death are the compass of this plane’s existence.

     All spring long the business of life washes on the edge of awareness. The birds that come and go mark the current. Nests are built, eggs are laid and chicks are born. The naked skin sprouts eider and then feathers in mottled clumps that purport a life amongst the clouds.

     The distance between branch and sky is a greater one than most might think. We mark the first day of summer as determined by the Gregorian calendar and the position of the sun and moon. Birds mark the change from the raw green of birth to fruition in a perilous learning curve that leaves the young vulnerable and earthbound waiting until time and genetic memory induce the safeguards that perpetuate the species as a whole.

     The wheat is a golden glow spread out across the horizon. Impatient for the sky, the very young wait out their time nestled in its protective heights. Awkward and weak, they sit in false enclaves hidden from dire straights and natural selection until the gifts that buffer them from the harshness of their environment surface. It can not be called a game when the stakes are so very high. The price of failure to thrive, to survive, is glaringly displayed in the bright light of day.

     Covered in ants and advertised by the curtain of flies that buzz in a coroner’s cloud the fallen sing a mute chorus to the vulgarities of a black reality. For every feather that takes to the current, for every song that rises in the morning light, there is a voice that is stilled and wings that drain into the soil forever lost to the warm flow of the air.

     A small black mound of feathers lies broken in the rain nourished grass. Beetles dine and ants labour over and on the small dusky hill. Blank eyes stare upward to a sky that can’t be seen and therefore is no longer coveted. A delicate neck, barely covered in feathers, stretches out impossibly fragile and empty of song. The fledging that lies limp and broken on the bright green of the summer grass has bet on a long shot and come up short. It is a wager that we all make and while we might run hot for a span in the end we all pay out.

     There will be no long days of summer and crisp autumn idles followed by winter’s push to warmer shores for the earthbound. There is only this silent testimony to destiny and the law that binds us all.    

 

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The Green, Green Grass of Home

     The Fertile Crescent was located in the historical region comprised of Ancient Egypt, the Levant and Mesopotamia. Though this area no longer exists in the prominent political state it once did it remains to many The Cradle of Civilization, home to the origins of writing, complex societies and modern agriculture practices; arguably the birthplace of modern mankind. It was in the welcoming climate and lush fields of the Fertile Crescent that wheat was first domesticated and took a prominent place in the development of society as we know it. Though the crescent has seen its day and passed into an uncertain night the wild einkorn and emmer that birthed the multitude still watch over the descendents in shades of green and gold. Here, half a world away, their offspring, in the form of winter wheat, is waist high and stretches out behind the house in endless acres to the horizon.

     The gaze of the dying day crowns the stalks in coronets of burnished light. Liquid gold rushes and sways above the earth in flowing currents as far as the eye can see. The bottom of the yard, where the lawn ends and the wheat begins, is the only place the foundation can be seen. There the individual stalks stand in sharp contrast to the golden plane above. The wheat is a living mass bending to the will of the wind and reflecting the colours of the sky. In the morning the secret travels of deer are betrayed in wide swathes where their passage has disturbed the dew. Swallows skim over the waves of golden green, that break as the lake crests, looking for dinner in the still twilight hours. Blackbirds, crows, robins and meadowlarks settle amongst the stalks all-a-gossip while keeping a mother’s proud eye on fledglings fumbling up to the sky (the amber is a softer place to fall after all).

     The rank and file, beetles, ants, and centipedes, wind their way through galleries lined with massive columns of corded green. On the ground below the days are not marked by a tick tock but the angle of light passing through the great ceiling of towering honey and fresh cress. Even under the bright blaze of noon or the driving rain of a summer storm the wheat stretches above in a seemingly endless and eternal protection from the great wide sky. Winged insects traverse the upper reaches of the flaxen firmament. True to each ones’ nature they careen wildly from side to side or gently round the tawny trunks. Bees harvest the clover that grows hidden in the shadow of the wheat while flies and mosquitoes hide from the heat of day. Dragonflies and damselflies patrol the ceiling and spiders spin their webs from stalk to stalk hoping to catch the harvest that lives within. Just past the border foxes and raccoons leave the remains of midnight repasts. Puddles of baby soft feathers trickle in shades of eider grey and odd shaped bones gnawed thin at the edges by pointed teeth gleam a dull white.

     Come August the wheat that has blushed copper with the heat of the sun will fall beneath the farmer’s blade. The stalks that sheltered and fed a multitude in the field will leave to feed and shelter others…but August has yet to come. Now in June, even when there is no wind, the wheat sways with a communal rhythm of its own. Deep emerald touched with gold, it moves with us, walking the same path start to finish, growing, feeding, sheltering, urging us on through time and through tide…the green, green grass of home.

The Protagonist

A protagonist is defined as the main character in a drama or other literary work. The tone of the story, the moral to be expressed, determines the nature of a main character, that being good or evil. To follow the narrative from the perspective of the protagonist is an opportunity to gain an understanding of the rhythm of the times that are presented to us in the telling of the tale, fictional or real. Some synonyms often cited are champion, adventurer, paladin, exemplar, star…in a nutshell, for better or worse, the hero.

 

The shrill screech of the telephone woke me from a deep and empty sleep.

“Hey…”

“Hey.”

“Have you read the obits today?”

“No why?”

“Someone from Dinosaur Club died.”

I sat up in bed, “What happened?”

“Don’t know yet, he was only 17. He had the same type of MD as the boys.”

“Do you want me to come over?”

“No I ‘m okay, thanks any way.”

“Okay… I’ll talk to you later?”

“Alright, love you.”

“Love you too”

     My sister broke the connection and I sat with the phone in my hand processing the information before the buzz of the empty line brought me around to the here and now. I dropped the receiver into the cradle and lay back down. The birds were singing outside and the heat of the day was trying to make its way into the room through the slats of the wooden blinds but it was still cool away from the window. It was harsh news for Sunday morning especially when my Sunday morning was Sunday afternoon due to a late night Saturday. I didn’t know if I said the right thing. Maybe I should have insisted on going down there. I knew she wasn’t okay but I also knew that I couldn’t take it away or make it any better.

 

     Both of my nephews have Duschennes Muscular Dystrophy and are confined to wheelchairs. There is no cure for Duschennes. There is no treatment. In the rare circumstance when it comes up in conversation whomever I’m talking to will invariable say something like, “Both of her kids…wow …that must be pretty rare both having it.” and I answer as always “No it’s not rare at all for siblings to experience the same genetic disease.” But I know why they say it. To them it must seem a greater injustice, insult to injury really, that not just one great tragedy should strike a family but two or even three. But it is a great fallacy to think that the birth of a child unafflicted by the circumstances of the sibling would lessen the suffering of a parent of a disabled child. There is no joy or leavening of that particular pain.

     My sister and her husband do what they can, what anyone would in their circumstances. They love their boys. They try to do right by them and be good parents. It’s hard in ways that someone who doesn’t have to live it can’t even imagine. They aren’t alone. They are one family in a largely invisible community of parents and children who struggle through, taking joy in small victories and refusing to allow the set backs to drown them for very long. They support each other when they can, walking intersecting paths on a winding and steep road. Dinosaur Club is one of the places where the families can connect. 

   

    It’s a warm spring day and my sister and I are killing time after watching my son’s track meet. We’re in a drug store and after we finished an aroma critique of the perfume aisle we decide to browse the book section. Her attention is caught by the bright picture of a Robert Munsch book that she picks up and exclaims over. To me it seems much too young for the boys and I tell her so. She counters by showing me the cover emblazoned with a young girl roaring away on a souped up wheelchair. She tells me that it’s really difficult to find stories featuring kids with disabilities so she’ll consider it even though the age group isn’t the best. No one seems to want to tell tales that have wheels or crutches, braces or harnesses.

     I cast my mind back over the years and the pages looking for heroes that roll or limp through story lines real or fictional. Raymond Burr comes to mind, his hard eyes staring back at me from 3am reruns, fascinating in black and white. The boys are way too young to know about him. If I didn’t have an addiction to late night television I probably wouldn’t know about him either. There is Rick Hansen with his Man in Motion Tour but that’s before their time as well. They’d be more likely to know about Terry Fox as his run to raise money for cancer research is still commemorated each year at most levels of education. Even though Terry died young he would seem like a full grown man to boys my nephews’ ages. It would seem that pages recounting the adventures of the Hardy Boys on wheels or those meddling kids with walkers who break the Case of Evil Zombie Island et al are a rare find.

 

 

     Later into the week the after dinner clean up was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. It was my sister. She and my mother had gone to the funeral earlier that day. I knew that it would be difficult for her with the parallels she could not help but draw to her own life nevertheless those were also the reasons it was important to her to be there. I asked her how it was and to my surprise she said that it was okay. She had thought that the mother would be a mess but she said she was holding her own so far. As odd as it sounds my sister said that the 17 year old boy had brought comfort to his mother and eased her suffering in the last hours of his life.

     A flu had run its course through his family and he had died from respiratory failure. The mother told my sister that she had been afraid that her son would fight the end but he hadn’t. He had turned to his mother and told her he wouldn’t need the oxygen anymore and that he just wanted her to hold him. After awhile he slipped away, peacefully. His bravery and dignity, the love that he showed in the last moments of his life, brought her a great comfort.

     These aren’t the sort of things that you usually read about in books. The protagonist is usually made up of more media savvy or lionized epic traits. Children dying of horrible diseases don’t make good light reading. Regardless, this particular story, by the best definition, this narration of a brief life, would define this 17 year old boy as the exemplar, the mainstay, the standard-bearer, the warrior…the protagonist, the hero.

     It’s not a story that anyone should have to live, but of course they do. When my sister talked about books for her children with characters they could relate to I know this isn’t what she meant but maybe it is a story that everyone else should know about. That boy wasn’t a noted athlete, a famous detective or a great romancer. He was a boy that life had dealt a really, really unfair hand to and he played it as best he could.

     That is not the story of a secondary character. That is not the life of a marginal individual. That grace and dignity in the face of the almost incomprehensible contemplation of ones own end is something we should venerate. In the end we are nothing more than ourselves. That can be base or in the case of this boy, a glorious shooting star, the light of which is brief and intense but more beautiful in its brave blaze.

 

A Change in The Weather

The rain has come and washed away the pack of rabid dog days. The feverish hounds, all sweat and sweltering foam, tucked tail between their legs and ran panicked, harried by the lake wind and the heat lightning clouds. Hunkered down in the place the cur goes to hide they’ll bide their time till August calls her canis hours. Morning breaks with the cool kiss of an early June dawn and spring finds its step once again.

 

 
  
 
 

 
 

Three Days In May

    The first day of the spectacular heat was a blessing; finally my feet would be warm for the first time this year. It was definitely humid but a cool drink and a place under the umbrella on the patio always lessens the worst of it and wasn’t it nice that summer had come before spring was officially over. It was warm to sleep but it couldn’t last, summer was officially still over two weeks away. The weatherman said we set a new record and as always noted that, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity!”

    

     The second day of the unusual spring heat was exasperated by the circumstances of a dark figurative cloud hovering in the otherwise cloudless humid hazy blue sky. The disheartening greyness that can attach itself to one small disappointment or difficulty was an attractor that layered up misfortune in mucousy layers of a nacreous black pearl curse. A garnish of insult added to the day’s injury was the goo of solar melted gum stuck to the bottom of my flip-flop followed by a semi- torturous ride home at a very temperate speed. One eye was locked on the road and the other on the gas gauge after discovered (in direct opposition to what I’d been assured) that the single gas station between there and home was NOT open past 9pm. I suddenly didn’t care that my feet were warm…it’s not like I don’t own socks.

    

     The third day dawns just as sluggish and moist as the first two. The humidity is a curtain of haze layered thick and torpid across the yard. The dog refuses to budge from the kitchen floor. Her shroud of thick fur weighs her down and she lays shamelessly splayed out on her back, legs a brazen wishbone in the air. A thin smear of blackened gum residue still clings stubbornly to the bottom of my flip-flop. It collects clumps of dried grass cuttings as I head out into the yard. The laundry hangs limp on the line. Skirting round the edge of the yard I try to stay in the shadow of the trees. That can only get me so far and finally I step out into the open to stand under the misplaced sun.

     A hand of dense heated air reaches out to envelop me. The humidity forces my lips open and oozes down my throat. My lungs labour to separate oxygen from liquid and my chest feels pneumonia heavy. The air, the heat, the humidity have a gravity that pushes down with a strangling weight and I slouch across the lawn.

    The crabgrass I had come to weed out is almost two feet high at the back of the yard. The mosquitoes are thriving there as well in the unexpected tropical environment. They swarm up from under the ground cover as I sort through the stems. I try to grab more grass then blooms but in the heat it’s hard to raise too much concern about a lily or two. The heavy air is a sedative; languid, I wanted to lie down, close to the damp earth. I can feel that under the grass it was still dew cool even with the sun overhead. The garden dances under that ferocity in shimmering waves of ultra violent not sleepy in the haze but awake and going about its very serious business.

     The chokecherry tree has finally bloomed. The racemes give off a delicate scent, baked by the sweltering sun, the aroma is redolent of candy apples as it is drawn in over the palette. The chives are crowned by little fuzzy heads of punk rock purple. The irises are a shameless study in Georgia O’Keeffe imagery and the pines breathe out smoky clouds of pollen with the least bit of encouragement. Everywhere the insects crawl or fly, alighting to taste from one or to bring to another. Clouds of bees, oligolectic or opportunistic, both full of electrostatic charges defy the sun and toil at their love. There in the languid heat there is no black pessimistic pearl for Wednesday’s child but the busy workings of a greater cycle of appetite and instinct, purpose and avidity.

     The wind rises and the storm’s precursor trumpets over the lake. The sky darkens as the rain clouds bring an early dusk to the yard. Those flowers that bow heads and close petals to sleep fall into an uneasy slumber thinking that night has come. An apocalyptic sun, a virus plagued sullen red, hangs low on the horizon. Lightning jumps across the sky. The long jagged whips scorn the ground and fling themselves from cloud to cloud. The rain comes and it is blind, lost in the grey green light, and so the sound arrives first rushing across the fields flicking the hard winter wheat with stiff fingers. I race it to the house weaving in between the big fat drops to slip into the mud room just ahead of the deluge. The screen door slams behind me as raindrops hit the concrete patio and explode like over ripe cherry tomatoes.

     Though summer still looms with all its possibilities on the horizon, this heat wave has finally broken. The breeze gently pushes the curtains back from the window where the dog and I sit watching the rain come down.