Let the Circle be Unbroken
As usual, I'm spreading out. My Nanny used to say, "Mary, you're like the water; if you can't go one way, you'll go another." She meant it as a compliment, I know, to my fluid persistence, but I think she also meant that I'm like spilled milk on the kitchen floor. I just keep spreading out. Sometime it might be nice to find some kind of center; pour that milk right into a jar.
I have a recurring dream about snakes. It gets more intense as my stress level goes up. I've learned to use these to gauge the stress in my life. I know I'm in trouble when the snakes get bigger, when there are more of them, or, like in recent dreams, I know what rattlesnake venom smells like (a little like the musk of a skunk, but with a subtle bouquet of acid and something sharp that hits you right in the pituitary.)
Last week I was working at the computer, when I heard Ellis shout from the front of the house.
"There's a snake!"
The chickens had been freaking out all morning, and I didn't see anything from the sky to alarm them, so I figured the urgency was because the snake was about to make lunch of some of the chicks, and I left my work to help rescue the babies from the snake's belly.
Instead of finding a snake in the chicken yard, though, I found it in the living room. A good long corn snake. I yelled to Ellis to bring me a stick.
"A what? Why?" he asked about three times before finally running outside to find one.
I yelled to Joey to go to Ellis' bedroom to see if our corn snake had escaped his cage. I was pretty sure he hadn't, but wouldn't wait for the stick if it were really just Max.
Joey needed directions to the snake's cage, and I was trying to divert our visitor who was intent on getting up the stairs to the attic where it could disappear into the wall or inside boxes, and then I would never sleep again. Finally Ellis came back with a stick that was about 6 inches long. I had planned to use the stick to hold the head down gently so I could grab it at the back of the neck--a method I have found very effective with the rattlesnakes in my nightmare--as long as they are not more than 6 inches in diameter. But I usually use a longer stick.
Still, the stick allowed me pin it just before it wriggled upstairs. I couldn't grab the back of its head, but it wrapped itself around the stick while I held its tail. Keeping tension on the stick by holding my arms as far apart as I could--nose to tail tip, it had to be five feet long--I carried it outside and walked down the lane about halfway between the houses and put it down in the corn. It took off in the direction of the piney woods, and it occurred to me later that I should have taken it farther from my house and chickens, but I couldn't have driven anywhere with my hands full of snake, and I really wanted to let go of it.
For the rest of the day I felt a bit dazed--not really sure if I were awake or dreaming, it felt so familiar.
Yesterday was the big chicken show and Ellis did well. His pair of quail (actually, I suspect they are both male, we haven't had a single egg since the last predator attack. Why do they always get my hens?!?) got a champion ribbon. A very nice young man (maybe high school age) who is very knowledgeable about poultry in general--he told us that Oscar is actually a Dark Brahma, not an English Game Cock as I thought because of his silly long legs--said our quail were excellent. I'm wishing this kid would take Ellis under his wing (pun not premeditated, really) and teach him about poultry, but I think he's from another county.
Ellis had plans to show more birds than we did, but the foxes put an end to that. (Tim, the poultry expert told us that raccoons take off the head and leave the bird, and foxes leave a splash of feathers on the ground because the pluck them?!?) Still Ellis got an A grad for all of his birds and reserve champion for the dear turkey and the little Polish Silky hen, Buffy. (Her husband, Jodie, would have been a champion, I think, along with Marianne Faithful, but for the dang foxes.)
I love going to the show. We get to see so many birds, and there were some beautiful turkeys! I didn't find anyone who could sell me turkey eggs, so I just put a bid on 2 sets of turkey eggs at Ebay. The auction has 13 hours left, so we'll see if I get them. If I do, I'm going to incubate them under Tawny II, who is so broody she was setting golf balls until I took them away, and now she sits all day long in an empty nest. Since I'm not going to get any eggs from her until she gets over this, and she may not get over it until she hatches some chicks, I'm hoping to let her hatch my turkeys. If I don't win one of these bids, I'll try again.
I'm on a gas diet--a special challenge to myself to see if I can survive on a smaller amount of gas each week. Since I upped my carpooling, I'm amazed at how much gas (and carbon emissions, and even money) I've been able to save. Not to mention the sheer joy of riding each day with a treasured friend.
Then I started to wonder if I could go on some other kinds of diets too. Why not water? On the boat our fresh water was limited. Yeah, it is a big boat with a big tank, but we were a lot of people. Yeah, they can make fresh water from sea water with the fancy reverse-osmosis technologoy--but that takes time and diesel, so Jack asked us to limit the water we use in the shower. Get wet--turn off the water to soap up--rinse. I dutifully did tha on the boat, and realized it is really easy to do. Not even a little bit of discomfort--at least not in the tropics. Ok, maybe it's a tiny bit uncomfortable in the Midwest Winter to turn off the warm water while I soap up--but only a tiny bit.
How easy to save half a tub of water!
Another email reveals that the castaways were found floating in the sea with life preservers. Not even a life boat! I still don't know how far they were from shore, whether Babs and Jack just happened to see them, or if they were following an SOS they heard on the radio... It sounds like they just fished them out of the sea and gave them cold beers. What luck!
Those dang in-laws of mine. Hadn't even had time to tell them the story of the boy I saved from the snow, and they've already trumped me. According to their email yesterday, they rescued 16 people afloat off the coast of Phuket. How exciting! The email was like all emails from Babs--only a few lines. And we await details....
You never know what will come to you in the snow. Last night Michael went out to shovel. I was working online, so the phone was tied up. He made his way back up here and knocked on my window--he had dug a tunnel through a drift, frolicking in the snow. It looked fun, so I stopped my chatting with a good friend in Mexico, turned off my computer and started to pull on mittens. But then he was already in. The phone rang, and it was Aunt Kate, saying that a truck was stuck in the drift in front of her house. It must have come after Michael came up home. By now he was snug and warm, so I made my way down the lane to see. I saw ... headlights. I struggled through the drifts, and when I got close enough, I heard, "Hello, there." I was relieved that whoever was inside was still warm enough to be cheerful. Even more relieved when I found that Cody is a strapping young man who didn't have any difficulty getting first up to the Aunts' house to evaluate the situation, and then on to my house.
We ate split pea soup I cooked on top of the wood stove, and he seemed to like it ok. We didn't have much to offer by way of entertainment, and watched a little tv, and everyone went to bed early. Of course I didn't think, until this morning, that he might be more entertained by video games. So... after scones and coffee, Cody and Ellis starting a rousing game of Mariocart. And now we await the plows.
The university is closed again today for the first time in 28 years, the chickens are snowed under--only their rooftop door exposed. They are huddled in the coop--standing room only--the chicken yard being absolutely packed with snow....
I love a snow day. Love a good blizzard if there is heat and hot chocolate, maybe some scones in the afternoon. The wind blows here, sending tiny ice crystals into the crevices of both doors. We have a pile of ice and water on the floor, but most of the house is snug--comparatively.
The wind is blowing from the wrong direction, and our snow fences are bravely preventing the cornfield from drifting, but not the driveway. For twenty years the wind has always come from the west, giving us very predictable drifting. Now, suddenly we have it together enough to get the snow fence erected, and it changes directions. This is the second blizzard we've had since the snow fence, and the second time the cornfield has not drifted.
We had a chicken emergency this morning. I had been out through the drifts to feed them and gather eggs. Noticed the wind coming from the east, and thinking that it's a good thing it doesn't seem to be blowing the lid open, but still, I should go get some wing nuts and washers (which are missing) to secure it...what happens to those things, anyway...? I really meant to find some and bring them out, but one thing led to another, and then I'm back in, boots and mittens off, on the phone, checking on the aunts down the lane, when Michael runs into the kitchen with an urgent look on his face, gesturing wildly. I hang up and run after him to the window to see, sure enough, the wind has shifted enough to lift the lid of the coop and the poor chickens are open to the wind and snow.
I grab the washers and wing nuts, pull on my boots and mittens, etc. and run as best I can through the drifts to rescue the poor chickens. They were huddled under the nesting box, and luckily the lid couldn't have been open for long. I was just out there! I secured the lid, checked the door and found their yard filled with snow (which is good, actually, cause I'm not opening the door today so they can get to their water--they can drink snow if they're thirsty. Anyway, a little old man in the chicken magazine said that if they eat snow instead of drink water in the winter, they will not get frostbite.)
The next day after our arrival on the boat, we were anchored near an island, just hanging out when up came a longtail--a beautiful, wooden boat with a very loud motor off the back. Did we want to buy some fish? Yes! a couple of crabs, please, and all the shrimp you have. Just 1000 baht. In fact, we bought more shrimp from the next people who asked, but then had to tell everyone else, no thanks. Maybe tomorrow.
The crabs were beautiful, one had blue tinged claws, the other, pinkish. We took turns examining them, their claws slowly waving in the air. But then, suddenly, Jack decided we had to hurry or it will be too late--and we're now piled in the dinghy and headed toward the island. I had been distracted by the fish transaction, and somehow missed some information. What, exactly, were we going to miss? Where are we going before it's too late? The island was one of those vertical hills, growing out of the sea, and we headed straight for an opening in the rock wall. A cave, tunneling into the island, like the tunnel of love in an amusement park. We're still in a hurry, but just inside, Jack cuts the engine way back and we move forward slowly. The boat follows the tunnel as it curves back and back again. A few turns in and the reflected light goes fainter, until we round one more turn and it is snuffed out. Luckily, we have a flashlight, but it is faint. Chad holds it and we make our way in the dark, twisting and turning back and again, deeper into the hill. The light shines a small circle on the rock in the dark, and we put up our hands to keep from banging our heads on the ceiling (which has gotten decidedly lower) and the (inflatable) dinghy on the walls (which are carved by water out of rough, sharp, volcanic rock). The illuminated circle is small, and I begin to wonder if we have missed a possible branching, and if reversing our trip will be as simple as everyone seems to assume. Chad and I exchange glances. Later he tells me that he was thinking of an algorithm that tells us that if we always chose the left fork, we will someday find our way out. It's good to have genius offspring; they might just save you from a slow death of starvation or suffocation.
Suddenly we see a faint green glow ahead of us. Is it phosphorescent algae? It gets closer and spreads. The ceiling gets even lower. Someone mentions the rising tide and I wonder if the ceiling inclines that sharply, or if the tide has risen that fast. How much higher will it go. Now we are leaning forward to avoid cutting our heads on the sharp rock. Jack suggests we might want to save the flashlight, and now we see that the green glow which illuminates us enough to show us the spider (the size of a chicken egg) before it scrambles into a crevice--that glow is not phosphorescence, but light reflecting from the other side. We are indeed in a tunnel, the tunnel opening into a lagoon--only the rising tide has put the opening underwater.
Jack says, "You might be able to swim through..." and the next thing I know, my husband has slipped silently into the water. I watch his black head disappear into the glow like a seal's.
"It's a good thing," I think, "that I told him I loved him this morning," and so begins one of the longest 5 minutes of my life.
I've just about got the technical details of his funeral mapped out (I wonder if he'd like bagpipes, like Grandma had. What if the divers can't find his body?) when we hear a splash and his head pops up again on this side of the green light. He tells us he has seen the most beautiful lagoon. Now Jack and Dylan are in the water, followed by Chad and Rachel. "I can't swim," says Chad. "Rachel, save me if I drown." "Ok," says Rachel, agreeably, peeling off her shirt. Rachel is a swim instructor. Yes, I say, silently. Save my boy, Rachel.
Now Babs, Ellis and I are in the gently rocking boat. Ellis looks at me. "I want to go, too," he says. I weigh the possibilities. Meanwhile Michael, Dylan, and Jack have returned again safely. If my whole family is going to die, why do I want to sit in this stinking boat? I might as well die with them. "Ok," I tell him. "If Papa thinks it's ok, you can go, but wait for me."
Ellis and I remove our hearing aids and glasses. Michael calmly gives us instruction. "You just dive under and swim toward the light for about 3 feet, then you're in and you can come up. It's about three seconds." Ellis and I are in the water, and Babs follows us. By then Jack is back in the boat, holding it steady for us.
Swimming toward the light was the easy part and it took us, as promised, into the most beautiful lagoon. I, of course, couldn't see much, besides the vertical, rocky walls and the sunny, green jungle. At one point everyone else saw monkeys in the trees. I saw the branches shaking. We began to swim out into the middle of the lagoon, but Michael called us back, pointing out that we had to keep an eye on the exact entrance (which was invisible once on this side) to make sure we could get back. He dutifully kept his hand on the rock above our tunnel. Good thing I have a smart husband, too.
After a few minutes we started going back, one by one, through the underwater tunnel to the boat. When everyone was in but Ellis, Dylan and me, I began to feel nervous. We could hear Michael on the other side, coaching us. You go first, I told Ellis, intending to stay in the lagoon until both of my kids were safe on the other side. Ellis dove under, but after a few seconds, came sputtering back up on our side in a panic. Going back was not so easy, since there you were swimming blind--no light to guide you back into the darkness. Seeing my boy so scared was a scary sight for me, but Dylan and I calmed him down, and Michael on the other side put his hand through to guide Ellis back. Ellis grabbed his hand and he was through. Dylan told me to go next. He had already been through twice, and felt sure he could get back alone. I dove under--only to feel rock instead of tunnel. I felt the ceiling--millions of tons of ancient volcanic rock--over me...and came up in a panic, exactly like Ellis had. Luckily, Dylan was still in the lagoon to calm me down, or I'd probably still be there with the monkeys. I wanted to go back in immediately, but Dylan insisted I wait a bit and calm down, let my breathing return to normal. Michael's hand came through the tunnel again to wave. Eventually I went back in, and this time found the tunnel. Panic doesn't make for good swimming, or for graceful climbing back into a rocking rubber dinghy. Jack finally pulled me in, unwieldy as a whale.
With Dylan back on this side, and in the boat, we switched on the motor and the flashlight and headed back out. Again we turned this way and that, following the obvious path. Again I worried that we may have missed a side tunnel that was really the way out. Babs looked at me, "I think you might be a little claustrophobic." A little?
Everyone is silent now, and suddenly we see a light. Is it the way out? No. It is a headlight! Another boat is coming towards us, but they aren't saying anything. Are they friendly? Then we see another headlight, and another. A whole line of boats coming quietly toward us. As they get closer, we see they are longtails--filled with tourists. The guides smile at us. The tourists look worried. They look like I felt going in. But, hey, at least they are with guides who have been there before. We were on our own. Suddenly I feel euphoric. In our boat, we laugh and boast about beating the parade, about swimming under on our own. Will the tourist swim through the tunnel? No, we laugh. Look how scared they look! On my own, I am thinking how if we got lost or stuck, the guides would have found us in just a few minutes. I'm glad, though, that we didn't see them until we were on our way out--but glad now, that they are here. In a week, I will be even more glad, in the Bangkok Zoo, that on this day of our adventure, I did not know such a thing as a salt water crocodile existed in this part of the world.