16 June 2009

From Lonely To The Man

III ) llllllllllllllllllllll From Lonely To The Man (16Jun09)

Woke up especially early this morning, when the robins were just starting to sing-in the dawn. Thought I had broke the fever, but I felt drugged, even though all I’d taken were pain killers. A couple hours later, I was back in bed again, shivering, teeth clattering, feeling miserable. By later in the afternoon, still in and out of bed, I began having wonderfully detailed and exciting fever dreams...

In everyone's life, there’s at least one moment (possibly several) when he or she becomes marked for death. Mine came when I noticed a baseball-sized, luminous white circle, fading back and forth between regular skin tone on my stomach. It was like a beacon for the monster, matapiooyi, the people-eater. The challenge was to avoid being caught and consumed by this monster for eighty-four hours. If successful (which few ever are), then matapiooyi would have to change its life and become more like me.

The beacon first went off while I was speeding along a wide urban freeway at night. I had Dani with me. We both knew what it meant and frantically tried to think of what to do. Within minutes the monster appeared, flying out from the skyscrapers as if using a jet pack. It was tan, thick, and mechanical, looking something like a cross between the stay-puffed marshmallow man and an astronaut. We sped, but it was faster. We cut down an alleyway, jumped out of our car and went through a door. Suddenly, we were in our own house. I was conscious of the fact that all I had to do to make such hyper-jumps in the midst of chase was perform an activity related (even in a vague way) to where I wanted to go, and I would be taken there. In this case, opening a door and wishing it were the door to our home was all I needed.

It wasn't exactly our home, rather a dream rendering of it. Same layout, perhaps even more the usual sense of comfort, but there was way more natural light and wind, as if certain walls had been removed. I knew it would only be moments before the matapiooyi caught up with me. I couldn't just sit still, so I ran downstairs and outside onto the grass, where I was able to hyper-jump again, this time to a tarp-covered squatter's tent belonging to a family who were living out in the prairie. Why they were there, I don't know, but I'd been there before and they knew me. The wife brought me some food, basically a piece of bread, while I talked with her husband about the situation. I told him about the monster, and he related that they knew the one. They'd seen it passing around hillsides and through the coulee-bottoms. It was like their bigfoot. Looking around their little tent, I realized it was a fairly comfortable shelter, but that it wouldn't take them through the winter. I shared this thought with the husband, but he was determined that they’d be alright. I felt a sense of dread for them. I'd been in this area during winter. It was always very cold, and the snow packed tight and high. In fact, I'd been so fascinated by the composition of the snow that I'd taken some home with me and put it in the freezer. This gave me an idea, and quick as that it was realized. I thought about the winter, it became winter. I picked-up a chunk of the strange snow, bit into it, and was hyper-jumped to the freezer where I'd once stored some.

It was not the same freezer we have now. It was from the old duplex on Jerry Potts Boulevard. That place had been refurbished, and so I found myself in some kind of desert junk-yard. Nowhere to hide for hundreds of miles. I started kind of jogging down the road, just tumbleweed and sagebrush on either side. I knew it wouldn't take long for the matapiooyi to catch up with me. And it seemed really that all I had to do was think about the monster, and it appeared. Maybe that was the whole thing about being marked for death. Maybe people do it to themselves with the things they meditate on, with their worries and desires. In order to beat matapiooyi, one has to kind of out-think oneself. Understanding this, the monster's appearance changed. Now I could see that its body was similar to jagged rock, with high shoulders, long fingers, and a jaw that dropped to reveal an array of pointed teeth.

It was quickly gaining on my position. How could I beat it? Suddenly I realized that I still had bread in my hand from the squatter's tent. I started breaking off pieces on the ground, imagining that the monster was extremely hungry. Sure enough, it would stop to eat. Taking the technique further, I began to imagine places where the monster really wanted to go. Not long after I pushed the idea, the matapiooyi would zoom off like roadrunner to where-ever I'd thought about. It was working. I had control. I knew it would still be difficult to keep-up with this work for eighty-four hours, but I now had confidence that it could indeed be done. This contentment pulled me from the dream.

As I was waking, I became aware that I was snuggled up against Piipiiaakii's back in bed. I wasn't cold or hot, but my body was shaking, jittery. Hugging onto Piipiiaakii I felt total comfort. Then a dream sense came about me, and I started wondering where the remote control was hidden. I wanted to “save” my life, like in a video game, so if anything ever went awry I could come back to this same place. Slowly, the disappointing realization came that this was only dream thought, that there is no “saving” in life. Better just keep living it the best you can.

After we got out of bed, Piipiiaakii made a garlic, chicken, and vegetable soup for dinner that was just what I needed. I ate two bowls, sweated the whole way, but felt entirely re-energized, so much so that I was ready to at least go sit by the pond for the evening.

Walking in to Sspopiikimi, we flushed two grey partridge, and I noticed another of those small bluet damselflies. The beavers were still eating water milfoil in the shallows. The painted turtles were swimming around, their heads just above the surface. The gosling couple were moving their brood from the mainshore meadows to the now-green islands. And the lone coot, who was preening on the gosling couple's nest island when we arrived, soon began to swim about directly across from us, eating off the water surface in the reeds.

The pond was covered this evening in cottony seeds, gliding down from the trees like snow on a breeze. As we sat, a female redhead passed by the reeds where the lone coot had been eating, and from deep within one of the denser patches of new growth we heard a second coot give a couple short grunts. Perhaps the lone coot was not so lonely after all, but has only been staying in this vicinity because his mate’s nested in the reeds. If so, who knows how long the nest has gone unnoticed by Piipiiaakii and I. We'll have to check another evening, tonight we just sit.

The mallard mother with her six, maybe seven ducklings (so hard to tell given their tendency to cluster together, resembling a single body) brings her brood to feed in a small bulrush tuft. A few minutes later, the other mallard mother, who we previously believed had only one baby, swam over to a nearby island with three little puffs of black and yellow beside her. We recognized her from before, because she has some feathers out of joint on one wing.

As we watch the mallard families, I notice something odd in my peripheral vision. Coming from the direction of the main beaver canal is the “lone coot”, carrying a piece of dry bulrush stem about fourteen inches long. The coot brings this stem right to the reeds where we heard the other one clucking earlier. He climbs up into the tuft, deposits the stem, and swims back out again. For us, that seals it. Surely this bit of bulrush was a gift for his lady, although she has plenty of other old, dry reeds at her disposal right where she sits.

Now we’re going to have to change Lone Coot’s name to Ninna or “The Man”. After he presented his bulrush gift, he went back to reclaim his sentinel station on the gosling couple’s old nesting island. As he was picking around in the water by one of its shores, a kingbird flew down to inspect the gravel. Right away, Ninna ducked his head and ran at the little bird, prompting it to take wing and settle atop a cattail about four meters away. Then, having experienced this success with the kingbird, the coot swam out to the small bulrush tuft where the mallard mother was dining with her big brood. The two went head to head until the mallard took her ducklings and moved on.

After this bit of drama, there was a long lull in activity immediately around us. Or at least, that’s the way it seemed given our limited sensory abilities. We're all too aware that there's much we're missing as a result of not yet knowing all our local bird songs. I envy those who've come to embody a knowledge of this other sound world. Tonight, there was a seamless stream of bird voices around us. We've come to recognize the familiar, those we watch regularly. Now comes the adventure of learning, just a couple at a time, those we may more often hear than see. I carry an i.c. recorder to aid in our learning, and Piipiiaakii has IBirds on her phone.

From somewhere near the forest across the pond, practically all evening long, we had been hearing what seemed like an inordinate amount of wing flutter. It reminded me of mourning dove flight chatter. But once the Sun moved out of sight in the west, and the sound subsided, and the activities of the ducks around us slowed down, we took a moment to attempt an identification through IBird and come up with common snipe, a shore bird we have seen in the back shallows on several occasions. At the same time, while we worked out this identification, and from the tops of the poplars immediately behind us, there began a very distinct mantra, sung every two or three minutes. I've placed the i.c. recorder up there in the hollow of a branched trunk to capture a sample of this melody. When it too eventually stopped, the coyote chorus began, and we packed up to leave.

Once at home, I downloaded the i.c. file onto my laptop for study. Our best guess, using all the resources we have at hand, was ovenbird. I immediately sent this file to a bird-song expert in Edmonton, Barb Beck, who got back to me a half-hour later with her opinion – possible oriole. It would make sense, given that we’ve seen several orioles at the pond recently. But I won’t be satisfied until we hear the mantra again and see, with our own eyes, who’s responsible.