Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Travel in Groups

Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

"Travel in groups."That's what the highway department advises in the Lacrosse Tribune.All the schools from Lacrosse to Westby and Viroqua are closed.

The Pooch begs to go out at 7 am. "Are you sure?" I ask him. I am not ashamed to admit I talk to him as I would a human being. A previous episode repeated here affirms that he understands English. The paw on the arm trick. Sitting at the kitchen table, I say to my wife,"Watch this." "Put your paw on my arm." I don't use his name so there are no context clues that I'm speaking to him. The pooch drapes his paw across my outstretched right arm.

Several minutes later the Pooch perfects his blur routine. I open the back door taking a gander to see if he's around. I notice a blur at the outside of my field of vision. I see nothing near. He's already in the house crunching dry cat food. I shovel paths to the deck and to the ash dump on the south fence line. I shovel off the portion of the deck nearest the door. Inside, I load the wood furnace with silver maple and a few split pieces of oak. In a few minutes the fire is roaring past the burn zone indicated in white on my stovepipe thermometer. The Pooch climbs on the console table in the kitchen window, tries to gnaw at one of the Christmas lights and nuzzles my hand as I open a bag of milk flavored cat treats. While I'm fixing breakfast and grousing about last night's dinner dishes, He jumps down. His second favorite spot at night is the back of the sofa. When Indiana Jones gets too loud, he'll retreat to a chair in the studio. Otherwise he'll watch TV with mild interest. If he hears a cat on TV, he raises his head. You can see the cartoon bubble over his head, "Eh, what was that. Where's the kitty?" Grooming himself on the back of the sofa and at the same time keeping watch over the birds at the deck feeder, I know we have had a serious snowstorm.

He has no desire to go out.

It may be raining or six below zero and the cat wants to go out. Fog doesn't deter him. The other day his fur was matted with sleet. He's an animal. Howling winds make him crazy. I'm dressed in a ski mask and three layers of clothing splitting wood. The Pooch is running like the devil from the woodpile to a spot under the deck. He stops midway to chase a leaf blowing across the top of the snow running in crazy circles. If cats could laugh, he'd be guffawing.

Now, mid morning he's asleep on my lap. In a few minutes he'll drop to the carpeted floor of my office to stretch out. Occasionally, I hear him moan,"erryew". On one of his few quick romps outside early this morning, he follows my shoveled paths. Stopping in line with the bush in the backyard, he watches juncos picking up stray birdseed. He realizes there's no way he can leap across the snowbank for a feather mouthful. The last stop he makes is the cardboard egg box I lined with a few scraps of black felt in the woodshed. Inside are the four gnomes we met bathing at the river's edge Monday morning.

"What the hay!" I exclaim as I lift the ragged blue tarp stretched over the opening of the wood lean-to. The gnomes are chattering away. They sound like people breathing helium. I catch a few "eh's", an "uff-dah" or two and several"you betchas." One of the gnomes-I still do not know their names- says," Fer sure, that was a funny sight." He's talking about the sermon on the rock pile a crow with a top hat performs. A pink bird? What's with the white bird who's laughing? And why does the orator have crow bodyguards? The gnomes snicker. In the back of the egg box, I see a familiar face. It's,Newton Ulm. I know a gnome's name. Now, I can get these guys to hang drywall, pull funky paneling, sweep up plaster and debris. "Yoo hoo, hooray." I shout.

"OK, Newton. Tell me their names," I order.

"Not so fast Bubba", he says.Once again, I remind him that my name isn't Bubba. "Subsection C, paragraph 3 of the Big Book of Gnomes exempts another gnome from revealing the name of a fellow gnome." "You're stalling," I say. I don't believe there's a subsection C. He pulls a leather bound book from his back pocket. It looks like one of those miniature bibles, so much in vogue back in the 50's. Newton licks a thumb and pages through tissue thin pages of the book. "Ah, here it is," he says.

No gnome shall be required to reveal the name of another gnome except on the winter solstice."" What does the solstice have to do with anything?" I question. Gnomes belong to a group of little people, like fairies, leprechauns, elves, sprites and dervishes." "Dervishes?" I ask. "What's a dervish. He gets out another tiny book from the other back pocket. "Dervishes," says Newton, " are poor religious mendicants.They are common in Turkey and spread out from there." Mendicant?

This could go on forever.

I look up mendicant in my Oxford English Etymology. Vb; begging, noun-beggar.I'm really confused now. Years ago, I studied with a professor of Native American studies, himself one-half Ojibwa. He said that the Ahnishnabe of this area believed in the poeesigug. My probably misspelled label in English translates to "little people". A wagging finger at this chemokamon (again probably misspelled)whiteman cautions me to beware when performing ceremonies with a drum,tells me that when a person's hair was as white as snow, only then could they get involved with healing. He mentions, never,never tell stories except in the dead of winter. The reason being that any spirit, evil or otherwise could manifest in the story. In the dead of winter, no spirit in his right mind would bother appearing in the middle of a snowstorm or in weather with a windchill below zero. Most benign spirits went to the Baja fishing for Tarpon. The evil ones were happy to be close to the fires of hell.

My devious mind says that I know the names of several gnomes: Newton Ulm, Elfred T. Gnome, Wayne Snut(pronounced Snoot) and Delmar Denton. Hmm. There's got to be a way. Besides, I already know that the previous four gnomes are no good at kitchen remodeling. Why do you think they live in the base of a tree?

I have two choices. Postpone further remodeling until the winter solstice or find a common name for the quartet. I'll head for the library to do some research. In the meantime...
Nate, Quincely, Trevor, Balmor, Meathead, Ralph, did I mention Alvin? Jesus, Jaime, Carlos, Cristof, Don, Telly, Bert, Roger, Joseph, John, Francis, Aloysis,Gustaf, Heimlich, Ingemar, that's got to be a good one.

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