27 January 2014

Magpie Tales 204: Pressing of the Apple

The Mill, 1964, by Andrew Wyeth via Magpie Tales

Crow calls thump a hollow chest
toll the bell, echoes disturbs the river
Beyond the press building it flows
Shivery black water absorbing the sun

Mausoleum mask framed by panes
Porcelain eyes drift with weather
While worn wood exhales
a century's worth of apples breath

Raise the tankard, quaff the cider
Try to slake the searing thirst
besetting a fractured heart 
As her footprints blurred with snow 

25 January 2014

Tour Guide

From my field notes, October 2013. A glorious day with the Wee Lass.

She told me a story that October day as we walked in the woods. It was a magical tale, complete with a fantasy landscape.

We walked the trail above the Chasm of Death, its banks littered with fallen leaves. A stream burbled along the bottom, which I was informed was called the Stream of Happiness. It flowed down the valley past an orphanage, where it provided drinking water to the children.

We climbed a little higher. Mossy boulders guarded the stream. They grew larger as we climbed. Trees had fallen across the trail and the watercourse. One particularly large trunk was dubbed the Native American Log of Electrocution. I asked why that name. She looked at me with that expression reserved for askers of truly stupid questions.

"Because it electrocutes people."

Ah, of course. Silly me.

We arrived at the Magic Waterfall. It was here that she confessed to me that she was not a full tour guide yet, only a backup. Ordinarily she was a dishwasher at the company HQ, but they were so busy today she was put on duty as a guide. She casually mentioned that if she completed the tour without a customer getting injured or killed, she would get a promotion. Or a raise. She seemed a little confused as to which one.

I looked down the ravine. In light of her remarks on injury and death, the steepness took on a whole new cast. I wondered if there was a connection to the orphanage she had mentioned.

The climb continued. We crossed the stream in front of the Magic Waterfall. Climbing up a set of stones that served as steps, we came upon an arrangement of boulders reminiscent of an oversized club chair.

"Ah! This is the Chair of Healing!" my guide exclaimed. Travelers could rest here and have their aches and pains taken away. Handy to have, especially if one might have fallen into the Chasm of Death.

We made our way over to a widening in the stream. It became a pool in the woods, fed by a small but picturesque waterfall at the upstream end. It was here that my guide declared "If you will put your camera away, we will now go fishing!" Her tone and commanding demeanor left no doubt as to what I was going to do.

She fashioned a pole out of a smallish stick, stripping off the little twigs along its length. The bait was conjured up from a leaf she found on the stream bank. A leaf without holes, mind you, because a holey leaf was "not proper bait" as I was solemnly informed.

She directed me to make my own fishing pole, out of the same materials. She handed me a stick while showing me which twigs to remove. I fetched a nice leaf, coppery brown, and adorned the end of the stick. A glance of approval from my guide, and we set to in the pool.

The fish, I am sorry to report, were not biting. My guide chewed her lip, inspected the bait, and declared that the fish must not be hungry. I suggested that, perhaps, there were no fish in the pool. With a furrowed brow, she said that they must be the famous Air Fish, invisible and difficult to detect. She sighed and announced it was time to go back in hopes of seeing a train along the rail bed across the river.

The afternoon sun warming our backs, we thereupon we cast our sticks into the water, and set off back down the trail. Further adventures awaited us through the woods and across the river. It would not do to be late.

14 January 2014

Windows to the Soul

His name was Rowan*. He was about three or four years old, and I'll probably not forget his face. He won't forget mine, but for different reasons. He cannot forget it, because he never saw it. Rowan is stone cold blind.

He came into the store where I work today, accompanied by two other small children and three adult minders. A cheerful, towheaded imp of a lad, wielding a specialized cane with a roller ball on the tip. He was smiling from the first moment I saw his face.

To see that face was to know that his eyes simply did not work. I chatted a bit with his guardian and she said he had been completely sightless since birth. The other children, two adorable little girls, were also legally blind but did have some limited sight. The group was visiting from a local school for the blind, and today was "O" day. They were out visiting stores like ours to get tactile and sensory impressions of things that started with "O". Like olive oil from the shop down the street. Oregano and orange peel from ours. Lunch was to be at Olive Garden, a prospect at which the kids, especially Rowan, were eagerly anticipating.

I watched the kids as they were led around the store. It was humbling and enlightening to see how someone so young and without benefit of the sight that most of us give no second thought. Every pattern change, every color shift, every textural difference was an opportunity for discovery, even delight. My mind reeled at the idea of treating color and fabric as things to be sussed out, requiring more than the average effort to effect understanding of the concepts of "blue" and "carpet".

Oddly enough, I began to feel quite at ease in their presence. While they had some difficulties expressing themselves, it was a joy to watch their faces when they would take a sniff of the sample jars scattered throughout the store. A radiant happiness, pure appreciation, and something I told myself I need to watch and learn from.

It was the cinnamon that really sent my heart over the edge. All three of the kids took a big sniff of the strongest cinnamon in the store. Their faces scrunched up, mouths in a gleeful rictus of "Oh, my!" and the smiles. Oh, my god, the smiles.

Rowan looked up in the direction of his guardian's voice. I looked into his eyes, he could not see mine, and unfocused beauty lanced my heart. He grinned widely and in a loud voice announced "Cinna-MON!". Then he laughed and something divine swept throughout the store. I felt faint.

As they were ready to leave, I made a gift to them of little jars of cinnamon, some specials we had on hand. The adults were effusively grateful, thanking me repeatedly. One of them said to the little boy "What do you say for the cinnamon, Rowan? Can you say thank you?"

Rowan turned his head in my direction, looking over my shoulder but straight into my heart. His eyes were like porcelain, beautiful and glazed. I gulped.

"Thank you you for the cinna-MON!" He turned to leave, hand in hand with his guardian. "You're welcome, Rowan!" I said.

But really I should have been thanking him for teaching me more about sight in ten minutes than I think I've learned in a lifetime. I should thank him for helping me see.

*Not his real name, changed for privacy reasons.

10 January 2014



Yellow flare in the glass, the flame of the lighter uplighting the mask of my face. My smile is small.


Winter grips the headland, and the winds have not been kind to the walls that enclose my battered heart.  I don't know what surprises me more, that I am smiling or that I am still here. Slight pressure behind my ear reminds me of the cigarette I tucked there before breakfast. I close the lighter.


The sea heaves and wallows beyond the windows, a green mosaic bedecked with white jade spume. It is many seas, I think, vignetted in the panes by ragged ovals of frost. A pleasing effect, one experienced only in the gray chill that embraces the spit this time of year.


This nervous habit of mine regarding the lighter disturbs me. The metallic sound of the lid opening and closing is loud in the air of the cottage. Force of will has not yet conquered the motion of my hand, flicking the heavy chrome slab back and forth. The sound itself reminiscent of bones breaking, tree limbs snapping under the weight of entombing ice. I make to flick it open once more, but my other hand grabs the wrist, pulling it down to the scarred wood of the table at which I sit.

Still, I smile. The wind abrades the cottage in a skirl of banshee howls. It is as restless as the ocean, a twin of lesser viscosity, but equal in its noise. The panes rattle while the door arcs slightly in under the pressure. As quick as it came, the gust is gone. The silence it leaves behind is all the stronger for the muttering of the surf. I feel the power of the waves as a gentle tremor through the floor.

The air is warm for once inside this my refuge. The hearth blazes bright as the flames hungrily consume the driftwood I placed there earlier. A larger pile awaits, stacked next to the fireplace. The sea can be a generous companion, sometimes, and my morning walks along the tideline had been fruitful. Bright, merry colors flicker and paint the walls. I breathe deep of the salt tang filling the air. I fell into a daydream of spices, seaweed and selkies.

I am startled by a thunderous crash, shaking the floor with a deep groan. The pens on the table jump slightly. They knock against the open journal before me. Seventh wave, I think. A reminder that the sea will not be ignored. Nor will the journal. It blank pages shine in mute testimony to the slow time surrounding me since the turn of the year. The smile fades.

I set the lighter on the table and pick up a pen. The cigarette behind my ear seems to grow warm, as if to entice me with its nicotine charms. I ignore it in favor of the pages. I lift the pen, it hovers. Thoughts surge forward, orcas rushing penguins along the floe edge. I shiver at the metaphor, my concentration momentarily broken when I look out the window. Wild spray from the surf catches my eye, mind quivering, and out towards the point I spy a line of white along the bottom of the rocks.

Deep in winter, and not much to show for this torpid start of a new year. A brief spike of guilt skewers my ingrained lassitude. Yet the smile returns as I watch the swell. Ice rimes the stone, but it will melt. This I know. I look to the journal, I raise the pen, ice dissolves into the sea.