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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Magical Memories

Image: Beth Sargent

How many truly magical moments have you had in your life? I don't mean special moments like seeing your child for the first time, things that many of us have in common. I'm talking about events that stand out as something relatively few people have experienced.

I was lucky because I once lived in magical place. It was on the very edge of state park property. A non-maintained gravel road, humpbacked and potholed, ambled through it. All the houses had been torn down long before but there were still some teetering foundations surrounded by peonies and soaring lilac bushes and giant thickets of rambling rose. Mostly, the land had reverted to woods but there were areas of what was one-time pasture and Wildlife Management planted rows of corn here and there for the deer and other wildlife.

We walked that road often and discovered something pleasing nearly every time - a magnificent white owl that flew directly in front of us, a nest of curious baby raccoons peeking out of their hole high in a tree, a small meadow filled with spring morels, like unexpected treasure.

We had two dogs then - a black lab named Shadow and an Irish setter named Copper. They were friendly but there was an element of competitiveness to their relationship too. When we walked the road, they each took a side and didn't encroach on one another's territory. Copper was a silent dog, like a red wraith slipping through the trees. Meanwhile Shadow (who wasn't like a shadow at all) crashed through the underbrush on his side, yelping as he went. One day, we heard him whining and went to check. He had discovered a tiny spotted fawn curled up at the base of a tree, surrounded by shrubs. It looked at him with melting brown eyes and seemed not at all frightened by the slobbering giant confronting him. We called the dog off. "Come on, Shadow, Mama Deer knows where it is."

But two particular incidents stand out from that time.

In the first, we were taking our walk near evening. It was still light but the sun was setting. My husband and I both sensed that there was something different about the woods but at first, we couldn't put our finger on what it was. As we looked around, we began to notice that there were monarch butterflies on the underside of every leaf. They hung down with their wings closed, not just a few but thousands of them, maybe even millions. As far as we could see in all directions, they clustered, perhaps five or six per leaf on trees and bushes. Our piece of magical property was evidently on their migration route. By the next morning, they were gone, disappeared so silently, it was hard to believe we hadn't imagined the whole thing.

The second time, Mother Nature made me catch my breath in wonder, it was autumn. My husband had walked over to the side of the road and noticed a cluster of ladybugs scurrying to get under a loose rock. When he lifted the large stone, there was a mass of brilliant red, black dotted ladybugs beneath it, gathered together, in preparation for hibernation. Evidently the ones outside were the latecomers who had dallied awhile before deciding to go to bed for the winter. Again, I can't really say how many there were but if they had been M&Ms, they probably would have filled a 20 pound bag, at least.

I haven't seen any of those tiny crimson, black-dotted ladybugs in years, not since the nasty orange Asian beetles we have now took over.

Incidentally, the lady in lady bug stands for the Virgin Mary. In Europe in the Middle Ages, farmers were losing their crops to an infestation of insects. They prayed for assistance from heaven and lo and behold, they began to notice the arrival of clouds of ladybugs that began eating the crop destroyers. They named their rescuers in honor of Mary.

My third magical moment happened in a different time and place. We lived on a small farm. The people who owned the property across the road rented it to a horse trader. Over time, there were appaloosas and sturdy quarter horses and tall slender thoroughbreds and pinto ponies, there were Shetlands and Belgian draft horses. There were geldings and mares with colts and an occasional stallion.

The horse trader allowed a teenage boy, who I was told was part Indian, to ride the horses. (I can't imagine any businessman taking on that kind of liability now as the horses rotated in and out so quickly, he couldn't have known much about their temperament). The kid must have been a natural horseman. He hopped on them all, riding them without a saddle, only a rope bridle looped around their nose.

There was a homely red barn, a wide creek and a small pasture directly across from us. At one end, a high hill rose with a gravel road that went back to a pond.

I was sitting on my porch swing one morning when I heard a yell. I looked up to see a galloping sorrel horse come plunging down the hill with the boy on his back, unmoving, as if he was glued to the animal. He was tan and slender. He wore blue jeans and no shirt. His long black hair flew behind him as did the horse's black mane and tail. The horse was still running full tilt, when he reached the bottom of the hill and splashed through the creek. The boy raised his arms and let out an exultant cry.

I remember thinking I wished I had a picture of that scene. It was the purest example of the joy of freedom I ever saw and it made my heart sing.

Back in those days, there were no cell phones with cameras so I have no pictures of my magical moments but millions of monarch butterflies and an enormous mound of scarlet ladybugs and a long-haired boy flying on a sorrel horse are imprinted in my memory even without pictures.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Clinging to the Past


I have been getting rid of books lately. I'm trying to find new homes for all the ones sitting around on the floor, only keeping enough to fill the nine bookcases in the house. I'm doing this out of consideration for my son, whose job it will be to dispose of approximately two tons of books if anything happens to me (and let's be real, eventually something will happen to me.) Giving up heavy, space-hogging books is easier to do since the invention of the Kindle. I can take one small device containing all my books with me to the nursing home if, God forbid, that's where I end up.

Someday, I will need to face doing the same with albums. I still have every album I ever bought (first one: Elvis), even though I haven't played most of them for 40 years. Some may be collector's items as far as age is concerned, but certainly not if you consider condition. The covers are faded and stained; the records are scratchy from use. Sometimes when I'm close to them, I imagine I can smell the aroma of beer and weed wafting out from the shelves. That collection of albums is also a collection of wonderful memories. I pull out a furred-around-the-edges Janis Joplin and remember a handsome man I thought I was in love with. Santana reminds me of a party at the lake. I was the most excited about music during the album era - when I discovered Bob Dylan, when I heard Led Zeppelin for the first time, when the Beatles went from pop to drug-induced creativity.

My first husband was one of those who always had to have the latest thing so he bought an eight-track tape player for the car, the first one in our town. Everyone loved that big unwieldy thing. It didn't fit into a nice little slot but had to be mounted below the dash so that I had a bunged-up left knee the whole time we had it. My husband didn't know or care much about music, he was simply turned on by the technology. He bought two tapes to go with his new player - Aretha Franklin and Loretta Lynn, two more disparate styles you could not imagine!

He was also one of the first to make the switch to a cassette player. I don't have the eight-track tapes. I think I sold them at a garage sale but I do still have all the cassettes. They are mounted above the albums. I call this wall of my bedroom the Wall of Obsolescence.

Of course, cds replaced cassettes and yes, I have them too. So, I have now bought my favorite music in four different formats. I have personally made a large contribution to Bob Dylan's fortune.

I suppose the I-pod is to music what the Kindle is to books but I don't think I'll be finding out. I don't believe I have it in me to make yet another leap into the future. My son asked me if I wanted an I-pod for Christmas.

"Then what?" I asked, "I join I-tunes and re-buy, yet again, the same music I've already bought four times before? Nah, I think I'm content to stick with cds."

Which doesn't at all solve the problem of what to do with all the unplayed albums and cassettes. Maybe I'll just let my son worry about it.  

Monday, March 03, 2014

To Be Continued.....


My work in progress right now is the 8th volume in the Rafe Vincennes series. I'm always happy to get back to Rafe again after getting to know another character and telling their story. Rafe is my baby and I love him the best.

Having said that though, I begin to wonder how writers like Janet Evanovich continue so long with a series. She is now coming out with her 21st Stephanie Plum novel. How does she keep thinking of new, outrageous things for Stephanie and the crew to do after all this time? How long can Stephanie balance her twin attractions to Morelli and Ranger? Will she eventually have to make a decision and choose? If she does, one of the primary plot lines of the series will disappear.

Sometimes, the answer seems to be to start a new series with one of the characters from the first. That's what John Sandford has done with Virgil Flowers. He wrote about Lucas Davenport for years in the Prey novels. Now Virgil has his very own series. Since Lucas and Virgil are miles apart in personality and philosophy, that gives Sandford something new and intriguing to write about.

Sometimes that works out better than other times. Anne Rice did the same when she switched back and forth between her vampires and her witches. I was never able to make the transfer with her. I read all the vampire books and skipped the witches.

Jack Higgins has a whole group of spies and one book will concentrate on one of them, then the next will focus on another. I only read the ones in which Sean Dillon plays a central role.

I fall in love with characters, so I hate it when an author brings a series to a close. My heart was broken when Andrew Vachss put away Burke and the family (my favorite of all). I felt let down when Charlie Huston gave up on Joe Pitt, vampire. I want to see Jack Reacher and Myron Bolitar and Richard Jury and Thomas Lynley and Jamie Fraser and ...... go on forever but with Rafe, I'm beginning to understand how difficult that can be on the writer.