A meal for the ages

“I’m alive, confound it,” he cried, feeling mortality chill his bones. “I loved myself enough women to have a horde of offspring to keep my memory alive, but it never took, and here I am childless, no one to carry a trace of my DNA to the next generation. I failed in the prime directive to reproduce and keep the species going, so I sit here scribbling evidence that I was here in lieu of passing along my genes. I pieced these words together so that when my dust is scattered to the winds, something tangible will remain that says I lived and here is my offering to the future, not in the form of a bright young scientist or poet to save the world but words, words that if you read and absorb properly, perhaps you will learn to be what my never-born child would have been, and What I Was will live on, my white plume of honor and glory and words to live by and love by —”

“Are you quite done now?” she asked. “Can you sit down and eat your supper, or do you need to orate a bit longer?”

“I am not quite done,” he conceded, “nor do I expect to be done anytime soon. I see possibilities in every sunrise and the dance of puppies chasing each other, but I also feel the glory of a sunset and the contented sigh of the old gray dog under the dining room table. Here, there is life worth preserving and sharing and loving.”

“Bully for you,” she said, setting a plate of oh so very delicious looking food under his nose. “You’ll live even longer if you eat something.”

He looked at the food and gaped in awed pleasure. And years later, after his ashes had been scattered to the wind, the critics mourned his passing and spoke of the poetry that sang in his description of that meal.

Day of the Yellow Clown Elephant

”Let me tell you. I have to tell you. You’re just not going to believe it.” The little one literally bounced with excitement.

“Let me guess first. There’s a yellow elephant the color of a banana peel walking up Main Street wearing pink trousers and a teal bowler hat.” This was spoken by a taller figure slouched over a kitchen sink scrubbing dishes by hand.

The little one’s shock could not be more complete. He stood open-mouthed and tried to speak without success for some seconds before stamping a foot and crying, “How on Earth did you know?”

“Today’s the 26th of October in a year that ends in zero, isn’t it?” said the figure bent over the dishes without looking up. “This is the day when the yellow clown elephant runs the streets. It’s like clockwork.”

“Next you’ll say that hawks poop on the elephant’s head as part of the tradition,” the little one pouted.

“Nope,” said the dishwasher, looking up finally. “That’s a new wrinkle. Must be a 2020 thing.”

Reflections while sitting in a lawn chair waiting for an eBay delivery

2:20 p.m. 9-21-2020

Hello, hello, hello, everyone! In less than a minute you will be a mile away and wondering if you really saw a white-haired man in a lawn chair, leg crossed to reveal bare ankles and slippers, otherwise wearing office clothes and writing in a red journal with a pen.

Where are you going, anyway? People come and go so quickly here, off to the Emerald City along a yellow brick road, dump trucks loaded with soil and campers loaded with people, and the tinge of orange in the trees across the highway reminds one and all that tomorrow is the first day of autumn.

We have so much in common, you and I and all of us, as we rush from here to there bearing witness to what we have seen and what we hope to be. I wish we could focus more on our dreams and desires and not so much on our skin-deep differences.

We are each of us alone, no two exactly alike, and we share a desire to be left alone, to be free to live our lives in peace, but something-less-than-peace is thrust upon us constantly. Peace, then, is a fleeting joy, felt in a southerly breeze that rustles the trees on the last day of summer, focused on endings rather than beginnings even though (as the song says) they are one and the same.

What begins here, in this hour when one season is drawing to a close and another approaching? What begins today, as leaves turn to more vivid colors than green and — even though right now it is warm and comfortable — experience tells us the chill is inevitable someday soon? Every day, every moment holds promise if you seek it out. Every day, every moment holds finality if you look for it.

Billions of people interacting with each other, trillions of life forms interacting, lead to infinite combinations, so of course beginnings and endings are always within reach — beginnings and endings as significant as birth and death or as commonplace as beginning a new journal page and the end of an eBay package’s journey from shipping box to mailbox, which is the reason I’m sitting in our driveway waiting for the mail carrier, so I can sop up some sunshine and save the carrier a few steps up the walk.

And the travelers who rushed past when I started writing are now as much as 30 miles away.

A brief conversation with Almighty God

The day began in clarity.

“Good morning, world! Thank you for the rest,” he cried. “You know who I am; I know who I am. I’m glad we had this chat; let’s get down to business.”

Harmonies poured from his soul — answers snapped to his fingers — his mind and body answered the call. This would be a good day. The doubt that often nagged him was today a minor nudge, and a little bit of anxiety never crippled anyone. In fact, he could shape a little bit of anxiety into a ball of excitement and hurl it like a knuckleball at a befuddled batter.

“To what do I owe this jubilant feeling?” he said with a satisfied smile.

“To whom,” boomed the voice of God.

“Oh,” he said. “Hello.”

“I have to say I am feeling — shall we say — neglected,” God said. “And, I might remind you, I am a jealous God.”

“Pshaw. You’re a loving God, a forgiving God,” he said.

There was a poignant pause. Then God smiled at him.

“Got me,” God said.

And off he went, God willing, to do good stuff.

The would-be wordsmith’s nightmare

He cracked his knuckles and started writing, and his curiosity was piqued by the character who appeared on the page before him.

“Ya think I’m some circus animal who can just pop out of nowhere and do my tricks, don’t ya?” said the curious being.

It was an amazing sight. The voice sounded like a cross between Jack Benny and Jerry Seinfeld, that wry whine with a youthful energy, but he didn’t look like either. He was wearing a puffy down jacket of some kind over brand-new blue jeans, loose-fitting over slightly bowed legs. His eyes bulged from behind round glasses that looked more like goggles, and he smelled like a circus peanut. He leaned against the wall for just a moment, then sprang up and walked swiftly toward the writer.

“So you think you’re smart conjuring me from nowhere on command, do ya?”

“Well,” said the writer, typing contentedly away, “yes, I’m kind of pleased with myself.”

“Really? I have news for ya. You’ve only just begun,” said the odd being. “Here’s the trick, son: Ya need to do it again, and again, for the rest of your life. Once you conjure us up, ya need to give us adventures and reasons to live. Don’t just make us up and tuck us into a corner. We want to live, loser. Ya think you’re up to it? Do ya, punk? Do ya?”

“That’s why I’m here,” the writer said after an awkward pause.

“OK, then,” the being raised his chin defiantly. “Go ahead — make my day, then make my week, and a few of my years. Do that for me, and then conjure me a family and friends and enemies, and do the same for them. Then, maybe, we’ll call you what you claim to be.”

He zipped up his puffy down jacket, turned, and waddled into obscurity.

Prologue to The Monarchs

17 monarchs.jpg

“Look at that big piece of driftwood,” she laughed. “It looks like a dead giant caterpillar washed ashore.”

Grant Jenssen laughed, too, but then he took a second look. The wood was washed not quite white, more of a light tan, and the little stubs from broken branches could have been legs; the resemblance to a caterpillar was indeed uncanny except for the fact that it was a meter wide and about three long.

“Wait a minute —”

She saw the look and laughed harder. “Oh, dear, I’m sorry I put the idea in your head. Grant? Oh, please —”

“I have to get down there.”

“To look at some flotsam? It’s a 10 foot drop or more.”

He saw a pile of boulders stacked up to the edge of the cliff a short distance away and, scrambling cautiously, worked his way down to the beach.

“Grant?! Don’t be an idiot,” she called from above. But he approached the huge bit of not-driftwood in awe.

It was dead, to begin. Certainly no question there. But also, it had once been alive. One. live. giant. caterpillar.

“Where did you come from, little one?” he whispered.

“GRANT!” He looked up and saw her, staring wide-eyed at something in the sky and behind him.

He turned quickly and saw an explosion of orange and black in the sky, hundreds of huge butterflies dancing and swooping in the sun over the water just off shore. They stretched north as far as the eye could see, and the grand dance was clearly making its way south.

For many minutes they passed before them, a procession of monarchs, larger than life, migrating from a place no one could know to a land no one could guess.

And just as suddenly, they were gone, leaving Grant standing alone beside a dead, giant caterpillar and her above on the cliff, laughing and crying like a child.

When sense finally returned to him, Grant thought of the phone in his pocket with its camera, and he cursed himself for being dumbstruck to the point of inaction. More than that, a purpose formed in his soul.

He had to see them again.