The Rise and Fall of the Arrow Man.

Astonishingly ugly utility boxes.

Astonishingly ugly utility boxes.

The sorry situation:

Our 1980s-era house came equipped with these astonishingly ugly and poorly placed utility boxes attached to the structure’s outside back wall. They are situated right beside the deck so that I might contemplate with almost daily frequency what fool would have placed something so butt-ugly in such a prominent and visually unavoidable location.

After three years’ contemplation of these warts upon our dwelling, I could tolerate them no longer. However, I am strongly averse to spending money on cosmetic house repairs that might be better spent on something like, say, a backpacking trip to Death Valley National Park in mid August, so a quick and economic fix was the only acceptable solution.

“Make it so.” Patrick Stewart would love me, I’m sure of it.

From the fabric store came a couple yards of fuzzy-backed tablecloth vinyl; WalMart supplied a few cans of cheap spray paint in random colors: yellow, two shades of purple, navy blue. The yellow would provide a base color on the vinyl fabric and I could then adorn it with some stick figure florals using the other colors. Voila! For $25 and change, a masterpiece would emerge that I could hang in front of the utility boxes.

The playthings:

From white to happy yellow.

From white to happy yellow.

The tools of my trade.

The tricks of my trade.

 

 

 

 

 

But then. . .

The prospect of spray painting floral stick figures rapidly became ho hum, unimaginative. Sad, actually. The endeavor began to seem too mainstream Hobby Lobby. My interest lies in finding unexpected uses for everyday items, such as turning wine bottles into garden edging or teaspoons into wind chimes, but I’m mostly devoid of true artistic ability. My creative bursts are usually solo efforts, but I like to give people, strangers mostly, the opportunity to think differently and perhaps have a unique, fun experience. I want them to see that they can go beyond just thinking outside the box, they can throw away the box altogether. The icing on my creative cake is collaboration, and the sugary rose atop that is anonymity. Why not take a board from Tom Sawyer’s fence? Continue reading

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It’s not always what it seems.

Winter marauder Pax vomited knee-deep snow, packed us in it and rolled us like a bowling ball. As our momentum grew, random flotsam and hapless jetsam became embedded — a two-dollar bill, Anita Bryant, chunks of Puerto Rico, pink marshmallow … Continue reading

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Weekly photo challenge: Window — see the giants.

The Giant

The Giant

This poster print of “The Giant”  by artist N.C. Wyeth became part of a cross-country collaborative project between me and Mike’s niece and her two young children. Having the $10 print custom framed would have cost the equivalent of a one-way airfare, so I bought a frame and spray painted it white. I then shipped the frame cross country to my artistic partners, but not before I had to saw the  frame in half to get the price of shipping down from $100 to $50. My instructions were for the kids to have fun and hand print the frame. As you can see, they did.

While my co-artists were “handling” the frame, I spent many hours looking at the poster, coming to understand each child’s pose. The two smallest children in the center, fully facing The Giant, embody awe and unquestioning belief that it exists. The older girl standing in the rear sees, but will soon turn her head and nod absently and maternally when the two children explode with excitement about The Giant. The kneeling boy in red sees but his own energy will quickly outrun his belief and draw him back to his activity in the sand. The boy at far left sees and accepts, quietly. I find myself in the girl to the far right, apart from the others — just seeing, neither believing nor disbelieving. She will try, not always successfully, to remember The Giant. But she will keep trying.

I wrote this phrase on the crude homemade matting I inserted to fill the too-large opening:

See The Giant.

See The Giant.

What does all this have to do with this week’s photo challenge “Window”, you ask? Because this is where the poster hangs in our house:

Always look for giants.

Open your mind, and see the giants.

The Giant hangs between windows.

 

Deus ex Fiat.

Too much, The Magic Bus!

Too much, The Magic Bus!

I didn’t much care for the Scion Xb, aka The Magic Bus, when it first came on the car market. It was squat and square and, I thought then, butt ugly. At the time I was in the carnie/trinket selling business and needed a vehicle with more cargo space than my poltergeist-possessed VW Golf. Only after I saw the Scion’s price tag and the gas mileage did I realize that the homely little Xbox Toaster was my road tripping solution (and possibly vehicular soulmate). An unexpected benefit to owning this shoe box on wheels is that for a while, Mike and I were “hip.” It was the must-have car of the next generation and we were pretty freaking cool for having it. The Magic Bus with its square, low body is still a standout among today’s ho-hum, round-edged, kidney bean-shaped cars.

We’ve driven lots of those kidney beans as rentals for Mike’s job. They’re basically all the same with dark interiors, confounding seat controls, various cup holder configurations, and maybe Sirius radio on a good day. Mike once had a Mercedes by chance for a rental. He was so enthused about its ride and interior quality that he came to take me for a spin so I could experience the luxury and comfort and fine German engineering. I didn’t get it; the car seemed like all the other kidney beans we’d driven.

We rented a car in Toronto a few weeks back, a car that I also didn’t like when it first came on the market but have been giving a second look after the monotonous stream of kidney beans. Luxury and comfort bore me — I want FUN. I personally thought the advertisement for the car which featured J Lo missed the mark; Neil de Grasse Tyson or Bill Nye would have been much better spokespersons for this car. You know which one it is  – the Fiat 500. The car rental agent didn’t even get the offer out of his mouth before I pounced on the car. If The Magic Bus is a shoe box, the Fiat is the shoe.

We compressed our luggage into the compartment that imagined itself a trunk and squeezed ourselves into the bucket seats. Being a small (but fierce!) person, I rolled the driver’s seat all the way forward until the front cup holder disappeared into the seat. No matter; the fun factor would certainly outweigh any such small inconveniences. And the car had the definite advantage of needing only half a parking space.

After a brief twirl around Toronto, where all young office workers seemed to wear black, I inserted our tiny car into westbound rush hour traffic. The spritz of rain that began near the city was pummeling us viciously by the time we neared our suburban destination. Darkness had fallen, making the unfamiliar freeway a hellish racecourse. Our tiny Fiat was about the size of one of the tires on the tractor-trailer dragons roaring around us. I finally jettisoned off our exit, spitting expletives like a wet cat. I hoped for better weather the following day for our drive to Niagara Falls.

And I got it! The sun, hosted by a clear sky,  beamed as if not a drop of rain had fallen the previous day. If there had been sheep in the area I’m sure they would have frolicked happily, particularly since their heavy coats would have held at bay the now very crisp one digit Celsius temperature displayed on the Fiat’s dashboard. Back onto the Canadian highway these two Texans-via-Virginia in the Italian car rolled, our female English-speaking GPS sounding flat and dull beside the French-speaking announcer on the bossa nova radio station. All was well.

Abruptly, another voice filled the car — a female voice, speaking French. Who was that? I eased off the gas pedal. There she was again — repeating the sentence in French. The only word I could catch between the radio and the GPS demands was “possible.” What was happening? Why was the car talking? I immediately assumed something was terribly wrong with the car (despite the continued placid dashboard lighting) — surely the engine was going to freeze up and we would have to pay for the entire car since we hadn’t taken the extra insurance the rental company always tries to sell. Or, was it Customs? Had Customs checked up on me and found that I had a few undeclared grapes rolling around my backpack when we disembarked the plane the previous day? Could Customs track me somehow to the Canadian suburbs and call me to account this very minute for those grapes? I was in a panic. My deodorant failed. The righteous arrest I wanted to achieve in my lifetime did not include grapes, a rental car, or Canada.

The great dragon semis were huffing past us again on both sides, filling the rear view mirror, and showing no mercy to our suspected government spy mobile. (In fact I was a little surprised at just how fast the Canadians seemed to be driving overall; I thought American had a corner on the speed market.) I had to find a safe place to pull over and figure out what to do about the car.

Then, I had a really terrifying thought. What if this was God? What if God was in the Fiat — Deus ex Fiat! Hadn’t there been bells along with the voice? Was I being called to account for my not infrequent willfulness or my unrestrained mouth? Had God seen that I had used electrical tape on The Magic Bus’ license plate to make a line above the “E” so people would understand “IM QUEN”? Did God disagree with my contention that all the unopened soap in the hotel room belonged to me because I had paid for the room? Was I being judged for all the extra fast food napkins I’d stored in the glove compartment of the car? Had God heard about my firing candy pumpkins off my toy catapult over the heads of the Amish at the Hershey trade show? Had God seen me write “drag queens and freaks” in chalk on our ruraburban driveway?

Wait, I thought, trying to calm down and not be run over while I searched for a pull-off spot. Wait. Did God speak French? Did Canadians even believe in God? And above all, the voice was female. God was supposed to be male, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he?? Which was worse:  God, God being French, God being female, or Customs and those damn grapes? Given a choice between God in any of those forms or Customs, I’d take God. Either way, reckoning  was assuredly at my driver’s door. I just never thought it would happen in Canada while driving Fifi the Fiat.

I finally veered onto a side road and pulled into a dirt driveway with potholes bigger than the Fiat. “Here’s what I’m going to do,” I said to Mike, who had borne the entire episode with shocking calm and stoicism. “I’m going to turn the car off, then turn it on again and see what happens.” I fully expected it to either blow up or not start at all. I turned the key and the car quit. I took a deep calming breath, then turned the key to “on”. The Fiat restarted.

A message, in English, scrolled across the dashboard: “Significant temperature drop, possible ice on road.”

We continued to Niagara Falls, and saw a rainbow. Neither God nor Customs had anything further to say.

Is God in the machine?

Is God in this machine?

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Weekly photo challenge: Layers

I hiked above cloud layers today at Shenandoah National Park.

Layers of mountains and clouds

Layers of mountains and clouds

 

Clouds rolling out to their mates.

Clouds rolling out to their mates.

 

White blankets, blue bed.

White blankets, blue bed.

 

 

It’s a nice place to visit, but I don’t want to die there.

I hate drinking water. Trying to drink it before noon makes my lips purse tightly together, my eyes scrunch shut, and my head swing away involuntarily like a baby trying to get away from a medication spoon. Hot weather and physical exertion make water more palatable to me, but otherwise I am as a camel. Or a cactus. My mother nagged me regularly to drink water and Mike has tried to convert me in the past, though he has mostly given up now. He and I are oceans apart on this: he gulps water in huge quantities as though each drop might be his last.

Recently I’ve been hiking much more, including carrying weight in a backpack to build up my strength. (Containers of water make excellent weights, incidentally.)  For as much as I hate water, I love hiking. It’s the perfect activity for me. There’s no canoe to portage, no bike to drag up the too-steep hill, no horse to saddle or shoe or stable. There’s just me propelling me forward according to the laws of the earth and nature. And hikers are, almost universally, friendly, happy people. There’s hardly anyone I meet on a trail who doesn’t have a hello or a smile at the ready. The end of a hike leaves me with a sense of accomplishment and the feeling that I’ve earned a seat at the brewpub and the reward of a dark beer.

Though I’m officially not participating in autumn, winter, or spring over the next several months (I’ve decided that those soon-to-be naked trees, endless cold rains, and murky dark hours don’t exist in my world this year), the weather has lately been purely glorious for hiking. Even the !@!!**& government got its act together and reopened the National Parks, so this past Saturday we hiked the Dark Hollow Falls and Rose River trails at Shenandoah National  Park. Along with being nearly hydrophobic, fully leafed trees make me claustrophobic (no humility here — am I special or what?). The leaves at higher elevations in the Park are past their color peak and have leapt to their anticlimactic  deaths, allowing the extremely late summer (recall my nonparticipation in autumn) sunlight (which I crave like an illegal drug) to filter onto the hiking paths, showing the hand of Midas on the lower trees’ leaves. I didn’t try to photograph that magic. I might as well have tried to swallow the sun.

The Dark Hollow Falls trail drops steeply for about a mile beside a capricious clear stream before connecting to the 4 mile loop of the Rose River trail, which is an up and down affair with rocky and slippery patches. Our pace was steady and felt comfortable. Mike figured later we were walking at slightly under 2 mph. I dutifully sipped water on the way and shed my layered clothing as I built up steam and soaked up sun and huffed determinedly up the inclines. Have I mentioned how glorious all of this was? It was. Glorious.

In seemingly no time at all, we finished walking the loop and re-joined the Dark Hollow Trail for our victory ascent, parts of which are as steep as a Grand Canyon trail. After briefly watching other hikers photograph the falls, we started up that final stretch.

And there I faltered. The beat of my heart was too big for my chest, I rapidly became nauseated, and my body heat evaporated. Light-headedness swarmed over me. I looked sideways to the trail to be climbed beside the falls, at the sunlit glow between the trees, bright and benevolent and beautiful. Yes, it was beautiful. In those few moments as I vowed to stay upright, I could acknowledge and appreciate how beautiful it all was and that I could drop dead in worse places.  But I knew in that instant, too, that I didn’t want to die there, no matter how beautiful it was. I’m pretty good with the matter of dying. There’s no way around it. Death by hiking isn’t the worst I could do. In my opinion it beats death by monotony or boredom, the method of death that insinuates itself quietly and insidiously and with little notice while one lives in bland ruraburbia, that Realm of Nothingness, where nothing changes, nothing happens, nothing moves forward, nothing rules.

I told Mike I needed to sit down and a flat rock at just the right height obliged me. I pulled out the water and started on it. My family history is lousy with heart disease — my mother died early of it and after that my father’s broken heart endured more attacks than I can remember. I banked on simple dehydration for my case, though. It made sense. I’d had coffee before leaving the house and insufficient water and food to see me through our hike. After a short period of rest and consumption of more water, all my systems were once more a go. Mike and I continued up the steepest part of the hike, ate lunch in a sunny spot overlooking a meadow, sent a couple of freeloading ticks to their deaths, and walked another two easy miles on a flat trail.

If I’m lucky, I think, the place where I leave this earth will be wide open with a staggeringly beautiful and endless blue sky and long, long vistas, somewhere in the majestic and harsh emptiness of the  Southwest. A pleasant temperature would be nice, one that would allow for the wearing of shorts, short sleeves and sandals. And I’ll be on a hiking path, suitably wide and not too rocky, with enough challenge in terrain that I could have that sense of accomplishment while loving where I am and what I’m doing. But that’s starting to sound more like heaven, I guess.

So, here’s your chance — tell me, where is your death-wishing place? Where is your golden spot on this earth where you can begin eternity with a smile on your face? Where is it that you want to begin the fulfillment of the often-quoted, “Man thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return?”

Weekly Photo Challenge: The Hue of You

Wait, wait! I know I’m diving under the wire for this photo challenge as the volunteer crew is sweeping up the trash and folding up the finish line banner. I have a hue of me for you!

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