EXTERIOR: EAST BALTIMORE The sun is just setting over the swamp. Rain pours down. An angry old woman in a gray cloak, an excitable young pugilist with a fancy haircut, and a dimwitted male cheerleader rush down the garden steps and come to a sudden halt.
A shadow darts across the screen. Is it a monster? A bird? A startled rabbit?
ABBIGAIL shouts an alarm and draws the sword she carries beneath her tattered cloak.
ABBIGAIL: “Be ready to fight. There are mutants nearby!”
OZZY whips his head back and forth, looking for danger. His finally coiffed hair teeters atop his head, seemingly ready to leap into the fray in his place. He growls with surprising menace for such a dandy as he raises his fists and stands behind ABBIGAIL, ready for a fight.
BANDIT, confused, trips over OZZY and bumps into ABBIGAIL.
ABBIGAIL swings her sword wildly, shouting a battle cry. OZZY roars and lashes out, punching at BANDIT and ABBIGAIL alike, not quite sure who he is supposed to be fighting.
BANDIT: “We’re going to get them! Fight! This is awesome! Take them out!”
ABBIGAIL: “Will you shut up? Stop fighting me and get the damn rabbit!”
OZZY, pulling back from punching Bandit in the face: “Oh… I thought we were fighting him.”
BANDIT: “There! I see it!”
With that BANDIT blunders past OZZY and ABBIGAIL, knocking both of them to the ground. He leaps into the bushes in pursuit of… something.
And he is gone.
OZZY: “What are we fighting?”
ABBIGAIL, sheathing her sword and muttering curses: “We were supposed to kill that rabbit, but numbskull just scared it away.”
OZZY, smoothing his hair: “Maybe he’ll catch it for us.”
ABBIGAIL: “No. He ran the opposite direction.”
The camera pulls up from the exasperated hunters and pans out over the landscape to show BANDIT running down the street, screaming threats at the top of his voice. A few zombies and rodents of unusual size veer off away from him, seemingly scared away by the sheer force of his loud stupidity.
One of the most exciting parts about home schooling is having the flexibility to try different classes and learning styles. When Walker was struggling with math a couple months ago, we switched him to a new learning program and it has done wonders for both his confidence and grasp of math concepts. Ellie has been exploring the idea of launching a webcomic or writing a novel, so we have been trying to support her in those goals, even as we sign her up for classes in different art styles.
On the other hand, home schooling means occasionally blundering into complicated discussions that would be dulled by the generally safe and palatable public school curriculum.
This morning we prodded Ellie to begin her next novel study. She was less than thrilled at having to read something challenging, so we decided to try and make it interesting for her by offering some books that might feel relevant and provide jumping off points for discussions about women in history and society. Alli was out on a grocery run, so I poked about on the internet and found a few articles listing recent works of feminist historical fiction. I skimmed over them, picked two that had some intriguing books, and forwarded the book lists to Ellie for her to consider.
I should have just told her to read a Toni Morrison novel. Or some Sylvia Plath poems. Go 90s new wave feminist and order up a reading of The Vagina Monologues.
A few minutes later, Ellie came stomping up from her basement lair to complain that the books all looked lame and she wasn’t interested in politics.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“They’re all feminist books. I don’t want any more politics!”
I’m an English major. To me, the existence of feminist literature is as obvious as queer literary theory or the tension between modernism and post-modernism. Besides, the girl is woke as 🦆. I know she cares about women’s rights and the perspectives of traditionally othered persons.
I sometimes feel lost when talking to Ellie. I came into her life just as the teen angst was setting in and she definitely inherited her mother’s fiery intensity. Not a temper, not exactly, but a blaze in the eyes that says in no uncertain terms, “I will eat your soul if you finish the fruity pebbles.” So I decided to take a cautious approach.
“Why do you think feminism is political?” I asked, setting my voice to confused.
She rolled her eyes. “Everyone is always fighting about politics and I’m tired of it.”
She’s not wrong. Her daddy and uncle are quite a bit more conservative than the rest of us, but we all get along just fine and debates almost always end with laughter all around.
“So, you’re triggering on ‘feminist’ then? Think these are all going to be angry rants about the patriarchy?” Her mother had gone on a patriarchy rant within the last couple days, so it seemed appropriate to bring out that word.
“Yes! I just want people to get along and I want to read a good book and not have to think about politicians all the time.”
This is where I explained that few if any of the books had to do with politics. That the “feminist” in the list title referred to the books featuring female protagonists who were self motivated and strong, rather than solely celebrating the achievements of straight young white men from England or America. I almost veered into a passionate defense of underserved perspectives in literature and the value of reading against the hegemony, but I restrained myself.
“So can you look at the books again?”
She shrugged. “After I mow the lawn, sure. There better be something interesting.”
“Oh, I want to read several of them. I’m excited to see which book you choose because I’ll read it too.”
Well… that promise sure came back to haunt me, because after mowing the lawn Ellie promptly looked at the lists and picked the first book from the first list without even looking at the preview on Amazon. I admit that it does look interesting… but… well, we are still debating whether she gets to keep her selection.
Last summer Walker and one of his buddies helped me install a new nesting platform at the end of the dock. We used a large, plastic and metal shipping pallet, braced with 2x4s and secured with long screws and rope.
All fall and winter the new platform sat empty, waiting for a new nesting season to come around. Winds gusted through the pallet. Waves battered the piling. Cold gripped the plastic and wood and metal, causing them to creak and groan as they contracted at different rates.
And still it held until finally, about a month ago, the ospreys returned and began building a new nest atop the platform.
We watched in nervous anticipation, ever afraid that the next storm would blow away their nest as had happened year after year with the previous platform. But it held. The birds twisted their sticks through the crossbars of the pallet, anchoring them securely and building the nest ever higher. As late winter storms gave way to spring winds, the nest remained firmly fixed to the platform.
And now we have new neighbors. They are a bit noisy and have a habit of leaving scraps of sushi scattered on the dock, but they are quite entertaining and seem to be ready to settle down and have a family.
I’m trying to catch a couple more videos of the birds flying around the nest, and then I’ll post the full construction and results video to YouTube in a few days.
A couple weeks back I found a mysterious device while cleaning out the basement: A black pistol grip with a red plastic barrel fused to a full-hand trigger.
I found it on Rich’s workbench, amid a pile of electric drills, flashlights, and hammers. It immediately jogged my memory, but I couldn’t quite remember why. Being there in a mess of tools, my mind went to grease gun… low temperature hot glue gun… maybe a broken soldering gun?
I set it aside and forgot about it.
Until yesterday morning, when I went down into the basement to get a screwdriver and saw the mysterious tool again. It sat alone on the workbench, which Barb and Alli had cleared to make room for the plumbers to work… and this time it clicked.
It is a potato gun.
I haven’t thought of potato guns in at least twenty years. I had one when I was Walker’s age and remember blasting through dozens of potatoes as I ran through the Maine woods with my dog.
When I finished laughing at myself for being struck so suddenly by memories, I went to find a potato… it was time to tell everyone in the house what I had found. Or rather, it was time to show them. It didn’t take long for Barb to start laughing as I shot Alli in the chest and she responded by putting a bit of potato between my eyes.
Eventually, Walker got his hands on the potato gun and spent a good while blasting potato bits into the bay… until he heard that his Daddy was coming to visit. Then Walker found a spot behind a bush and proceeded to sit more still than I have ever seen him, waiting patiently to shoot a wad of potato at his father’s knees.
We’ve spent the last few weeks closing up business in Virginia. Packing, cleaning, doing what we could to see friends and family, within reason given the ongoing pandemic and a few spats which emerged when I announced that I was heading north. The whole process was complicated by my car accident, which has left the truck sitting in a repair lot for a month
We’re trying hard to help the kids feel settled, even as we try to find our pace with the new normal. They’re registered for Scouts and have already gone camping once. They have a lair in the basement where they can play video games and watch TV without drawing agro from adults for giggling with their friends on voice chat or watching the same talking dog movies again and again and again and again. We’re currently debating whether Girlchild gets to live in the basement, a fate which literally gives her grandmother shivers at the thought of waking up with a spider cricket on her head, or has to share space with her brother. If Boychild could choose, he would sleep on the daybed in his grandmother’s room, but we aren’t giving him the choice.
I’m settling in, slowly.
Moving has been on my wishlist for years. I love my friends in Tidewater, but the utterly flat suburban sprawl drained a little bit more of my soul with each indistinct Virginia Beach Norfolk Chesapeake Portsmouth intersection. My favorite place in all of Tidewater was Pipsico Scout Reservation, a Scout camp perched on the southern cliffs of the James River. With paths that meandered from the heights of the cliffs down to the tangled cypress swamps, it was a dynamic landscape filled with good memories.
Now I’m in a new landscape, one that is a good bit more varied. We are still living in a swamp, but it’s one which is stable enough for houses to have basements and where we can reach rolling, rocky foothills within twenty minutes.
Girlchild has already declared that she wants to volunteer at the local nature center. Boychild is beginning to make friends at Scouts. We’re still finding our footing up here, and likely will be until James finishes his latest round of business travel and we settle into a rhythm of visiting one another, but things are finally beginning to look up and slow down after nearly two years of life moving too fast.
I’m looking forward to watching the ospreys hatch their eggs off the dock, repairing the roof of The Mothership, and taking the family for weekend camping trips in the mountains.