I've talked before about my rabbit friend, the one with the damaged back leg, who has been showing up outside my back door. As soon as I open the curtain or the door he moves toward the house, stopping occasionally to rise up on his back legs and look toward the house, sniffing the air with an aura of anticipation. I've been stepping out on the back porch stoop and holding a Ritz cracker in my hand. At first he stood carefully nearby, waiting for me to drop it. Then he got brave enough to approach, warily, and snatch it from my hand. Then I began holding it more firmly and he took a bite while I held it.
This morning I decided the polite and proper thing to do would be to share breakfast. So besides the Ritz cracker I brought a banana and a cup of coffee. I sat down on the stoop, coffee beside me, banana in one hand and Ritz in the other. He watched me with interest and caution. I took a bite of banana and with the other hand held out the cracker. He took it and moved back a couple paces, then began to eat. I ate, and carefully picked up the coffee cup and took a sip. He watched, but kept eating. When the cracker was gone, he sniffed in my direction and moved around a bit.
"Sorry," I said, "one cracker's all I've got." He almost seemed to understand. I'd finished the banana, so I simply sat and sipped coffee. He stood nearby for a couple minutes, then licked his front paws and began to wash his face with them. I sat, then he sat some more. Breakfast buddies. We'd broken bread together, and I like to think we shared something more than time and space.
I stood up, he moved a few steps back, and I opened the door. "Well, my gimpy friend," I said, "I suppose it's time we moved on with our respective days." I went inside and closed the door. I watched him through the window. He stared at the door for about a minute, then loped off, a bit unevenly as is his wont, and wandered off across the yard.
Until tomorrow, I hope, though I know it's a dangerous world out there, especially for a rabbit with only three good legs. But then every time I see the news, I know it's a dangerous world for all of us.
Well, at least thinking about them. All because of a squirrel in my backyard. A squirrel who decided to climb up onto my newly-made (homemade) platform bird feeder; he meant to steal the sunflower seeds, but when he leaped onto it, he caused it to tip violently and revealed a flaw in my design: I had it hanging from a hook, and it simply flipped over, tossing him and the feeder and the seed onto the lawn.
So I realized I had to do a bit of modifying. Here's where the monkeys come in. I'm having trouble, a real first-world whine, deciding how to spend my limited morning free time -- fixing the feeder, riding the bike, going to the gym, or what. The indecision is a real waste of time and energy, a sign of unreasonable anxiety. I remember reading a book on that, called "Monkey Mind", a journal of a guy's adventures with serious anxiety and his inability to make decisions sometimes about the most mundane things. Zen people talk about a monkey mind, too, the way the mind can jump from idea to idea, thought to thought. And go nowhere in meditation. Or I guess in the real world, either.
Which brought to my monkey mind a Taoist story, re-told by Chuang Tsu and re-written by Thomas Merton. It's a simple story, about a zookeeper who has been feeding the monkeys four nuts in the morning and three in the afternoon. But he soon discovers (how I don't know) that the monkeys are not happy with the arrangement, for reasons of their own, and want three in the morning and four in the afternoon. The keeper's first inclination is to insist on the original arrangement, because there is no logical reason to change it. Till he has a sort of epiphany and realizes he is simply trying to impose his authority for that reason alone. So he accedes to the monkeys' wishes, and gives them three in the morning and four in the afternoon. And all are happy, he has to feed the same number of nuts and the monkeys eat what they want when they want.
The point, as I take it, is not simply choosing one's battles, it's realizing that battles are often avoidable and all are better off for the avoidance. The keeper could have imposed his will since the monkeys are locked up, but they would be unhappy and he'd be on guard for their hostility. So all is well.
The same, perhaps, for my monkey mind. It wants to do lots of things, and maybe what I need to do is take the time to listen; somewhere under all that noise is my Zen mind, the part of me that simply exists in the world and would, if allowed, simply allow the world and myself to unfold naturally. The hard part is getting to that point.
In the meantime, I suppose I'll go fix the feeder. That seems to be the nut-arrangement my mind would prefer.
They say lots of things are like riding a bike, e.g. you never really forget.
A part of biking I'd more or less forgotten was the feel of falling. It came back to me a couple hours back.
I was on my new bicycle, nothing especially fancy but the best I've ever owned, aluminum frame, carbon forks, good gearing and tires, relatively lightweight. Bright white trimmed with gray, with even a matching water bottle. I told myself it is probably the last bike I will buy, and I shopped carefully for it.
I'd been away for riding for several years (various reasons including back surgery, laziness, and having my bike stolen from my garage) though I'd been training for a couple years on a stationary bike. So I had this one, but also a strange reluctance to go out on it.
Last week I began riding outside again, and I love it; the bike is fast and easy. I realize now there's a reason people spend money on good ones, and why it was that my riding friends always seemed faster and stronger than me. It wasn't just me. It was also their bikes. And me, too, since I was never hard-core, but the bikes mattered more than I realized,
So anyway, I've been out and about on the new one, cruising the old familiar bike paths, feeling the wind in my face, remembering why I liked it so much for so many years. Nothing long yet, maybe up to 10 miles around the city. My favorite route, before and again, is an old railroad right-of-way converted to a trail. Wide asphalt, smooth, nice shade trees, passing by hippie-yuppie backyards with gardens, canoes and gazebos. I especially like to head for home by going up the mild grade, working hard as I can to build up some speed, and get myself in shape so that I can maybe really do a "Century Before 70" though that may require a lot of serious work and prayer.
Today I was blasting up the trail, politely passing people, and marveling at how relatively easy it felt compared to my memories. I let my mind wander a bit and let the bike wander a bit toward the edge of the asphalt . As I said, the trail is wide, but usually joggers run alongside it, so that there are ruts on each side and a bit of a drop 0ff.
Before I realized what was happening I slipped down onto the rut, couldn't get back onto the trail, and began bouncing along at a pretty good clip. I've been trying again to get used to clip-on shoes, and as I rolled along I tried to do some fast calculations, how to slow down, keep my balance, and get my feet out of the clips. Of course, when I think too much I get too rigid, and then my balance gets off. So anyway, in one of those slow-motion falls that one hears about, I went down, sort of rolled with my bike, fortunately ending up in and on a thick patch of soft green weeds.
I swore, and a nice lady stopped to see if I was okay. "Fine," I said, "just my pride." I got up, and all did seem okay. She asked if I was sure, I said, yeah, and she slowly rolled off down the trail, glancing back once or twice.
All I could think was that it would have been ironic indeed if I'd totalled the new bike when it only has fewer than 100 miles on it. And I thought about what it would look like if I had gotten hurt, the story would have been about a 69-year-old man who didn't have the sense to stop cycling. A distorted picture, since I've been
I've been riding bikes off and on for many years, and more seriously for thirty of the last forty. And intend to do it for years more. Accidents happen, though far as I can remember this is the only time I ever really went down, though I recall some close calls.
They say that if you want to know how old people think you are, you should fall down. If people laugh at you, you're young. But if they come to help you . . .. .A couple guys did stop and one worked with me to get my chain back on the rings, and looked over the bike with me. All was good. I felt okay (though my knee hurts a bit right now). All was intact. Things could have been much much worse, if I'd been out on the highway and gone into a ditch, or even if I'd gone a bit further where I was and off the railbed and into someone's yard, or hit a rock.
But none of that happened, and the bike and I rode uneventfully home. Tomorrow I'll be heading out again, I got places to go and I really really do like having the wind in my face and feeling the sunshine and the pleasant tiredness of pushing the pedals. I consider this a wakeup call, a reminder that there's no pleasure without pain, no fun without risk.
Back in the saddle again, and I love it. Even the falling down part. Though I'd like to keep that to a minimum.
The heat wave has broken, and typical summer temps have settled back in. Like all waves, the heat wave broke with a crash, this the crash of thunder and heavy rain. W and I had gone further north to a fund-raising auction, and got there just as the rains did. The massive tents were flapping in the wind, and rivulets of water ran through, including over electric cords, which tended to make me nervous. Though no one else seemed to mind, and no one got injured.
We'd been planning to stay longer, but got tired of dashing back and forth between the food tent and the auction building, and even more tired of dripping water and the crush of humanity crowded together. So we left as soon as our social obligations had been met; the rain clouds followed us to our home turf, like an big obnoxious dog that has taken a shine to people who'd rather it went away. We even spent 30 minutes or so in a miles-long traffic jam caused when high winds toppled a couple massive trees onto the interstate highway, and crews had to come out and cut them up, though that was during a lull in the storms, sunshine even, under scudding clouds and framed against dark walls of cloud moving in.
By the time we got home, though, the storms had moved on, as they always do. This morning has been a beautiful blue sky with pale white accents. A slight breeze, flowers in bloom, birds singing, shades of green and brown abound around me. Orange lilies, too. The pink of a large rose granite rock sparkles out back, and I see the bounding approach of a chipmunk. I couldn't ask for a nicer day. My lovebird is out here with me on the screened porch, and he would sing along with the warbling wrens, except he more screeches and squawks than sings, though he tries and to his credit some of his softer sounds are pleasant enough. But he would insist on screeching in my ear once in a while, for the hell of it, I think.
Funny though how hot it begins to feel when one is pushing a mower around the lawn, and how refreshing a tall glass of cold water and a bit of icy watermelon can be; I suppose one must have yang to get yin. Anyway, I can't spend all day lounging. Chores need doin' and I'm burnin' daylight.
Sitting here on my screened deck, in almost total darkness and stillness. The air is tense, and thunder rolls in the distance. A summer storm is rolling in from the west, a temporary hiatus from the heat, though that won't last and tomorrow will be both hot and humid. But for now it's interesting, the stillness, only a distant bark of dog, the faint drone of crickets, no breeze.
Now a slight breeze picks up, again from the west, and I can sense a faint smell of rain. A tiny moth has somehow slipped into the porch, and bats against the computer screen until I assert my dominance and smash it. How dare it interfere with my late night reveries.
One of the better parts of growing up in the American midwest is the turbulence of summer storms. Growing up on the Great Plains, I often watched them build up from a distance and to feel and see the power of nature. I recall one childhood summer afternoon looking out the kitchen window of a friend's house and a long low line of darkness rolled toward us, growing higher and covering the sky, and hitting with a wall of rain. Not frightening, simply fascinating. We also had what we called late night "Tornado Parties," when the town's siren would go off and the people who lived in the houses across the street, without basements, would come across to the safety of our basement. No tornado ever struck, though more than one morning after we would see the downed trees and hear about the storm that just missed us.
I don't anticipate any of that tonight, just some heavy rain and mild winds, perhaps a touch of hail. Up here in the northern middle America the weather is milder, not as given to storms that roll and roll and build up force as they come from the far western mountains. Here the winds are given to more directions, and the storms are generally milder. Though not always, there have been a few damaging tornadoes since we moved up here. Emphasize "few." Better than earthquakes or hurricanes.
But the stillness has returned. Though the sky is still solid black, no stars or moon, the breeze has died away, and the thunder and pale lightning flashes have stopped, at least for now. The writer in me is disappointed, the story arc I anticipated has not arrived. I expect it will in an hour or few, but it's growing late and I'm growing tired and another of those moths has appeared.
I guess I'll just pack it in for the night. Sorry to have wasted your time here. Maybe next time. When the rain comes. A better man than I would probably just delete this, but I hate to throw away these words; I much prefer that you know that I, like Kilroy, was here.
Why else does one write?
Separate names with a comma.