Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century
It’s the end of a pleasant early November Saturday. I’m pulling a board from the old white fence on the eastern portion of the property line. I began with the thought that I’d remove all the remaining ragged, chipped 10 foot pine boards. I realized that I had no place to store the weathered lumber before turning it into rustic art projects. Therefore, I am removing only one board. That single 10 foot board will lie on the garage floor for a day while I hope for an inspiration to complete a work in progress. The work in progress involves a miniature rustic Mexican door with a cast iron spiral doorknob. It was intended to be part of a retablo. Months ago I created a framed retablo made from old boards. I framed the retablo with a green inner border and a blue perimeter frame and sealed the surface with yeso and paint. It’s been hanging in the garage for 9 months as an unintended test project. When it survived the 9 month waiting period without checking or cracking, I spray painted the white inner surface with a final coat of gloss white paint from Wal-Mart. The other duplicate retablo made at the same time was similarly spray painted with flat white paint. Linda choses the flat white retablo for a crow painting. I decided to create a work of art entitled Behind The Green Door. My miniature door is finished with chipped white paint and a sky blue wash. It has nothing to do with Marilyn Chambers, the famous porn actress. Because of the vagaries of the haphazard construction techniques I employ, the miniature door stuck out from the surface of the retablo. The ornate Mexican hinges I’d chosen to attach it the white painted surface would have to be hidden on the inside of the door. The hinge pin made the door lie uneven on the flat surface of the retablo. In short, I fucked up. I have a miniature door. I have an idea for a painting Behind the Blue Door and no way to complete the painting. Back to square one. Thus, I am removing a board from the fence late Saturday afternoon for additional lumber with hopes that enough caffeine and a sick day off from Crazy World will bring an inspiration, an insight into the world of creativity which has its own locked door. There’s only one birdhouse remaining on the fence. At one time in 2006 there were seven mouse condos lining the fence. One was taken over by a toad. This remaining birdhouse has a side flip-up door to remove for cleaning at the end of the nesting season. Months ago, I flipped it up and removed the occupants. I left the door up to discourage future squatters and unceremoniously evicted any mouse tenants in the other birdhouses. Some meeses were quickly stepped on lest they multiply and invade our basement in the fall, pissing and shitting in the insulation between the studio and 1st floor bedroom, creating a rank odor of mouse ammonia in the furnace room during the high heating season. The birdhouses that were still reusable were relocated to the garage for renovation. The others were tossed over the fence or thrown on the burn pile. My curiosity gets the better of me. With my handy Wunderbar crowbar I flip up the side clean-out. Over the summer, high winds, rain and hail slowly lowered the door to the point that the gap between the side and floor was less than 2 inches. I see a fuzzy nest of grass, fur and weeds. Looking closer I notice two meeses peering over the top of the nesting material. Because Moe and Larry or Laverna and Ted appear to be standing on their tiptoes peering at me, I chuckle and quickly close the flip-up side.
I return to the mouse house after reinstalling the batteries in my camera, adjust the settings and get ready to aim and shoot at 2 second intervals. Moe in the back is wide eyed. Laverna is shy and hunkered down a bit in the fuzz. I take six shots from different angles and distances. Something’s wrong here because I slowly lower the side door, making sure the door is tight against the floor of the house. I walk to the next ten foot section of the fence and remove a board. Inside the mouse house Ted and Larry are wondering, “What the fuck! We were thrown into the weeds at the bottom of the fence running to avoid the giant’s big feet. We spent months running up and down the fence post getting ready for winter.” I imagine several scenarios for removing the occupants of this last mouse condo. None are nice-some are karmic blunders like shooting the last rabbit to inhabit Kickapoo Center. The kindest thing to do would be to allow them to spend a warm and cozy winter running to and fro, from platform of cracked corn at the foot of Jonathon Pine to home again settling down for a long winter nap while snow falls gently on their roof. Yet this is the country. A black and white cat sits hump backed with its tail curved around it feet. The early morning sun warms her black fur. She walks with a limp from a fight with a raccoon. She’s watching the squash garden with intent to capture field mice who have claimed the 30X40 patch of rotting squash as their larder. Crows gather around the lone scraggy, silver maple hoping for a mouse treat tossed from the pole shed and one of Uncle Bob’s 12 peanut butter baited Vee traps. The crows are busy battling the first pileated woodpecker we’ve seen in our 3 year term as tenants of the Kickapoo Center schoolhouse. An ugly possum waddles quickly across the front yard, its white face and sinister grin and smooth rat tail stand out in the floodlights on the deck as it sneaks to the neighbor’s chicken coop for an early morning feather and chicken guts dinner. I sneak up behind the fallen trunk of the garden-buster silver maple and toss the black cat a piece of leftover Cornish Hen. She stares at the chunk, waits and slowly stalks the chicken meat. Having determined it will not fight back, she grabs the cheecken in her jaws and runs to the fence line for a guarded snack of white meat. The other pieces I toss over the log are ignored by the cat and quickly spotted by the crows. A lone hawk slowly circles the area over the river, woods and pasture waiting for a meal.
*Explanation of subtitle A Hispanic couple asks for bags of chicken thigh quarters in broken english. I want to practice my Spanish. After checking the meat cooler for back stock, I walk to the floor to tell them I am sorry, but there are no remaining bags of chicken leg quarters. I speak Spanish with an Anglo thought pattern and utter in Spanish Lo Siento Nada. Translated that means, “ I’m not at all sorry.” They quickly laugh and correct my gringo Spanish.