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My books can be purchased as e-books for only $1.99. If interested, just click here: Books.
Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life is the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, you can find an archive list at the bottom of this page.

Thursday, March 31

Arbor - Chapter 6

Chapter 6 - Buzz Hummingbird

Buzz Hummingbird was born in a nest about the size of a thimble. A large thimble, granted, but a thimble nonetheless.

The nest was tucked under the eaves of the house in the Yard, and it was lined with soft white quail down. Buzz first opened his tiny eyes to the sight of the low roof overhead. Some time later, his tiny sister was born, and the two of them were crowded together in the tiny nest. His mother fed them, and their appetites were considerable. Poor mom, she worked and worked and dad just left all the work to her. He didn’t see the sky until much later, when his parents, Hugh and Heather Hummingbird, first let him climb out of the nest and take his first flight. His sister had to stay behind and wait her turn for flight.

And what a flight it was.

He launched himself away from the nest, just like his parents had instructed. And flew directly into the small orange tree near Rollie’s burrow.

Whoosh! Whoomp! And into the leafy safety net of the tree. He knew how to flap his tiny wings like in that poem about the revolving wheel his mother had recited to him when he was little, but he had yet to master the niceties of direction. Speed, even from the very first, was never his problem. In fact, he flew so fast that he would often run into things. More than once he suffered a bent beak and a bruised ego.

But after a time, he learned that if he was going to run into anything, he should make sure it was something soft enough not to bend or break his beak. The hover was the hardest thing to learn. At first he would approach a flower, hover, and then bounce slowly up and down. Each time he would try to put his beak into the flower to extract the juicy juice therein, he would bounce up or down, missing the flower’s opening. Very exasperating. His parents would watch him and shake their heads. He was born as Hubert, but his parents nicknamed him Buzz because of his careless and often dangerous speed. Buzz was more than happy not to have to support the burden of a name like Hubert. He was no Hubert. He was a Buzz.

Once, when he was one year old, he discovered a feeder in the yard to the north. But there was an old bully of a bird guarding this treasure. Old Bully Boy would sit on a nearby branch and drive away any intruding hummingbirds. Buzz decided to take up the challenge. He sped past the feeder and Bully Boy took out after him. But Buzz was so much faster that he simply flew circles around his combatant. Faster and faster, around and around and around. Bully Boy would peck at the spot he thought Buzz would be, but Buzz was already gone. Bully Boy finally flew off in a stumbling zigzag course, so dizzy he could hardly stay airborne. And the feeder became Buzz’s own. He, however, was not as selfish as old Bully Boy, and he allowed other hummers from the Arbor to sip at his station. Bully Boy returned several days later and tried to retake his territory, but Buzz flashed around him in nearly invisible circles, the sound of his wings a high whir to the dizzy Bully Boy. And off he flew again, again nearly colliding with several trees in his hasty retreat. Buzz never saw his opponent again.

Another time, Red Hawk came swooping through the Arbor, looking for an unaware rabbit or a tasty quail for his dinner. Red was a Harris Hawk, and a handsome bird indeed, with heavy body and white breast, dark brown or auburn back and wing feathers. But frightfully dangerous to the unwary. Normally he would hunt with one or more of his brethren, but this time he was alone. Buzz saw the shadow before he saw the hawk. He knew what Red was looking for and he wasn’t about to let anything tragic happen to any of his friends. He intercepted the hawk in mid-flight, zipped past him and gave him a little peck on the head, then again and again and again. These pecks were annoying, not lethal, and Red would squeal each time and flap a wing in disgust at this insect-sized bother. He let out a loud screech of frustration, and Buzz sped by with another peck on the head. Red’s plan to find a dinner was successfully foiled. There would be easier yards to invade, Red thought. Someday, maybe, he would pay his respects again, looking specifically for a tiny patch of flying green and scarlet. Not much of a meal, but then revenge would be sweet even though not very filling.

Buzz first met Rollie when they were both still weeuns. Even then, Buzz knew he was looking at a rabbit out of the ordinary. Rollie had a certain glow of intelligence in his eyes and Buzz took him as his friend right away. Rollie could also recognize Buzz’s extraordinary talent, his blinding speed. They became friends and had been now for several years. He decided to find Rollie and ask him more about his plan for going on an expedition. Maybe there really was some better place out there, and he and his friend would never know if they didn’t go.

Wednesday, March 30

Arbor - Chapter 5

Chapter 5 - Millie Monarch

Millie was dreaming, and her folded wings twitched and fluttered in dream moves. They weren’t bad dreams. Just confusing and a little bit anxious. And through the night she went from dreaming to half-dreams to moments awake and a revisiting of early memories sparked by the dream. She dreamed of that time before she came to live in the Arbor, that time when she seemed to be someone else, someone very unlike what she was now. She dreamed of the time when she crawled slowly along the stem of a milkweed, slowly chewing off leaf after leaf until she was too full to eat any more. She didn’t know why she had to eat the milkweed leaves, just that she had to. In her dream she crawled ever more slowly until she came to the perfect spot. And dreamlike she felt herself slow to a halt, her whole being motionless, even her thoughts. She couldn’t move. She became a statue, a prisoner within her own body, and the world became nothing to her, no sound, no movement, no sense of anything but a frozen calm. The dream shifted. She felt movement. She felt the need to struggle against her imprisonment. She shoved with her shoulders, she strained every bit of her body to free herself. And then she felt something break and she could thrust herself free, first her shoulders, then her arms, then her head was free and her feet managed to do the rest. The imprisoning material fell away from her. She lay still while her body dried in the sun and the breeze. She was there again, on the stem of a milkweed. But now she felt another need, to cast herself into the breeze and go somewhere. To find a flower.

The next thing she knew, she was up in the air and no longer bound to the earth or the stem of a milkweed. There were thousands of creatures that looked like tiger lilies fluttering up and down around her, millions of orange and black flowers flying all around her. In a cloud, they all descended in unison into a large flowering tree, and there they fed. Millie was content. Millie was happy. She looked at herself, or as much as she could see, and she was beautiful—sweeping orange wings with black beauty marks like veins and edged with white circles like owl’s eyes, slim hips, two lovely black antennae that hung down nearly to her eyes. And she felt the joy of sweeping through the air as quickly and gracefully as a ballerina. Life was good.

She and her companions cavorted up and around and in through trees and flowers. The days seemed endless, the nights comfortable as they slumbered in the protective arms of trees and bushes.

But then the air turned cooler, the nights even chilly. And some time later the air turned cold, the nights downright shivery. With no group decision, the whole congregation of monarchs instinctively began a flight to the south. They followed a route known in their genes. They flew and flew and flew to the south, farther and farther, spending nights in whatever shelter they could find, the days continuing their southern flight.

At last they could rest. They had arrived. This country was warm and humid and their numbers could spread out and live the good life.

But as the days and months floated by, there came a time when Millie felt a strange pull on her spirit, the need to take flight again, to move north to the place she first remembered as home.

The same drive took hold on all her companions and they again, with no group decision, flew in a mass toward the north.

The route they took eventually brought them over the Arbor, and many of them, Millie among them, feasted for days on the orange and grapefruit blossoms. When the time came for them to move north again, Millie stayed behind.

She had met Rollie and Buzz and Fred and most of the other inhabitants of the Arbor, and she enjoyed them so much she overcame her desire to fly north with her monarch companions. Instead, she remained in the smaller of the orange trees and socialized with her new friends.

“Millie! Are you there?” called Rollie one late spring morning. Millie flew out of the depths of the orange branches and circled Rollie’s head.

“Yes, I’m here. Here and there and everywhere,” she said as she went around and around his head.

“Stop that, Millie. You’re making me dizzy.”

Millie laughed and landed right on top of Rollie’s head, right between his ears and eyebrows. “Poor baby. A dizzy rabbit would be a rare sight indeed. You’d probably hop around in circles and then fall flat on your nose.”

Rollie rolled his eyes up, trying to see his tormentor, but Millie crept backwards on his head. “You’ve been with us for only a few weeks,” said Rollie, “and already you know how to bug me. Or should that be, ‘butterfly me?’ Tell me, Millie, when you were on your journey here, what kinds of places did you see? I want to know more about the outside world. The world outside the Arbor, that is. I just know there must be somewhere better than here.”

“Well,” Millie began, “I was very high in the sky when I was flying north and couldn’t see very much from up there. But whenever we came down to eat and spend the night somewhere, we managed always to find trees and shrubs and flowers and water. Some places were better than others, more beautiful. The earth was pretty barren on our last day’s flight here, many wild flowers living on the sandy soil, but not many trees and what there were of those were small and flowerless. And some of them were tall and green and leafless with mammoth branches that came out from the sides. But these trees had many sharp stickers all over them and we monarchs tended to avoid them.” She paused, thinking about that last flight. “But when we got here, there were many flowers and trees such as these orange and grapefruit trees you have. I think part of the reason I stayed, other than the dear friends I’ve made such as you, Rollie, is the beauty of this place, especially here in the Arbor.”

“Millie, dear, would you please leave my head and find a nice branch to sit on while I talk to you? I feel like I’m talking to myself and people will begin to wonder about me. But then, they already do. Many think I’m the village idiot.”

Millie flew to the end of a branch where it had been trimmed by Tucker’s reach, about two feet above Rollie’s head. “There,” she sighed, “is that better?”

Just at that moment, they both saw a flash that went right between them. The flash became Buzz Hummingbird when he turned sharply at the edge of the yard and flashed back to land on the branch next to Millie. “What’s up, you two? I’ve just been to my favorite feeder and now I’m full to the brim with sugar. Too bad you guys can’t stick your little beaks into that tiny hole that hides the sweet water. I guess, Rollie, your beak couldn’t be considered little.”

“I could have some if I wanted to,” said Millie, “but I have enough flowers around here, I don’t need to share your sugar water.”

Buzz had been the first one she met when she arrived at the Arbor. She and many of her monarch friends were feasting in the large grapefruit tree in the Yard when he circled the tree at high speed, just a blur as he went around and around, making her feel dizzy. That was where Millie learned that little trick she’d used on Rollie. Buzz had settled onto a branch near Millie and introduced himself.

“Hello, Gorgeous. My name is Buzz, Buzz Hummingbird, and I’m here to admire your beauty.” Buzz fidgeted and rolled his neck around as he gazed at Millie, fluttering his little wings anxiously.

Millie was so shocked she didn’t know what to say. Why in the world, she thought, would a bird find her attractive? Especially a bird as tiny as this Mr. Hummingbird. He was the handsome one, emerald green body with a ruby-red throat that looked almost like a gem. Handsome, even to a butterfly’s eyes.

“I, I, I’m Millie Monarch, and I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr. Hummingbird.”

“No, no, it’s Buzz. Why so formal? And you’ll be Millie to me. When did you and your friends get in? Musta been just this morning because I’d have noticed if it was earlier.”

The monarchs on the four trees in the Yard were so numerous they looked like flowers in motion as they flitted in and out among the real blossoms. “All right, then . . ., Buzz. But most birds find us, me, unattractive. Some birds spot one of us and think we might be a nice meal, but when they get close, they turn away and speed off with their noses high.”

“Those musta been birds with poor taste. I think you and your friends are most beautiful. And I’m a very good judge of beauty.” Buzz fluttered his wings and did a little vertical maneuver before settling down on the branch again. Buzz couldn’t sit still very long. His was a life of nearly constant motion, whizzing in and out on his sugar water runs. Just then Gabby and Greta Grackle flew into the Yard, returning from one of their daily forays at the nearby golf course.

“Well, if you’d just gotten in that cart when you were supposed to, you’d have gotten away with a full bag of peanuts,” Greta complained at her husband Gabby, as they settled to the ground beneath the orange tree. “But no, you just had to primp and preen in front of that hussy Grizelda Grackle. And by the time you got back to our business, the human was already gone. That just serves you right for being such a ladies’ grackle. But now I have to go without any peanuts too. You male grackles are all alike. Think you’re so handsome every female for miles around wants to just swoon all over you. Puff yourself up like a black balloon and strut around. Just you wait till you molt and lose all your neck and tail feathers. Then you won’t be so handsome. No respectable female will want to even look at you, let alone bat her eyes at you.”

Greta and Gabby were two of the great-tail grackles that lived in this area. The males have long tail feathers that act like the keel on a boat, and in flight they are graceful. But when they molt, they look like stubby-tailed birds from Hades.

“Are you about done with all that gab, Greta? You know, you shoulda been named Gabby the way you gab all the time. And I should be Garth. Don’t you think I look like a Garth? A handsome Garth?” He strutted around in a circle and fluffed his long tail up in the air like a flag. “Garth!? You look more like a ‘grubby’ than a Gabby. That’s what I should start calling you, Grubby.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, the years haven’t been so good to you either, Miss Blabber Mouth!”

Buzz and Millie and six or seven nearby rabbits listened to this harangue and all just shook their heads. Millie was new to the Yard, but she’d heard much the same argument the day before, and all the residents of the Yard were quite familiar with this daily fights between the grackle couple.

“And since you couldn’t get us any peanuts,” said Greta, “why don’t you fetch one of those pretty butterflies up in the tree and that will be my dinner?”

“What!?” whistled Gabby in his shrill grackle voice. “Are you crazy, woman? Don’t you know what they taste like? Why, once a long time ago, I pecked a bit of wing from one of those ‘pretty’ butterflies, and I nearly died. It was just awful! They may look pretty, but they taste pretty bad. You’re welcome to try one, though. Be my guest. Go ahead, try one.” “I think I’ll pass on that offer and go back to the golf course by myself and see what I can steal. I just know there must be one of those humans with an unprotected cookie or two. But none for you.” Greta flew off, leaving Gabby staring off after her, shaking his head back and forth. Buzz looked at Millie with a question in his eye. “Is that true, Millie? What that shrill old grackle just said about you?”

Millie looked down and couldn’t look her new friend Buzz in the eye. Her butterfly cheeks were red with shame. “Yes, Buzz, it’s true. We must taste pretty bad because no bird will come near us, and they certainly won’t eat us. I guess it’s because of the milkweed we eat as youngsters in that other life, the one before we become able to fly. The Great One must have built that into his plan for us, to protect us from creatures who would make a meal of us. The milkweed juice gets in our systems and is poisonous to everyone but us.” She looked up and into Buzz’s eyes. “And that’s why I feel so ashamed.”

“Why should you feel ashamed? I think it’s a wonderful thing, not to have to worry about any of those out to kill you. Everybody should have such a protection. My speed is my protection. I’m so fast no one can catch me. Besides, what self-respecting predator would consider me a meal. A hawk hors d’oeuvre maybe, but certainly no meal.”

The two became fast friends after that.

Now, she returned her attention to Rollie and his questioning of the Arbor and Arbor life. “Why do you want to know about the world outside the Arbor, Rollie? Don’t you think this is about perfect?”

“I don’t know,” Rollie replied. “I don’t know anything except the Arbor. But I feel there must be another place even better.” He looked at his tiny friends and smiled sheepishly. “I’m even writing a song about it. Would you like to hear what I’ve got so far?”

Millie and Buzz exchanged a look that said “A song? A song?” Both nodded.

Rollie cleared his throat and, in a soft, tremulous rabbit tenor, he began: “Life in the Arbor is good, so good, / So why do I feel so bad? / Life in the Arbor with all my friends / Should be fine for this rabbity lad. / But I feel a need / That I can’t ignore / To find a place / With more, much more.”

Rollie looked at them and anxiously asked, “Well, what do you think? That’s all I’ve got so far but I’ll keep working on it. Please don’t consider my voice, just my words. Were they all right, or, or . . . just awful?”

“I liked it, I liked it,” Buzz said. “But I still don’t understand why you feel bad about living here.”

“I thought it was delightful,” Millie said, “especially the part about ‘this rabbity lad.’ But I agree with Buzz. I too don’t understand your sadness.”

“I don’t understand it either. It’s just this feeling I have. Buzz, you’ve been in and out and up and down and around and about. What’s it like outside our Yard? Is it worse or better?”

Buzz was flattered that Rollie would ask, but in all truth, he hadn’t really scouted very far from the Arbor. This was his home too, and he never felt much need to go more than a yard or two to the south or north or east or west. “Uh, I’ve seen a bit away from the Arbor but not much. And what I’ve seen isn’t any better or any worse than the Arbor. Actually, I haven’t seen any other yards with arborvitae such as we have. So I guess our yard is actually better than any others.”

The more Buzz thought about it, the more he realized just how narrow his world was since he was born. And he thought, maybe, just maybe, he too would like to see what else was out there.

Tuesday, March 29

Arbor - Chapter 4

Chapter 4 - The Coyote Attack

Carl and Cathy Coyote made regular passes through the Gravel Yard, hoping always to catch a napping rabbit, or even one just not paying attention. The Arborites worked together to prevent such a tragedy. Dan and Dora Dove, when they weren’t billing and cooing, which wasn’t very often, acted as aerial lookouts, and whenever they spotted the coyote pair they’d come flying in low with a quiet warning to the Yard residents. Their warning was quiet because they couldn’t make much sound other than a two-note “Loo-ay, loo-ay.” And when they weren’t paying enough attention, the quail contingent would squawk and scream their displeasure at the coyotes’ approach. They’d strut around in circles, clucking and making all kinds of angry noises. The circles were usually right around the advancing pair. Quail weren’t afraid of coyotes because they knew the coyotes couldn’t catch them. And the coyotes knew it also. Carl and Cathy would just ignore them, dreaming instead of some tasty rabbit repast, tongues hanging out to the sides of their mouths in anticipation.

The dove and quail warnings were almost always effective, although not always. More than one silly rabbit had met his end when he failed to heed the lookout siren song. Rollie was too young to have witnessed such a tragedy, but tales were told of the unfortunate ones. And Rollie swore he would always be vigilant. No coyote delicacy was he, not Rollie.

Rollie knew that for the safety of the entire Arbor rabbit population, they needed more than just bird warnings. They needed to take the offensive. They needed to make the coyotes no longer content to roam through their Yard.

How could a rabbit be offensive with a coyote, other than to call him bad names? “Ya ya ya, old coyote,” he could say. “You’re so ugly even fleas won’t live in your coat.” Or maybe, “I’ve seen better looking eyes on a potato.” But that wouldn’t drive him away. He had to make Mr. Coyote not want to come through the Yard, make him avoid it like the plague. But how to do that?

First Rollie thought he could make a bed of thorns in the yard. Mr. or Mrs. Coyote wouldn’t like to have to bite and chew thorns from his or her feet. But that would make it dangerous for the rabbits as well. So, no bed of thorns.

Then he thought he could surround the Yard with something that smelled so bad, was so offensive to their noses, that they’d go out of their way to go around the Yard, holding their noses as they went. But a wall of stink would be just as bad for everyone who lived there as it would be for the coyotes. No stink bomb, then. Besides, what would he use for the eau de awful?

That left him with the idea of using some kind of weapon against them. He decided to talk to Fred. Fred might have an idea that he could use.

“Fred,” he said the next time Fred came to visit him. “Fred, we need to figure out some sort of weapon to use against the coyotes. Any ideas?” Fred stuck his long tongue out and rolled it around his lizard lips, then made a few smacking sounds. “If I ever eat enough fire ants, I could send out a flame that would burn those desert dogs’ little noses. That’d keep ‘em away.” Fred demonstrated by puffing up his cheeks and blowing his breath as hard as he could, right in Rollie’s face.

“Ooo, Fred, turn your head when you do that,” said Rollie, looking at his friend with disgust. “I should have considered using you in my stink bomb idea. But I put that idea aside. And you still haven’t found the secret of a nose torch, but you’ve sure found the answer to home-brewed mosquito repellent.”

They sat in the shade of the Arbor and thought and thought and thought. Rollie had one arm up to his chin, the other arm holding it by the elbow, his rabbit index finger tapping his cheek. He knew instinctively that was a thinking rabbit’s pose. As he posed, the Thinking Rabbit, Fred pretended to be deep in thought. Actually, he’d fallen asleep with his eyes open, like a lizard statue. Then, in slow motion, he toppled over in the shade, little lizard legs straight up in the air, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth nearly to the ground. Rollie went to him, shaking his head. “Hey! You lazy lizard lout! Wake up! Wake up!” He swatted him on the tail and Fred jumped to his feet. “Whu-whu-what’s going on? Why’d you hit me? I was deep in thought and you made me forget what I was thinking about. What’s wrong with you?”

“Oh, yeah, deep in thought. Yeah. Deep in a dream, you mean. Were you dreaming about your dinner tonight or was it about that slinky little lizard lady who lives in the next yard? I know it wasn’t about coyote defense.”

Fred pulled himself up to his full height of three point two inches, and replied with as much dignity as he could muster, “I resent your implication that I was asleep. I was deep in thought, and my deepest thought was that you should build a slingshot. I have no idea what a slingshot is, but in my dream . . . er, thoughts . . . I could see a wooden lever armed with stones from our yard, shooting them at our enemy, the coyote couple who come through our Yard on a regular basis. I could see the stones thumping off the coyote heads and making them flee in fear and abandon.” With that pronouncement, Fred raised his head and tucked his tail and went scurrying off to his home in the south arbor. Fifteen hasty steps and five pushup. Puff, puff, puff, and he was large enough to frighten even the most fearsome coyotes around.

What in the Arbor is a slingshot? thought Rollie. So he thought more about it, and then realized exactly what Fred had envisioned. A stout branch, bent down in a flex, a stone at the top. Release the branch, shoot the stone. Bang! On the nose of the coyotes. Bang! on the flanks of the coyotes. He could see it in his mind’s eye. The perfect coyote protection.

He set about finding just such a branch. He found it among the Arbor, a branch twice his height. A branch with a tiny Y at the top. A branch that could hold the stone there, and when it was bent to the ground, would shoot a projectile like a catapult. Now where did I hear that word, he wondered. He knew what a catapult did and what it was called, but he didn’t know how he knew.

He began chewing at the base of the branch, chewing and gnawing until his teeth hurt. Finally, he was able to get it free. He then had to figure out a way to secure it at the bottom. He chose a spot well away from the Arbor, out in the Yard and near the small bounty tree. Then he had to dig a hole. And it was not easy digging, first through the layer of gravel, then through the black blanket, down into the hard earth below. Finally he had a hole about half his size deep. He carried the branch to the hole, inserted it, and began pushing the soil back into the hole. When he was done, the branch stood upright, but he still needed to make it so secure it wouldn’t budge when he pulled the upper part down toward him. He jumped up and down around the branch, hopping this way and that, becoming a little rabbit tamper. Other Arborites saw him doing his dance and wondered again what the odd Rollie was doing this time. He ignored them and went on about his business. He found several medium-sized rocks among the soil within the Arbor, rolled them one by one to the branch. Then he placed them carefully around the base of the branch, as tight to the base as he could, pushing and shoving them into place.

Finally, when he bent the branch down, it stayed completely solid at the bottom. And when he released his hold, the branch shot back up and past vertical and then rocked back and forth to a vertical stop. The branch was like a whip with the V at the top like the tip of the whip. He could see in his mind’s eye what a rock projectile would do when it was whipped forward.

Now to practice. He found several round stones in the yard, each about the size of one of Tucker’s large eyeballs. Tucker’s eyeballs were, like the rest of him, larger than any other rabbit eyes to be seen in the Arbor. He took one in his paw, bent the branch down with the other, then placed a stone in the V. He pulled the branch even lower, then, aimed it at the trunk of the grapefruit bounty tree twenty feet away.

Release the branch. Whip forward! Zing went the stone into the tree’s trunk, about as high as Tucker when he stood as tall as he could. The sound of the stone striking was a satisfying Thunk. He tried another stone, this time tipping the branch a little to the right. Pull down the branch, insert a stone, pull down more, release the branch. Whip forward! Whish went the stone right past the trunk, landing at least fifty feet past the tree.

He spent more time practicing and discovered that if he tried to pull the branch down too far in either direction, the V wouldn’t line up right and wouldn’t then hold the stone.

So, he thought, I have a window of opportunity of only about ten feet from one side to the other. He would have to make the first shot count or he would be coyote food. There just wouldn’t be time enough to load another stone. It was a matter of hitting one of them with the first shot and then beating a really hasty rabbit retreat.

The test was now over. The rest would be for real.

* * *

Carl and Cathy Coyote had just come past the golf course down the street. The humans were out in numbers, hitting their little white stones around their pasture. Carl and Cathy passed right between two groups of them, crossing the verdant green strip from one side to the other and then off and into the street beyond. The humans stopped to survey them as they went on their way. Carl and Cathy had never had any problem with these people. Each to his own. The humans with their little golf game, the coyotes with their lazy tours around town, masters of all they surveyed. They trotted across the street, avoiding several cars that zoomed past them. Then into a yard to the back, then the hunting tour from one yard to another, hoping to stir up a tasty rabbit or two.

Dan and Dora Dove were sitting on a rooftop nearby, but they were too busy with their dove dance up there to notice the coyote pair. A number of quail families on the ground below didn’t miss them. They set up their squawking signal and circled the coyotes and went with them as they moved ahead.

Rollie and the other Arborites heard the warning and all took to their shelters and trees and burrows. Not Rollie. He went to his new weapon and found two round stones, one for the crucial first shot and one for good luck. He knew the route Carl and Cathy always took—entering the Gravel Yard from the south, vaulting the wall that separated the two yards, then advancing along the edge of the Arbor.

The sound of quail clucks and squawks grew louder. And suddenly the two coyotes jumped to the top of the wall, and then over. Carl was the first to spot Rollie, and his eyes rolled in anticipation of the chase and catch. Another young dumb one, Carl thought. He could almost taste his potential meal.

When the coyote pair came into the zone, the ten-foot zone of Rollie’s accuracy, Rollie shouted to them, “Stop right there and don’t come a step closer!”

Oh, he liked the sound of that.

“And just what, my tasty little one, are you going to do about it if we don’t?” Carl responded.

But they did just what Rollie hoped they would do: they stopped. He pulled the branch down, inserted the stone, bent it even further down, and took dead aim. Carl and Cathy just stood there and watched Rollie’s odd behavior.

Rollie released the branch. Whip forward! Zing went the stone like a lightning bolt, straight and true. Thunk went the stone into Carl’s side. “Ooooff!” Carl exploded when the stone hit him, making him jump right straight up in the air. Cathy raced around behind him while he was in mid-air and then peeked over his shoulder to look at Rollie in stunned silence. When Carl landed, he looked down at his side and began licking and licking the spot where it had hit.

“Ow, ow, ow, that hurts! What, what, what was that?” he stuttered. “That, my coyote friend, was just a taste of what I’ve got for you.”

Rollie quickly pulled the branch down, inserted the second stone, pulled it further, released the branch. Whip forward! Whish went the stone as it zipped over the now swiftly running coyotes, heads down and running madly north through the next yard.

“And don’t even think about coming back or I’ll have more of this medicine for you!” Rollie shouted at their diminishing forms.

Oh, he liked the sound of that.

Monday, March 28

Arbor - Chapter 3

Chapter 3 - The Wager

Rollie and Fred spent the next two hours trying to think of some way into that tree. Fred was little help but he gave it his best. He first suggested that Rollie take in several really deep breaths, then hold them, then wave his arms up and down as fast as he could. After all, if birds can fly, why not rabbits? Rollie just gave his friend a disgusted look. He didn’t tell him, however, that he had tried that very thing when he was a weeun. Had tried and tried and tried until his little weeun face was blue.

Then Fred thought maybe Rollie could do enough leg squats to build up his legs till he could just jump into the tree. Rollie again gave him a disgusted look. He had tried that too, but no matter how much he exercised he couldn’t make it to the lower branches, no matter how much he wanted to jump that high.

Rollie thought and thought about it and thought and thought some more. He finally decided he needed something to help launch him into the air. What would happen if he made some kind of trampoline? What was a trampoline? He didn’t know where that word came from, it just appeared in his head. He knew it was some sort of platform that Rollie could jump onto and then into the tree.

“Fred, we need to get some branches from the Arbor. Then we can tie them together to form a square and another four short wooden legs to hold it off the ground. Then I can weave smaller branches together across the platform and they will be springy and bouncy and I can just jump onto it and launch myself into the tree. What do you think?”

Fred just stared at his friend. He had no idea what Rollie was talking about. But he knew better than to question the plan.

They spent the next two hours finding the proper sizes, four sturdy branches to use for the legs, and four branches to use as the sides of the platform. Fred wasn’t much use in getting the stuff ready, so Rollie did all the stripping of the support branches, chewing off the smaller side branches and leaves until he had four strong side supports. Then he bound them together with strips of bark from the branches, four into a square and the other four as legs to hold it off the ground. The two back legs were a bit longer than the front so that the square would be tilted toward the tree. Next, he wove smaller branches onto the square, back and forth, in and out, thicker and thicker, until he had his platform filled in. He tested it with a front paw, pushing it down and watching the way it bounced back. There, it was ready.

“Whattaya think, Fred? Time for a test jump?”

Fred, who’d done all the watching and none of the work, agreed, nodding his head up and down, making the little fold of skin under his chin bounce up and down. Fred was no help with the construction of the platform because he was simply too little to do anything to help his friend. But his presence was all Rollie needed.

In the shadows of the Arbor, Tucker had silently watched the entire process. He stood with his arms folded across his massive chest. He didn’t know exactly what Rollie had in mind, but he was impressed with his archenemy’s industry. He watched Rollie drag his contraption in front of the middle bounty tree, about ten feet away. It looked like a ramp for launching projectiles, what looked to him like a thirty degree angle to the ground in the Gravel Yard.

Fred scooted over to the left of the platform and looked from it to the tree and back again. After studying the angle for a few moments, Rollie backed up ten steps, then backed up another ten. He took a deep breath. Then he began his run—THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, faster and faster. Right at the last moment he swerved to the right of the platform and skidded to a halt just past the tree.

“Whu-whu—whatt’re you doing, Rollie?” Fred stuttered. “What was that all about?”

“I wanted to test the run and the takeoff, decide just where I wanted to plant myself before I jumped onto the platform. Next time it will be for real.” He walked slowly back to his starting point, his head down in concentration. He turned and looked once more at the platform, then up to the tree. Then he started his approach—THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, faster and faster, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP!

Then a spring off the last “thump” and into the air and onto the platform. And disaster! His feet landed in the middle of the platform and both feet went right through the woven branches, throwing him face forward into the front of the platform.

“Whoooff!” he exploded as he landed and then pulled his face out of the leaves and branches, several leaves hanging from his ears. He hoisted his body free from the branches and tumbled off to the side. Fred hurried up to him.

“You, okay, Rollie? No broken legs or arms or ribs or face? What in the world happened?”

“I guess I needed something better on the platform, something my feet wouldn’t go through. I guess it’s back to the old drawing board, Fred.” Rollie got to his feet and dusted himself off and trudged to the edge of the platform and stood there, looking at it thoughtfully.

Neither Rollie nor Fred heard the muffled laugh from the Arbor as Tucker watched Rollie’s failed attempt. Trying to keep from bellowing out loud, Tucker doubled over when he saw Rollie’s ungraceful fall on his face. Oh, how sweet it was. His archenemy with egg, or in this case, leaves, all over his face. Without watching any more, Tucker turned and went back to his burrow to fantasize about the reflecting glass he was soon going to own.

Rollie thought and thought about it and thought and thought some more. He finally decided he needed something to help launch him into the air. What would happen if he made some kind of trampoline? What was a trampoline? He didn’t know where that word came from, it just appeared in his head. He knew it was some sort of platform that Rollie could jump onto and then into the tree.

“Fred, we need to get some branches from the Arbor. Then we can tie them together to form a square and another four short wooden legs to hold it off the ground. Then I can weave smaller branches together across the platform and they will be springy and bouncy and I can just jump onto it and launch myself into the tree. What do you think?”

Fred just stared at his friend. He had no idea what Rollie was talking about. But he knew better than to question the plan.

They spent the next two hours finding the proper sizes, four sturdy branches to use for the legs, and four branches to use as the sides of the platform. Fred wasn’t much use in getting the stuff ready, so Rollie did all the stripping of the support branches, chewing off the smaller side branches and leaves until he had four strong side supports. Then he bound them together with strips of bark from the branches, four into a square and the other four as legs to hold it off the ground. The two back legs were a bit longer than the front so that the square would be tilted toward the tree. Next, he wove smaller branches onto the square, back and forth, in and out, thicker and thicker, until he had his platform filled in. He tested it with a front paw, pushing it down and watching the way it bounced back. There, it was ready.

“Whattaya think, Fred? Time for a test jump?”

Fred, who’d done all the watching and none of the work, agreed, nodding his head up and down, making the little fold of skin under his chin bounce up and down. Fred was no help with the construction of the platform because he was simply too little to do anything to help his friend. But his presence was all Rollie needed.

In the shadows of the Arbor, Tucker had silently watched the entire process. He stood with his arms folded across his massive chest. He didn’t know exactly what Rollie had in mind, but he was impressed with his archenemy’s industry. He watched Rollie drag his contraption in front of the middle bounty tree, about ten feet away. It looked like a ramp for launching projectiles, what looked to him like a thirty degree angle to the ground in the Gravel Yard.

Fred scooted over to the left of the platform and looked from it to the tree and back again. After studying the angle for a few moments, Rollie backed up ten steps, then backed up another ten. He took a deep breath. Then he began his run—THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, faster and faster. Right at the last moment he swerved to the right of the platform and skidded to a halt just past the tree.

“Whu-whu—whatt’re you doing, Rollie?” Fred stuttered. “What was that all about?”

“I wanted to test the run and the takeoff, decide just where I wanted to plant myself before I jumped onto the platform. Next time it will be for real.” He walked slowly back to his starting point, his head down in concentration. He turned and looked once more at the platform, then up to the tree. Then he started his approach—THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, faster and faster, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP!

Then a spring off the last “thump” and into the air and onto the platform. And disaster! His feet landed in the middle of the platform and both feet went right through the woven branches, throwing him face forward into the front of the platform.

“Whoooff!” he exploded as he landed and then pulled his face out of the leaves and branches, several leaves hanging from his ears. He hoisted his body free from the branches and tumbled off to the side. Fred hurried up to him.

“You, okay, Rollie? No broken legs or arms or ribs or face? What in the world happened?”

“I guess I needed something better on the platform, something my feet wouldn’t go through. I guess it’s back to the old drawing board, Fred.” Rollie got to his feet and dusted himself off and trudged to the edge of the platform and stood there, looking at it thoughtfully.

Neither Rollie nor Fred heard the muffled laugh from the Arbor as Tucker watched Rollie’s failed attempt. Trying to keep from bellowing out loud, Tucker doubled over when he saw Rollie’s ungraceful fall on his face. Oh, how sweet it was. His archenemy with egg, or in this case, leaves, all over his face. Without watching any more, Tucker turned and went back to his burrow to fantasize about the reflecting glass he was soon going to own.

“Okay, Fred, I have to find something to put over the branches so my feet won’t go right through.” Rollie pulled his right ear down and plucked out several arbor vitae berries. “But what would that be?” He stood and thought for a moment. Then he raised his arm like someone switching on a light. That was it—the black material he’d used for the water bowl. He beckoned Fred to follow him and he reentered the shade of the Arbor. He began pawing his way into the soil, down to the black material. When he explained to Fred what he was doing, Fred joined him in clearing away the topsoil to get at the stuff below. Soon they’d uncovered a patch large enough to cover the platform. Then Rollie began the process of cutting it out with his teeth. Cut, cut, chew, chew. Rollie thought, “This stuff doesn’t taste very good but who cares. It should do nicely.”

When they had the material cut and out of the ground, Rollie took it to the platform and laid it across the branches. Then the tedious process of tying it tightly to the edges of the platform. He had to bite holes in the stuff, then tie it to the side branches again using the supple bark from more arbor vitae branches.

Finally he had it done. He patted the surface with a paw to see how it would bounce, how it would hold up when he jumped on it.

“Why don’t you just sort of step up on it to see how it will hold?” Fred asked.

So Rollie gingerly put one foot up and then the other. He stood there for a moment, balancing himself on the slanted platform. Then he took several little hops. Each hop was higher than the last until he was hopping and bouncing well above the platform.

“Yes! I think this is going to work, Fred! Now I have to try it for real.”

He backed up ten steps, then backed up another ten. He took a deep breath. Then he began his run—THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, faster and faster. Again he took off on the last “thump” and landed right in the middle of the platform, right in the middle of the black material. And this time his feet didn’t go through. Instead, with a “Whoa-whoa-whoa!” like a cowboy talking to a flying bronco, Rollie flew up in the air and went up and up and right over the top of the tree, doing a little somersault at the top of his flight, coming down on the other side of the tree in a cloud of dust and arms and legs flying out in all directions. “Ohhhhhh, Fred,” Rollie said to his anxious friend as he lay there in a heap. “I think it maybe worked too well. Ohhhhhh, boy, do I feel like one sore rabbit.” He tentatively raised one arm and moved it in little circles, then the other. Then he raised one foot and wiggled each toe one after another. Then the other foot. Everything seemed to be still working. Nothing much damaged except his pride. He dragged himself to a sitting position and then hoisted himself all the way up.

“Uhhhhh,” he moaned as he brushed off the dust and did a little rabbit hop to get his muscles back in order. “Now I have to figure out where to put the platform so I don’t do that again.”

“I think you need to put it another ten feet away from the tree,” Fred suggested. It looked to me like ten feet further back would have sent you right into the middle of the tree. But that’s only a guess. Maybe you should rest awhile before you try that trick again. We could come back at dusk and get it right. Then, in the morning, you can do it and win my bet, our bet, I mean.” Fred looked at his friend with a sorrowful look on his leathery lizard face. “I’m sorry I got you into this, Rollie. It’s all my fault, a fault of my big mouth opening when it shouldn’t. It should open only when a fly goes by. Zap to the fly. But otherwise I should just shut up.”

“It’s all right, Fred. You’re my friend, and I need you to keep me on the right track. I’m not sure what the right track is, but at least this will have been an interesting experiment in Rabbit flight. Maybe we should suggest that this event be included in the Animal Olympics next year, the propelled rabbit jump. But should it be judged on height or distance?” Wait a minute, he thought to himself. How did he know about such a thing, the Animal Olympics? He didn’t know. Just another of those odd things that popped into his head.

Fred didn’t have a clue what Rollie was talking about. But then, he was seldom able to follow Rollie’s odd statements.

They agreed to return later in the cool of early evening and try it again. Fred dashed away, little lizard legs flying, three series of pushups and puffing before he made it to his home in the last tree. Rollie dragged his platform into the sheltering branches of the Arbor and went to his burrow to rest after his headlong flight over the bounty tree. Animal Olympics, indeed. Well, he could take some satisfaction in the fact that he was the current world champion in the event, both in height and distance.

* * *

Fred woke up just as the sun was peaking over the edge of the world in the east, creating huge piles of crimson clouds. “What, what, what have I done?” he cried, slapping himself on his horny little head. “Oh my, I was just going to take a little nap and I’ve slept through the whole night. Oh me, oh my. What must Rollie think of me?” He looked at himself in his reflecting glass and saw a miserable sleep-silly lizard. He hurried out to find his friend Rollie.

Almost at that very same time, Rollie woke up and rolled over and noticed the light of day sneaking through the feather door. “What, what, what have I done?” he cried, slapping himself on his rabbity ears. “Oh my, I was just going to take a little nap and I’ve slept through the whole night. Oh me, oh my. What must Fred think of me?” He started to get up and groaned with the effort. “Oh, I feel like I’ve been in a fifteen-round fight with Sugar Ray Rabbitson. How am I ever going to win that silly bet Fred made?” He managed to pull himself up and hurried out to find his friend Fred.

By the time they found each other, the rest of the folks of the Arbor had already gathered at the bounty tree to witness the outcome of Fred’s and Tucker’s wager. The bounty trees and the upper branches of the Arbor were heavy with doves and mockingbirds and sparrows and three or four hummingbirds, even some visiting grackles and pigeons who must have heard by the grapevine about this event. Nearly the entire Gravel Yard was covered with rabbits and quail and even Harvey and Hilda Javalina with their little son Pinky, who was perched atop his father’s head, the better to see what was going on. The grapevine was at work even with the wandering Javalinas. No coyotes or hawks or owls were present, for they were not invited to the Arbor for any occasion.

And right in the middle of it all stood tall Tucker Rabbit, standing with arms folded across his muscular chest, standing near the smallest bounty tree. He noticed the approach of his two enemies, one arch- and one mini-.

“Well, where have you two been? We’ve all been waiting for you. It is past time to get this over, and I hope you brought with you the reflecting glass, oh ugly Fred Lizard, for I plan to take it with me to my burrow.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah, Mr. Braggadocio. You’ll be eating your words soon enough. In fact, when you lie flat on your stomach to apologize to us, you’ll be eating a little dirt sandwich too.” Fred grumped and grumbled his way to the tree while Rollie hauled out the platform from the shade of the Arbor.

Everyone parted to allow him and his contraption through. He placed it about what he thought was ten feet further away than it was the day before. That would have to do it, because they’d lost the chance to try it out before the jump for real. There was much murmuring and chatter from the audience, all of them wondering what this strange device was for. Nearly everyone the day before had either been taking an afternoon nap or been out searching for food, and no one but Tucker had observed Rollie’s trial efforts.

“What in the Arbor is that thing?” grunted Harvey Javalina from near the back of the crowd. “Yeah,” shrilled Pinkie from atop his father’s head, “what in the Arbor is that thing?”

“Tell us, tell us!” shouted the rest of the crowd. “What is that funny looking thing you have there, Rollie Rabbit?”

Rollie patted the platform and raised his voice to reply. “Instead of telling you what it is, I’ll show you. Just be patient.”

He looked at Fred and Fred looked at him. Then they both slowly nodded their heads. Rollie backed up ten steps, then backed up another ten. He took a deep breath. Then he began his run—THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, faster and faster. He took off on the last “thump” and landed right in the middle of the platform, right in the middle of the black material. And this time he flew up in the air and did a little somersault before crashing into the middle of the bounty tree. The crowd went crazy. There were shouts of praise, shouts of amazement, shots of triumph. And some simply shouted to hear themselves shout.

Tucker’s jaw had dropped as low as Rollie’s flight had flown high. His shoulders slumped, his eyes turned bright red with anger and disappointment. And Rollie’s head appeared from among the branches and his hand went up in a victory sign to the crowd and to his friend Fred. Then he plucked several branches loaded with leaves and tossed them to the ground, where the other rabbits all raced for the leafy feast. And he plucked even more until all the rabbits had some. Then he threw down five, six, seven oranges for the birds and the three Javalinas. When everyone was satisfied with the tree’s and Rollie’s bounty, Rollie carefully climbed down from the tree and dropped to the ground.

He looked at Fred. He looked at Tucker. Tucker glared at him. “Now I think we have a little ceremony to attend to, don’t we, Tucker?” Tucker glared even harder at Rollie Rabbit, his archenemy. Then he turned his glare on Fred Lizard, his ugly mini-enemy.

“All right, all right, I said I’d do it, and I’ll do it.”

Tucker slowly lowered himself to the ground, taking as much time as he could, first to his knees, then slowly, slowly to his belly. He looked up at Fred and Rollie with hatred practically steaming from his eyes. And with teeth gritted and jaw clenched, he growled at them, “I . . . uh . . . pol . . . uh . . . gize . . . for . . . all . . . the . . . mean . . . things . . . I’ve . . . said . . . uh . . . bout . . . you.” Every syllable hurt him to say, like spitting out tacks or spitting up poison pods. Fred was right there at eye level and Fred could read the message there in Tucker’s eyes: “I’ll get even, ugly one, I’ll get even. Just you wait.”

The excitement was now over. The crowd, now filled with the bounty from the Bounty Tree and Rollie’s generosity, broke up and went back to the Arbor or back to the sky or back to wherever they’d come from to see this event. The Javalinas lumbered off to the north, snorting and snuffling along with little Pinkie running along behind. Tucker slowly rose from the ground, brushed himself off, looked around to see if anyone was laughing at his humiliation, especially any young females. But no one gave him a glance. As he made his slow way back to his burrow, it seemed that he wasn’t nearly as tall as before. But he turned one last time before he entered the Arbor to glare at Fred and Rollie, his eyes glaring the message again: “Just you two wait, I’ll get even. I will get even.”

Sunday, March 27

Chapter 2 - Arbor

Chapter 2 - Tucker’s Challenge

Tucker Rabbit was the tallest rabbit of all living in the Arbor. And the largest, with big rabbit muscles in his legs and arms. And some would say with tremendous muscles in his head. Tucker heard what was said about him, but he didn’t care. He knew they were all simply jealous of him, and their words were as tiny and silly as those who said them.

On the morning of the great water experiment, Tucker came out of his burrow yawning and stretching his arms and legs to their fullest. He just loved to make all the other rabbits feel small and insignificant compared to him and his majestic height. He looked around to see if any of the young female rabbits were watching. He was disappointed to find that no one was looking his way, no young females, no old females, no one.

It was then that he noticed the rabbits all gathering near the small bounty tree, all gathered in a circle, all watching something he couldn’t see from his vantage point. And it wasn’t just the rabbit populace, but a flurry of doves in the branches above, and quail bouncing and fluttering up and down to see what was going on, even Quentin Quail, the tiny son of Quincy and Coral Quail. He looked just like a furry acorn as he fluttered up and landed on top of his father’s head.

What’s goin’ on here? Tucker wondered. He ambled out of the Arbor and approached the circle of Arborites, craning his head to see over the top of the congregation.

And there in the midst of all the activity was Rollie Rabbit, his archenemy. Rollie was raising his arm and then lowering it as he counted down from ten. “. . . three, two, one!” he counted, and just like magic, on the count of one, water flowed from the black tube coming out of the ground beneath the bounty tree. Everyone around the tree let out a cheer, “Yaaay! Way to go, Rollie! Just like a magic trick! Here she comes!” and other shouts of encouragement. The water flowed into the circle of bricks around the base of the tree and then made its way into Rollie’s ditch, flowing slowly toward the Arbor. Rollie danced along beside the water, hopping back and forth over the ditch as the water made its way to the deep dish he’d dug the night before. And then it was there and flowing slowly into the hole. The dish filled to the brim and then overflowed the edges. The whole thing took about ten minutes and then the magical fountain stopped flowing, just as it always did, just as Rollie knew it would.

Folks all took turns congratulating Rollie, the rabbits patting him on the shoulder, on the back, some of the young female rabbits even brazen enough to give him discrete pecks on the cheek, the doves fluttering over his head, the quail hopping up and down in front of him. Even Fred, who had come for the event, did a fifteen-pushup salute to honor his friend. Tucker wasn’t pleased. Tucker scowled. Tucker didn’t at all like this adoration of his archenemy. Tucker gave a snort of derision and shouted, “Rollie Rabbit! You think you’re so hot, but you’re not! You’re just a tiny little smart aleck of a rabbit and don’t deserve all this praise. Why, you can’t even reach the branches of the bounty trees to get leaves to eat. I can reach all the leaves I want!” And with that he stretched his long Tucker body up beneath the branches of the bounty tree and plucked a branch with eight or nine leaves attached. Then he tore the leaves off one by one and ate them in front of the entire company of animals.

“Mmm, mmm, good. Don’t you wish you had some of these?” he mocked, extending the last leaf toward Rollie and the other rabbits. Then he popped that last leaf into his mouth and chewed contentedly.

The truth was that because Tucker was so much taller than any of the other rabbits, none of them had been able to reach any of the leaves for some time. Tucker had seen to that. The rabbits now had to wait for a wind to blow to bring leaves down for them to eat, and even those were usually the partly dried out leaves that were just waiting to fall off the tree. Of all the foods available to the rabbits of the Arbor, the leaves from the bounty trees were their favorite.

“Let’s see you try to jump high enough to pluck some leaves, Rollie. Let’s just see you try it. I’m sure all your fans here would love to see you do that. You may be smart and clever with all your silly projects, but you’re still a tiny rabbit who can’t provide for yourself or your family.”

“Boo, Tucker Rabbit! Boo boo boo to you! Oh, you just watch your tongue! You don’t deserve to have all the leaves from the bounty trees!” shouted the crowd, with Fred leading the various cries.

Fred waddled up to Tucker and tipped his head way back, looking up at the mountain of rabbit in front of him. “Why, Rollie is so smart, I’ll bet you anything you’re willing to wager that he can get leaves from the bounty trees whenever he wants to. So, what do you say to that, you big dumb bully bunny?”

Tucker was just about to place one large rabbit foot on Fred and squish him into the ground when he, with right leg lifted, changed his mind. Fred had seen the foot about to descend on him and he heaved a sigh of relief when it didn’t.

Tucker stood with his arms folded and looked down on the lizard, smiling in a way that made Fred uneasy. “All right, Fred the Croaker. I’ll just take you up on that. You had to open your little leather mouth and say you wanted a bet. And you said you were willing to bet anything. So I get to decide what we’ll wager. Let’s see now,” said Tucker as he placed one hand on his chin and scowled a bit, looking up to the sky for inspiration.

“Ahh, I have it. The bet will be that if Rollie is unable to reach the leaves by this time tomorrow, you, Fred the Croaker, will give Tucker the Magnificent his reflecting glass, the one given to him by Packy Rat. And if Rollie the Titmouse manages somehow to get to the leaves, Tucker the Magnificent will give to Fred the Ugly One and Rollie the Tiny One Tucker’s profound apologies for all the things he’s said about Croaker Fred and Mini-Rollie. And he will do it from a prostrate position, lying on the ground before Fred, the Ugly One, and Rollie, the Tiny One. Even from there I’d still be taller than you, little ugly lizard face. There, is it a bet? Too late to back out now, Fred. Is it a bet?”

Fred knew he’d opened his mouth once too often. The reflecting glass was his most prized possession. He loved that glass. Packy Rat, his friend who lived in a hole near the wall at the end of the Arbor, had found this treasure in a neighboring yard and had graciously offered it to Fred as a symbol of their friendship. It was circular and just large enough for Fred to use for the floor of his home. He was able to see himself any time he was home, admiring the handsome creature he saw in the glass. Oh my, what had he done?

He realized this was a corner with no way out. He was painted nicely in that corner with his unfortunate words. He twisted his mouth to the left, he twisted it to the right. His eyes rolled up and around and around until they looked to the others like two tops spinning on his lizard cheeks. He sighed deeply, then sighed again. “Uh, umm, all right, Tucker. I accept the bet.” Oh, how he hated saying it. “By this same time tomorrow, my friend Rollie will make you grovel and eat your words. And how delightful that will be for both of us. Tomorrow, then.”

Tucker turned away from them, gloating over the deal he had made. He had always admired and coveted the glass Fred had. He could already imagine it leaning against his burrow wall, a glass reflecting his tall physique, a glass in which he could admire his rabbity handsomeness all day long. He left the crowd to return to his burrow, lost in his thoughts of the glass he would acquire the following morning.

Rollie, who had witnessed this exchange, now stared at Fred as the lizard made his slow approach. Fred kept looking down as he walked, a slow waddle unaccompanied by any pushups, not wanting to see the look on his friend’s face.

“What have you done, Fred? What have you done? You made a bet about my doing something I don’t think I can do. I may be smart, but I’m also very short. Did you think I might grow another foot by morning? Or my arms would extend like telescopes? This is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into. But what’s done is done. We have the rest of this day to figure out a way for you to win that silly bet with Tucker. For me to somehow reach the leaves on the bounty tree.”

The two of them went into the cooling shade of the Arbor to do their thinking. The Arbor, as was said earlier, consisted of eight arborvitae trees, now so tall they seemed to Rollie to reach to the sky. And so heavy and close together they blended into one green wall of arborvitae branches, all the branches drooping nearly to the ground like a protective skirt. The only thing that distinguished one from the other was the tip of each tree as it pointed a green arrow at the sky. When the wind blew, as it often did, the trees would shift and dance and wobble back and forth like dancers as the branches moved like sea waves.

It was the proper place for deep thought.

Saturday, March 26

Life in the Arbor

For want of anything better to post, I've decided to put my children's book here for those of you who have never read it. It's all about the magnificent one, Rollie Rabbit and his buddies. Hope you like it, one chapter at a time. The pencil drawings are by daughter Jeri Lynne.

Prologue

The view from above, let’s say from the side window of a commercial jet flying at 35,000 feet, would show a tiny walled enclosure. A nearly circular enclosed city sitting more or less by itself, although surrounded by increasingly spreading areas of new housing developments and commercial enterprises. It is the West Valley, west of Phoenix, Arizona, and the city holds about 30,000 inhabitants. Human inhabitants, that is. Senior inhabitants, that is. If one counted all the other folks living within its walls, the number would increase to nearly a million. And who is to say which of the inhabitants is more important?

A closer view, let’s say from one of the F-16 jets flying out of the nearby Luke Air Force Base, would show a city with charmingly confusing configurations—circular roads, S-shaped roads, U-shaped roads, cul de sacs—modest condominiums, moderate single dwellings, spacious homes, a dozen or so churches, nine green oases holding nine golf courses for the city’s retired inhabitants, a commercial area in the middle of the circle, and five openings in the wall for entrance and exit from within its boundaries. This story is about the other group of creatures living in the city. And a diverse group it is. Narrowing it even further, this story is about a small family of creatures living in the back of one of the homes, a home with a towering privacy hedge of arborvitae on the rear of the property. The Arbor, as they think of it, is their home. And the hero of this story is a young rabbit named Rollie. Rollie is unusually smart, unusually curious, and unusually dissatisfied with his life in the Arbor.

Chapter 1 – Rollie’s Project

“Rollie! What on earth are you up to now?”

Sara Rabbit sat in the shadows of the Arbor, watching her son as he continued to dig in the soft soil. First the front legs, then the back, dirt and stones flying back and to both sides in gray/brown plumes.

“I’m dig--” puff puff “digging a ditch,” he answered, pausing in his efforts for a moment. “Whew! I didn’t think this would be such hard work.” He sat down in the soft dirt and pulled one of his ears down and used it to wipe his brow.

“Yes, I see it’s a ditch, but what I really want to know is why? You’re always up to something crazy, but this takes the carrot cake.” His mother shook her head back and forth, wondering again where this strange son of hers came from. Was he a reward from the Great One or was he a punishment? Or was he sometimes one and sometimes the other?

Rollie Rabbit was indeed a strange son. He was only a teener and yet he was smarter than any of the other rabbits in the Arbor. For the past several seasons he had demonstrated his intelligence in many unusual ways. At least unusual for Arbor rabbits. During the previous winter he had shown his mother and father and the other families in the Arbor how to find quail feathers in the Arbor and out in the Gravel Yard. Find them and then gather them in the burrows, to use them to line the walls. The fine breast feathers were best. He showed them how to pack the tiny feathers against the walls and the floor and to use a little rabbit spit to glue them all in place. And the burrow, as a result, became warm and snug and soft and comfortable. They found out that even in the hot season, the feathers kept the terrible heat out, or at least some of it. Then Rollie made a feather door for the burrow entrance, weaving the longer dove and grackle feathers together like a fan. Like a circle fan with a springy little hole in the middle so the family could come and go through the hole and the feathers would part to let them through and then spring back into place.

Several days later, Rollie found an empty orange skin under one of the trees in the Gravel Yard. An orange had fallen from the bounty tree nearest to the Rollie’s home in the Arbor. Then he and his friends had eaten the sweet orange meat from inside and the grackles had finished the job until all that was left was a dried out orange skin, really half an orange skin, shaped like a round bowl. Rollie dragged it to the base of the bounty tree and placed it beside one of the magical fountains. At regular intervals, the fountain would send forth blessed water from a small black tube. Rollie couldn’t understand why the water appeared when it did, but he knew the schedule exactly. When the orange bowl filled about halfway, Rollie dragged it to the Arbor and in among the branches near the door of his burrow. Then he took water in his hands and sprinkled it on the feather door. The burrow right away became cooler and his mother and father and his sister Polly would spend most of the hot days inside while Rollie went on his curious ways, returning regularly to sprinkle water on the feather door.

Sara Rabbit again asked her strange son, “But why are you digging a ditch, Rollie? And where does it go and where will it end?”

“It will go to the closest bounty tree and it will end near the edge of our burrow door,” Rollie answered, smiling a small secret smile. “And whenever the magical fountain pours forth, the water will run down the trench and into a bowl I’m going to prepare. Then we won’t have to go so far for water to cool our door or for drinking. Isn’t that a good idea, Mother?”

His mother laughed in resignation. “Yes, Rollie,” she said with a sigh, “that’s a very good idea. But it wasn’t all that hard to fill the orange bowl or to hop to the tree for a drink. You’re always looking for ways to do things easier, faster, more fun, aren’t you? You truly are a strange and curious child, Rollie. But you’re my very own strange child, so I guess you’ll just have to keep doing the strange things you do.”

“Thank you, Mother. But now I must get back to my digging. The magical fountain is scheduled for tomorrow morning and I have the ditch to finish and the preparation of the bowl. So I must dig.”

His mother hopped back among the branches and into the burrow. Rollie got to his feet. He hated talking that way to his mother, that odd formal language she insisted he use. He might have said to her, “I gotta dig, Mom, I gotta dig,” but she would never have allowed that kind of talk. “I gotta do this, Mom, I gotta do that. I dunno why. It’s just what I gotta do.”

Just then he noticed his friend Fred Lizard bobbing and weaving from shadow to shadow along the Arbor, coming his way.

“Ooo, ow, hot hot hot!” Fred grumbled as he scooted along, bouncing from hot stone to hot stone in the Gravel Yard. Fred would stop every fifteen feet or so and do a little series of pushups, puffing and puffing with the exertion, then continue. It wasn’t exercise for Fred, because Fred didn’t believe in exercise. Fred didn’t believe in work of any kind. His pushups expanded his lungs and chest and made him look larger than he was. The idea was to frighten potential enemies into thinking he was dangerous. Fred liked to think of himself as a dragon. All he lacked was flaming breath. And size, of course. He always hoped his diet of fire ants would give him that ability, but so far it wasn’t working.

“Hello, Fred!” Rollie shouted. “You’re looking particularly large and menacing today. What’s going on?”

“I could ask you the same, Rollie,” Fred growled. “What’re you doing? You look like a funny bunny ditch-digger. What’s that all about?” Fred had a gravel voice that sounded a little like a pit bull with a cold and a little like a bullfrog croaking his love from a lily pad. Fred lived under the last tree in the Arbor on the south side of the Gravel Yard. Rollie’s burrow was in among the roots of the fourth tree in the Arbor, just off the middle of the Gravel Yard.

“It’s my latest project,” he told Fred as Fred plumped himself down in the shade near where Rollie was digging. “I want to get water to my parents’ home. You know, for cooling and drinking. But I can’t talk to you right now. I gotta get this done by tomorrow morning.”

“You just never know when to say when, do ya, kid?” Fred heaved a gravelly sigh and regarded his young friend Rollie. “I’ve lived in the Arbor for some time now and you’re the first rabbit, the first anybody, who ever had so many little projects going. Don’t you want to just live here like everybody else lives here? Just eat a few squares a day, take a nap or two, then sleep through the night and do the same thing the next day? What’s not good enough about that? You just don’t know when to say when.”

Rollie looked at Fred and shook his head. “Well, Fred, if I thought that’s all there is to life, I guess I wouldn’t even care if I got up every morning. I just know there’s a better life for us here, and maybe even a better place for us somewhere else. And someday I’m going to go looking for it.” He pulled down his other ear and wiped his brow again. “Now, I gotta get back to work. You can either sit there and watch me or you can help me with the digging.”

“No, no,” Fred protested with arms up in surrender, “you go right ahead and I’ll watch. Maybe I’ll learn something.” He did another series of pushups, then, “Or maybe not.”

Rollie went back to his digging, scooping dirt first with his arms, then shoving it behind him with his legs, working his way from the bounty tree toward the shade of the Arbor and the depths of shade where his burrow was located. Fred watched in amazement at his young friend’s efforts.

When Dan and Dora Dove settled to earth under the bounty tree, Rollie paused in his digging to catch his breath. Dan and Dora were his friends and spent much of their day cooing and gurgling in the Gravel Yard, at night using his bounty tree as their roost. Rollie tended to think this one tree was his special tree. The dove couple would make brief trips away from the Gravel Yard for meals and visiting dove relatives in the nearby yards. But when the gray of early evening came, and the air was filled with dove cu-koooos, they would flutter one after the other into the welcoming branches of the bounty tree to bill and coo to one another until sleep came upon them.

“I see you there working your little bunny butt off, Rollie, and there’s Fred doing nothing, as usual, resting his long lizard fanny like he always does.” This from Dan Dove, not exactly a fan of Fred’s. Fred just ignored them, especially Dan, for he was no Dan fan either. He could take Dora or leave her alone. They were just too lovey-dovey for his tastes, always fluttering around on the ground, doing their little dove dance. Enough to make a grown lizard want to spit up.

“I’m digging a ditch to run water to the Arbor. I want to make life for my mom and dad better. They don’t seem to think it’s necessary, but I do. And I have to get busy before the magical fountain turns on in the morning.”

“Well, you just go on about your business. Dora and I have some serious matters to attend to. Just ignore us and go on with what you were doing.” Dan and Dora then fluttered close and touched bills and cooed to each other in quiet little voices.

Fred spit a stream of lizard juice to the side. “Oh, yuck, isn’t that enough to make you want to retch, Rollie? I mean, get a room already.”

“You shouldn’t mind them, Fred. That’s what doves are all about—love. And it might be a better world if we were all more like that.” He stood on his hind legs and examined his work so far. “I don’t have far to go to get to our burrow and then I have to dig a deep hole for holding the water.

“Yeah,” Fred said, looking doubtful about Rollie’s plan. “And how’re you gonna keep the water in the hole? Won’t it just seep into the ground?”

“That’s my secret,” Rollie said with a proud little grin. “I found something this morning that should be just right for the job.”

Early in the morning, when he first began digging, he discovered a shiny black substance buried under the rocks and sand. It was something thin and soft and rubbery, and it seemed to be right under the soil, like a skin to protect the earth from outside intrusion. He cleared a large amount of the black material and then used his teeth to cut out a circular patch. It seemed to be just right to fit into his waterworks plan, just the right stuff for lining the bottom of his hole so the water wouldn’t all leak out.

Fred grew bored with the digging and said, “Rollie, just watching you gets me all tuckered out—I’m always Tuckered out whenever I mean Tucker Rabbit—and I think I’ll go home and take a nap before my dinner of nummy fire ants and sautéed arborvitae berries. You just keep on with your work and tomorrow I’ll see how it turns out.” With that he dashed away, little lizard legs flying, three series of pushups and puffing before he made it to his home in the last tree.

Rollie knew what the bounty trees were. He didn’t know how he knew. He just knew. There were four trees in the Gravel Yard spaced at regular intervals across the line of the eight huge arborvitae trees that were the home for his family and him as well as for the many other furred and feathered and leathery inhabitants. Arborvitae, Tree of Life, and it certainly was, providing shade and protection and even nourishing berries. The trees were like quail mothers, who would spread their wings on the ground and cover their broods of tiny babies during the heat of day and chill of night. Similarly, the arborvitae spread their wings of protection for those who lived among them.

The bounty tree to the south was a grapefruit tree about twenty feet high and filled during the season with large sweet grapefruit. The next tree was an orange tree nearly the same height as the grapefruit tree. His tree, the one nearest to his burrow, was another orange tree, this one barely six feet high. And the one to the north was another tall grapefruit tree. The inhabitants of the Arbor thought of them as bounty trees because of the nearly yearlong bounty of windfall fruit and succulent leaves that rained down around the trees.

To the east was the house. This house had a screened-in patio attached all along the rear. Rollie thought of the screening as some sort of invisible wall, and he occasionally noticed the humans when they would sit out in this room, silently watching him and the other Arbor inhabitants. Rollie came to realize these humans meant no harm to any of them, were merely observing. Sometimes one or the other would come into the yard and sprinkle dry slices of bread for the Arbor folks. And sometimes one would break off branches from the grapefruit and orange trees and scatter them on the ground. They knew how much the rabbits loved the leaves. Most of the time when the humans sat in the back room, two cats accompanied them. He learned their names one day when he was brave enough to approach them. Not really brave since he knew they couldn’t get through the barrier. The large tan cat was Dusty and his little companion was Squeakie. Both were lying on a cat perch near the invisible wall, right at the same height as the wall, and both watched Rollie move toward them intently, both tails lashing nervously back and forth.

“Hello,” Rollie began. “I’ve seen you two out here many times but never thought to ask your names. My name is Rollie Rabbit, and what are yours?”

The tan cat looked a bit confused, taken aback that this creature would have the nerve to confront him. He was, after all, the king of beasts. At least he thought of himself that way. “Uh, uh, harumph, my name is Dusty,” he finally said.

“And I’m called Squeakie,” his small friend squeaked, her tail now going back and forth in a blur. She licked her lips and stared even harder at Rollie.

Rollie noticed and said, “I know, I know, we can be friends only with the barrier between us. I’m sure you two would love to come out and take a taste of this rabbit. But that won’t happen and I think we can be friends as long as we have this invisible barrier between us.”

Dusty hastened to correct him. “We may enjoy your company but we don’t need you for a meal. We eat very well in our house. And we’ve learned that we’ll never be allowed outside. Too many dangers out there, our pets assure us. We think of the humans as our pets because they do nearly anything we want. Except for allowing us to go outside the house.” From that day on, Rollie and his two cat friends would greet each other whenever they were out on the patio.

Rollie knew many things about his home and the world around him but he didn’t know why he knew such things. He just assumed the Great One had blessed him with this mysterious knowledge. Or cursed him. He wasn’t sure which it was, a blessing or a curse.

Rollie finished his ditch and spent two more hours digging the hole, then dragged the black material into the hole and tapped it into place by doing a little rabbit dance, kicking to the right, kicking to the left, doing a little two-step in the bottom. And then it was done. His mother called him to come in to dinner just as the light was failing in the west and night was about to fall. He would have to wait for morning to see how his experiment would work out, when the water poured forth right on its regular schedule.

After his dinner of grapefruit leaves and sliced prickly pear, Rollie said good night to his parents and curled up in his sleeping hollow.

Night had now fallen and the moon wasn’t yet up, and he could hear the quiet murmurs of quail couples roosting in the arborvitae above him, the occasional coo of dove couples in the bounty trees. Was he ready for tomorrow? Yes, he was always ready for his tomorrows.

Friday, March 25

Welcome back

I’ve been away for a while. Not that I went anywhere. I’ve just been absent mentally. I think I may have simply run out of anything to say and that’s unusual for a blabber mind like mine. The hole in my leg still hasn’t healed but it’s a bit closer, enough that I don’t need to go to the wound center every Monday, just every third Monday. I’m going on fifteen months since I first went there, an amazing length of time for a simple wound to heal. I warn any of you out there who have a focused radiation treatment for skin cancer: about four months later you may develop a wound like mine, a hole that just appears at the point of the radiation. And the sucker just doesn’t want to heal. I’ve been golfing again but what I’m doing can scarcely be called golf. I wouldn’t have thought it possible that my game could disintegrate as much as it has. It’s like I had never played . . . ever . . . instead of the 65 or so years I’ve been at the game.

Just one more thing I want to mention: I’ve put all my books on Lulu.com where they’re available as e-books, downloadable to Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, or Border’s Kobo, Sony Pocket, or Velocity Micro Cruz. They’re priced at $6.99, $2.99 for my book on sentence structure. Please, those of you with electronic readers, buy one or more of my books. I need readers.

And I promise to have something more interesting to write about tomorrow or the next day.

Thursday, March 17

Pickles

For those of you too young to remember how easy it is to forget to remember important things, here's a Pickles cartoon that says it best. Where the hell is Earl?

Wednesday, March 16

The Drowsy Chaperone

We went to the Arizona Broadway Theatre last night to see a show with which I was totally unfamiliar, The Drowsy Chaperone. According to the show notes, it won five Tony Awards in 2006. How could I have missed it? I mean, I watch every Tony Awards and I don’t remember a thing about this drowsy musical. We were pleasantly surprised. The ABT has kept improving every season since the first. The set designs are wonderful considering how small the stage is they have to work with. And the choreography is coming close to Broadway standards. For this show, the stage was amazingly complex, with the opening set in an apartment, day bed stage left, two doorways at the rear, a lamp and chair stage right, a refrigerator and other kitchen appliances against the back wall. The narrator, seated right, introduced the show we were about to see, explaining that it was first done in 1928, and it was one of his favorites. On his ancient turntable, he puts on the record of the show, and the stage lights as the principles emerge from out of the refrigerator to do the first number, “Fancy Dress,” wherein we learn that a young Broadway starlet is about the get married, leaving the show she’s in, causing the producer to try to avert the wedding. The rest of the plot involves the usual slapstick comedy bits. But the music and dancing was excellent, the costuming diverse and gorgeous with one scene including about a dozen cast members dressed as monkeys, another with half a dozen in Japanese outfits. We know the theatre is doing well financially, but the sets and costumes must cost a bundle. If you ever get a chance to see The Drowsy Chaperone, be sure to go. You’ll enjoy it as much as we did.

Wednesday, March 9

BBQ Sauce

I’m a South Dakotan even though I’ve spent nearly my entire life away from the place. I guess since there are so few of us we have to maintain an allegiance to the state. So I subscribe to my local newspaper, The Mobridge Tribune, faithfully following the sports activity, the obituaries (to see which of my classmates or acquaintances have fled northward, and I don’t mean to North Dakota), and the “Remember When” column that reprints news from each decade in the past. And there’s the “Cook of the Week” section that focuses on a Mobridgeite renowned for his or her cooking. Last week’s cook was Donna Billings, with details of her life and a number of her favorite recipes. I checked out one for BBQ Sauce and nearly broke up when I read her first ingredient: 1 gallon catsup. Just exactly how much bbq sauce would you be making, and why would anyone need that much? Barbecuing a whole pig or cow? And where would one even come by that much catsup? I can only imagine that Donna grew up on a farm where she and her mother had to feed twenty or thirty members of a thrashing crew. Only in South Dakota would one need that much bbq sauce for any one occasion.

Sunday, March 6

Maxwell & Some More Quick Shots

I just heard this track on KYOT's "Quiet Sounds," an early Sunday morning musical broadcast, and I was so intrigued I had to go to YouTube to find it. I hate the video, especially of Maxwell brushing his teeth, but the song itself is worth the watch.

And a few more quick shots: 1. I learn more about current politics by watching The Chris Matthews Show than from any other news source; 2. I read all magazines from back to front. Anyone elese? 3. I've come to hate Criminal Minds, a show I used to love, but the gruesomeness of the plots finally got to me; I've come to love even more than at first, Men of a Certain Age, Southland, The Good Wife, Chicago Code, Blue Bloods. Anyone else?

Friday, March 4

Some Quick Shots

We were visiting some friends of ours, Don McPhereson and his wife Jean. Don was playing a Matt Monro cd and I remarked that I didn’t know another person who even knew who Matt Monro was. That led to a discussion of other singers and our likes and dislikes, John Gary and Vic Damone and Frank Sinatra among them. He and I seem to have very similar tastes. But then Jean asked me how I liked Elvis and I told her I thought the day the music died was the first day he stepped on stage. I don’t think she cared much for my remark.

A few years ago on the news we saw a 92-year-old lady who had walked across the country from California to D.C. to show her displeasure with what was going on in the Oval Office. She was interviewed about how she had withstood the rigors of her walk and she said, “The days go by and the miles go by, and before you know it you’re there.” Wow! There’s a statement that applies to just about everything.

A show from the past that I really enjoyed was Ed. For those of you who don't remember it, Ed was a lawyer whose practice was in a bowling alley he owned, and he had an on-again off-again romance going with a local school teacher. I remember the last episode and the feeling it left me with. It was the perfect story of love lost, love pursued, love gained, and it ended with that curious wedding and the final words from Ed about how desire and achievement sometime come together in a serendipitous union. And he was lucky enough to have such happen to him. I cried like a baby.

In perusing one of my journals from 1993, I found this about the rain we used to be subjected to in western New York. In nearly every summer entry from that year I mention either the rain falling or the threat of rain to come. On the last day of April, 1993, I had this to say about the weather: “I think I’ll be glad to get done with April. According to T. S. Eliot, ‘April is the cruelest month.’ I agree, although in western New York we get a whole lot of cruel months, months that just break your heart because you assume they’ll be nicer than they really are, just like a woman that promises with the eyes and then doesn’t come through, sort of a climatic prick-tease.”

I think often about the relativity of time. I found this that sort of reinforces what I feel about time, the old thief, from Crying Heart Tattoo by David Martin: “When I was twenty, I thought forty was old, was when you sort of start to uncrank and settle down and go to church and wait to die. Whatever age you are, I have observed, someone twice your age seems old. When you’re four, eight seems incredibly old and worldly. When you’re ten, twenty represents that exotic state of adulthood. And when you’re twenty, forty seems old—just as when you’re forty, eighty seems old. I suppose the opposite is true, too, someone half you age seems incredibly young; I know that, now, twenty-five-year-olds strike me as being childlike. I’ll tell you something else I have observed: The older women I slept with when I was in my thirties (although, come to think of it, our liaisons were marked by a distinct lack of sleep) now are collecting Social Security. The only observation I can make that’s ghastlier than that one is this one: By the time the younger women I now sleep with (and we do a lot of that) are old enough to hold a civilized conversation, I’ll be collecting Social Security.”

Tuesday, March 1

James W. Hall & Lawrence Block

I finished James Hall’s Buzz Cut last night. Not his finest by a long shot, but I did happen onto something he said about the Tibetan Book of the Dead: “The soul when set loose from the body begins to roam the dark plains of afterlife searching for some speck of light. Finally seeing it, moving toward it, then entering it as the sperm enters the vagina and battles its way up the hostile twists of tube to reach the great mother egg. A dead man wanders until he sees his new parents, then reenters the world through their moment of great pleasure. Becoming a child again, a disembodied scream. All of it starting over and over and over.” I think that’s pretty much what I’ve believed all my life, but never said it so well.

I’m in the middle of the last Mathew Scudder book (for the second time), All the Flowers Are Dying. I really love this series. Scudder is such a unique character. He’s the only continuing character in mystery fiction who has aged in real time. Other series feature main characters who never seem to age. Spenser has been around for at least thirty years, yet he’s now only in his mid-forties. Travis McGee aged a bit from first to last, but not more than fifteen years despite the thirty-five years the series spans. I guess there are probably others who stuck with real time. Maybe Connelly’s Harry Bosch. But then, consider the 87th Precinct boys. Carella and company first made their appearance in the late Fifties. That’s half a century ago, and he and the others have aged only about fifteen years. Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter) has made a mint off the 87th, but it still feels a bit unrealistic when you read the whole series that the reader and the rest of the world age not nearly as gracefully as the characters in the 87th Precinct.

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