Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Restlessly Washing Ham

A previously written piece from August, 2008.

Today I surf a French cookbook looking for inspiration. Lately, dinner is feast followed by famine. Such is life with a cook who works on inspiration. One recipe calls for ham. The instructions read: wash the ham if it is too salty. I never thought of washing ham. Dawn fixes a pizza the previous night, which causes me to slurp water all evening and into the night. Since we use our own salt-free tomato sauce, fresh ground pork without additives and fresh vegetables, I attribute the excess salt to the cheese and olives.
If you’re wondering, this is practice in keeping to the main topic. I’m told by a friend that I wander in my writings. Now the challenge will be to connect this paragraph with Life in Kickapoo Center.
Sunday and today, I don’t go to work. I call an 800 number, press #1 a half dozen times in response to the employee information line prompts, enter the last four digits of my social security number, my birth date, the four digit facility number followed by the pound sign, write down a seven digit confirmation number and wait for the automatic connection to the store. I’m required to speak with a member of management.
In response to threatening weather -a severe thunderstorm with 70 mph winds-I batten all the hatches and put away any objects that might become airborne. My last task as big drops hit the sidewalk is to check the rain gutters for clogs. Our 40 ladder is now a 32-foot ladder after the infamous tree branch fell, severs 6 rungs like a Saturday morning cartoon. It is still very heavy. Wrestling it against the house, I twist my back knowing I’ll pay in weeks to come.
August. Temperatures hit the high eighties. After a particularly annoying week , I go to the local elementary school and pick up an application for substitute teaching. I’ll trade one form of punishment for another. Friends console me with words, “The kids here aren’t like the kids in the inner city.” Yes, that’s true. I like working with children. The monotony of repetitive, non-essential teaching methods and staid curriculum drives me crazy. Like Richard Brautigan, the late California poet wrote, “My teachers could have ridden with Jesse James for all the time they stole from me.
The sun is shining. The sky is a stunning shade of bright blue. The heat and humidity of previous weeks transforms into cool nights and dry pleasant days. I stand on the deck wet with dew and think about winter. My son calls to chat. He worries about the upcoming winter. It is a problem for him since he spends a good deal of time outdoors. We don’t have enough firewood for the season. The wood furnace needs a new door. We go on the budget plan for propane.
For once, my wife and I have a day off together. My type A workaholic personality has us first weeding the 80-foot flowerbed that parallels the road and then pulling old fence posts. After installing new fence posts, it’s time to mow-a continual task April through October. Working around weather and foggy bottom land conditions, mowing the 4.6 acres takes three days. She complains, “When are we going to have some fun.” We think about taking off for one whole day-an event in which we do no work-no chores or gardening.
Before breakfast this morning, I fill a feeder-one of three- for the hummingbirds. I note that the two remaining feeders will need more nectar before the day is over. Early morning count at the feeders is 12 birds with the average around nine.
I’m petting Pucci as I stand on the deck. He keeps staring at the patio umbrella lashed to the deck rail. He looks up at the top of the umbrella. I put him down and take off the bungee cord fastened on the bottom of the umbrella fabric. I ease the umbrella up and bat guano falls to the deck. Then bats tumble out. Pucci’s head wags like a bobble-head doll in the rear window of a car. The higher I lift the umbrella, the more bats fall out and fly away. There may be over a dozen bats scurrying and flying about. Dawn stands next to me in amazement until one bat trying to make its way back under the umbrella veers toward her. She remembers the night a bat got into the bedroom. I used a tennis racket to defeat its radar and deflect it into bath towel before showing it the door.
Pucci sits on the railing watching the bats fly between the Norway pines and the umbrella. They fly close to the house like a raceway. I tie both the top and the base tightly. I appreciate the work that bats perform in keeping the area mosquito free. I just don’t like them roosting behind the shutters and using our equipment for a latrine and shelter. “That goes doubly for you raccoons, “ I mutter sweeping the deck. Why can’t these varmints live in the wild where they’re supposed to take residence?
I open an envelope of shredded beef in sauce and walk outside. “Pucci, where are ya,” I call. He comes quickly accompanied by the usual cat squeaks and grunts. Lapping the tender cuts off the salad plate, he occasionally coughs. We took him to the vet on Saturday, who’s treating him for an upper respiratory infection. It may be an offshoot of ear problems. We administer eardrops twice a day. In addition, we orally force an eyedropper full of amoxicillin down his throat. I use we because it takes two persons to administer medicine and hold him down.
I’ve spent months training him to come when called. Bringing him inside and holding him by the scruff of the neck while stuffing bubble gum tasting amoxicillin quickly destroys my rapport with him. He now tries to squirm away when I place him on the kitchen table. Climbing on the kitchen table was a no-no until we got lazy and allowed him to curl up on a Belgian wool placemat. It was a favorite perch. The eardrops are reinforcement that is again, negative. I bring him unannounced treats to remind him I’m not Genghis Khan. He lopes across the grass when I call because he’s the world’s best cat. I am hopelessly attached to the grey striped tabby with the raccoon tail. I worry about his cough. I don’t worry about spoiling him with raw chicken liver, raw venison and fresh ground pork. His life as a barn cat at the neighboring farm brought him to us riddled with ear mites, near starvation, and shivering in below zero weather. With luxurious accommodations and a healthy diet, he faithfully watches the perimeter of our land, consuming an occasional field mouse for the wild taste of meat.
The morning is evaporating with the fog and dew. The highway is quiet. There is no Sunday motorcycle traffic. No long string of 20 bikers disturbing the rural beauty in their thunderous quest for communing with nature in a mobile easy chair away from the everyday stresses of life as a doctor or lawyer or Indian chief. Crickets chirp. The crows left whatever meal they found on the berm hours ago. One of the hummingbird feeders I put out last evening is empty. I look for Pucci. When I approach the end of the deck, there he is. No, not the cat, but that darn woodchuck. Raccoons, woodchucks, fawns dancing in the yard at dawn, possum, feral cats, an occasional lost beagle, field mice, deer mice, voles, moles, shrews, squirrels and ring necked pheasants parade through the clover in the east lawn. The Pooch quietly takes a spot on the corner of the deck under the arbor vitae, hunkering down to watch the parade of animals. I go back inside to finish this piece. I need to get the flyswatter to get an annoying fly hovering over the computer.

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