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Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Forest of Memories...

The other day while rummaging through a folder of odds and ends, articles, newspaper clippings, and various print curiosities I've salted away over the years, I happened upon a cartoon. It works upon a familiar theme of cartoonists: two castaways on a desert isle, and as is the case with my discovery, a husband and wife. Barefoot and disheveled, the couple are wiling away their time on a small bulge of sand barely above sea level. Waves nibble at the tideline nearly licking their toes. Remnants of a doomed vessel, the "SS Banana": life rings, an oar, partial skeleton of hull litter the fringes of the tiny sandpile. A starfish (plus a distant pair of seabirds) are the only other visible life. The husband, peppered with beard, is roasting a fish over a small fire as if it were a marshmallow. Sprawled behind him like the hag of the sea, his missus (given her portly figure, it's obvious the seafood diet has yet to take effect) has her own priorities: "It will soon be Christmas," she says, "When are you going to get a tree?"

Aside from the desert isle scenario, hers is a question much on our minds this time of the year, and it prompted me to ask my missus if the tree of the season wasn't our fifty-second. "The fifty-third," she replied. "Our first Christmas tree was in my apartment, the one we shared after we were married." I had forgotten. Ah, yes, betrothed we were when we enjoyed that first tree. Nine days after Christmas we were married.

I think of them now, those Christmas trees.... Fifty-three Douglas firs, always Doug fir, our holiday icon of choice. Today, had they remained rooted in the soil of their planting, not severed and dragged indoors, the lot of them would make a small forest, a teeming ecosystem, fir-fragrant cover for forest animals and birds, a quiet sanctum in which the pensive hiker could escape the tumult of the world. But for our fifty-three that was not to be. They were destined to become a forest of another sort, a forest of memories.

There was that tree I purchased from a lot and carried several blocks to our Seattle apartment to make amends over a falling out we had about Christmas, its stress, and our tight budget. And then that tree whose trunk a lightning bolt would have been hard pressed to trace--our "scoliosis Christmas tree" we called it. We've had trees so tall they scraped the vaulted ceiling of our rec room, had to be wired to the wall to prevent toppling. And there were trees whose needles dropped less than a week into their indoor Christmas journey, transforming our carpet into the duff of a forest floor. One tree, if memory serves, had to be brought indoors to thaw when its trunk, submerged in a five gallon bucket, froze solid during a cold snap.

Of our holiday forest only one tree came from the wilderness. That was the year we spent in a rented cabin on the sparsely inhabited fringe of the North Cascades Wilderness. A dollar bought us a Forest Service permit to seek out and cut the tree of our choice.

One day at dusk we trudged up a snow laden hillside (where our tracks intersected those of a roaming cougar) to a small clump of firs, each dwarfed it seemed by their towering Ponderosa pine neighbors and bagged the perfect tree for our Christmas. Our prize nearly swallowed up our VW bug and fir-camouflaged we plowed our way back to our cabin where we had to lop off nearly one-third of the tree to make it fit the low ceilings.

After our friend Dick Hetland presumed himself a conifer connoisseur and carted home his pick of the lot, wife Nan exercised her veto, demanded he discard the ugly thing, select another and reminded him in the future that tree selection was a joint venture. Dick and Nan's polarity in artistic tastes ushered in a period when the Hetlands and our family drove our daughters to neighboring tree farms where after considerable scrutiny, wind chill exposure, and ring-around-the rosy with each and every tree in the grove was the saw employed, the season's "perfect" tree selected.

In the past we have bartered for trees from Dale Reiner's tree lots (To Tree or not to Tree), the Doug fir of our choice in exchange for a quart of local honey gathered in the Valley by my industrious bees. These days, however, we select the season's centerpiece from local box stores, each year crossing our fingers that our choice will last the season without denuding itself and embarrassing the household, thus putting us on par with our friends the Hetlands and what we jokingly termed their "tree of the week" protocol.

Now the tree is in its stand and perpendicular--not plumb bob perpendicular, perhaps--but to the eyes of the householders close enough.
Next come the ornaments one by one, each in itself an attic-archived memory. There's the Micky Mouse medallion from Disney World. The silver-tarnished pine cone from Wallace, Idaho, a stopover to and from "The Field of Dreams." The frosted orb from the Southern Ute Reservation in Ignacio, Colorado, a literature inspired bucket list destination.

The Welsh Corgi angel dog, in memory of a pet. The candy-apple red glittered "kinky boot" from my cousin, a shoe salesman at Nordstrom's. Delicate snowflakes crocheted by mother-in-law, her memory preserved in each loving stitch. A pair of miniature mittens, crocheted with blue boy, the first grandchild. The golden heart ornament we "filched" (with our waiter's permission--and blessing) from a holiday tree in the window of Seattle's Icon Grill, a gilded memento of our fiftieth wedding anniversary.
The photo ornaments which spotlight and chronicle our daughter's journey across her many Christmases with us. Tradition dictates her ornament be the first hung on the tree each year, an elementary school art project in the likeness of a pear, a marvel in paper mache slathered one coat upon the next in yellow tempera.

And so down the years each Christmas tree serves up for us all a memory of its own, adds its uniqueness to that forest, a forest of memories, wood fuel to fire the nostalgia of Christmases past, gifts that need no wrapping.

                                  *                    *                  *                  *

Once a car stops and the rich mill owner's lazy wife leans out and whines: 
"Giveya two-bits cash for that ol tree."

Ordinarily my friend is afraid of saying no; but on this occasion she promptly shakes her head: "We wouldn't take a dollar."

The mill owner's wife persists. "A dollar, my foot! Fifty cents. That's my last offer. Goodness, woman, you can get another one."

In answer, my friend gently reflects: "I doubt it. There's never two of anything." 

                         Truman Capote's Aunt Sook in A Christmas Memory

Editor's note: In the course of composing this post, the tree-laden VW ornament pictured above accidentally slipped from my hand during its photo session, hit the floor and shattered to pieces. The ornament was a gift from my mother. Years ago she happened upon the ornament and because it reminded her of our wilderness tree hunt and tree-smothered car, presented it to us that Christmas. Now the ornament itself has sadly passed into memory and cast a bittersweet cloud over this post.

Friday, December 1, 2017

A Place for Everything; Everything in its Place...

We were only separated two days, but I thought about you hour on the hour, even awoke in the night wondering--and worrying where you were. Previously I've always known that after a short search you'd turn up safe. Your recent disappearance, however, made me fear I'd lost you forever.

Until your latest vanishing we were inseparable, remarkable for a relationship that began decades ago...and in a tavern no less. I gambled, "Old Timer," and you were my prize--in fact the first thing I'd ever won in my life. The middleman in our relationship in those days long before lottery kiosks or scratch tickets were "just a gleam in the eye" of the State's general fund was a tavern punch board. I took a chance on you, old friend, sprung for one dollar, if memory serves. I paid the bartender, chose a remaining chance, and punched out a tiny scroll of paper. The number on the strip I unraveled was among the winning numbers listed on the board. When I presented the scrap of paper to the bartender, he said "Hummmph," turned and rummaged around on the cluttered shelves, budged a huge jar of pickled eggs to one side, and hauled you out. I can't remember if you came to me bare naked or in a box, but there you were heavy in my hand, a single bladed "jack" knife, "pocket" knife, "toad stabber"...and ever since you and I have been companions. "I'll give you five bucks for it," the barman offered. I smiled, shook my head and slipped you into my jeans pocket, your second home all these years. When not in my company, you reside in the top drawer of my writing desk. But of late I've gotten careless, taking to leaving you lying about the house just about anywhere. And so now you're lost.

We've spent hours, you and I, whittling away sliver after sliver until the wood shaped the way we wanted. You have slivered off the silver to fashion rings from silver dimes, carved a wizard's face into a peach pit half for a Boy Scout's neckerchief slide, peeled and fashioned the crotch from a willow tree into a slingshot. And let's not forget the countless yards of cardboard you've sliced for recycling purposes.

Over the years we have shaved wood into balls, carved an alder peace symbol, whittled away propellers on a stick (hand launched helicopters).

To date we have carved six and a half peach pit monkeys, quite a challenge for man and jackknife (no Dremel tools for us purists). In fact you were the unnamed principal in a previous Ripple post ("Just Whittlin' the Time Away").

At our family reunions you and I won every game of Stretch (Mumbley Peg) forcing one brother after another to do the splits until they nearly sprung their crotches. "Wanna use my knife?" I'd offer at gift opening occasions where you sliced through tape and wrapping paper with ease and scalpel-like precision. You have had so many sessions with the whetstone your thin blade has been ground concave. Slightly sprung from years of use, your blade no longer neatly folds into the handle bay, and these days I reach into my jeans' pocket gingerly lest I prick a finger in seeking you out. And, yes, you have drawn blood over the years, Old Timer---but mine only, the fault never yours. Always a careless slip of the hand or flagrant disregard of the woodcarver's adage: "Always whittle away from yourself." Whenever we began another peach pit monkey project, I thought to carry a couple band-aids in my wallet in case a random slip of your blade sliced a finger (not so much to staunch a wound but to avoid staining the project).

An article in The New Yorker magazine about missing or misplaced items stated that roughly six months of our lives are spent searching for things lost. Not only do we spend time actively searching for whatever's missing, but between these questing forays, we mentally rehash seek and rescue scenarios: "When and for what purpose did I last use the item? "When and where did I last have or see the item?" "Where have I found the lost item before?" And throughout the day (or waking hours of the night) these are the questions you ponder. All this I did and more. My biggest fear was you were now rusting away in the backyard grass somewhere only to be found by the riding lawnmower this spring. Perhaps you slipped from the pocket of my sweats or shirt? Seems to me I'd have heard a thump when you hit the ground. Regardless, I traced my last whereabouts outdoors--not just once but several times. Except for the exercise my search was futile.

I lost a paring knife several years ago. While turning the compost heap a year or two back, the little knife, much of its wooden handle rotted away, showed up in a spadeful of cured compost. I had long since forgotten about it. Our late neighbor Tina Streutker found a missing diamond ring in her compost heap. She figured it had slipped off her finger and was swept up in the vacuum during a routine carpet cleaning. She was in the habit of emptying the cleaner bag in the compost pile and gardener that she was, what she lost, she found sparkling away in shovelful of compost.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude offered this reasonable explanation of how things come to be lost:

"...every member of the family, without realizing it, repeated the same path every day, the same actions, and repeated the same words at the same time. Only when they deviated from meticulous routine did they run the risk of losing something....Fernanda, on the other hand looked for [her wedding ring] in vain along the paths of her every day itinerary without knowing that the search for lost things is hindered by routine habits and that is why it is so difficult to find them...."

The other day it rained, one of those late fall gully washers that overwhelmed the gutters and sent me rushing for a raincoat and ladder to unplug a couple clogged downspouts. When I set them to gushing again, I returned to the garage where I shed the raincoat, draped it over the riding mower to drain, and in the process of spreading out the sleeves, I spied something on the flat surface of the engine's recoil starter. And there you were, Old Timer, lying there forlorn, blade fully extended as if to say, "Whenever you find me, I'm at your service." A joyful reunion...and mystery solved: I had placed you there after you pried the dried cheese from the mousetrap bait plate which I needed to refresh with fresh cheddar. I reset the trap and went about my business, which a few short hours later became a preoccupation over your disappearance...wondering where you were and if I'd ever find you again.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Last Tomato...

Snow came to the Valley today, wet, heavy stuff that stuck to the ground until early afternoon. It's November and the swirling bunny tails serve to remind us that the winter solstice is just around the corner. From the kitchen window I watched the white tufts sift through the bare branches of the backyard maple. A handful of summer tomatoes lining the window sill seemed to shiver at the spectacle outside. This reminded me...

Just yesterday in the produce section at Fred Meyers, I rolled my shopping cart past a lady shopper and couldn't help notice a half dozen tomatoes among the other items in her basket. During gardening season a smugness comes over this Valley gardener whenever I see shoppers buying produce I harvest daily from the backyard garden. Smugness? Perhaps "sense of gratitude" is the better phrase: "smug" seems condescending and a man who labors in the soil should be above such thoughts. Agreed?

I think about the lady's tomatoes, how looks can deceive: they appear to be top rate produce: "vine ripened," perfectly shaped...for all appearances not unlike my remaining windowsill crop. But I know from experience, flavor, like beauty, is only skin deep. Since mid-August we've gathered vine ripened tomatoes from the garden patch: fruit encouraged by Valley sunshine and river bottom soil, each ruby orb gushing rich tomato flavor. Those tomatoes in our lady's basket? Hothouse or hydroponic produce, most likely...bland, dry, pasty textured. And as the windowsill crop dwindles, our winter salads sadly will soon be like hers.

The garden went in late this year. As the corn farmers of the mid-west would say, "Too wet to get in the fields." Such was the case here. I figured with our short growing season chances for harvesting a decent tomato crop were nil. That brought to mind a Garrison Keillor Lake Woebegone tale about the late frost that took some neighbors by surprise and brought on a tomato famine come harvest time. "Well, didn't you cover your plants? (Now there's smugness for you.) We covered ours...suspected there'd be frost that night. Didn't you know? Help yourself to some of ours. We have plenty." Oh, the indignity for the backyard gardener! Tomatoes from a neighbor! I'd sooner steal the plastic ones from that lady's shopping cart than accept tomatoes gifted by a fellow gardener.

Fifty-seven days without rain saved our bacon, (or should I say "our BLTs"), retained my pride, kept me from committing petite tomato larceny. My go-to variety, Early Girl, set a bumper crop. As Early Girl tends to be susceptible to late summer blight, I took some proactive measures in mid-August, applied a copper fungicide (Certified Organic) and a week or two later sealed the deal by removing most of the blight-prone foliage from the vines. By early September I was harvesting two to three pounds of fruit a day.

For two or three weeks the steam and pressure canners labored hard to keep up with the jars of sauce, salsa, and stewed tomatoes. Every so often I'd give the kitchen range a break by quartering, bagging, and freezing zip-loc bags full of flavorful fruit. We juiced tomatoes; we sliced tomatoes into our evening salads; we layered tomatoes on toast for our lunch repasts; we ate tomatoes fresh as one would apples; we stirred tomatoes into dollops of cottage cheese; we dipped tomatoes in egg wash, flour and corn meal, and fried them. The tomato crop did indeed runneth over....

As of this post a solitary tomato is all that remains of the summer crop. We used two of the remaining three this past weekend: salsa verde with garden jalapenos and onions and lime Doritos for dipping while we watched the home team struggle for naught on the gridiron. One last salad for the sole remainder of the crop and then eight and a half more months of those plasticized tomato impostors from Freddie's.

But for now--at the risk of sounding smug--our pantry and freezer brim with tomato bounty, surplus enough to tide us over until next year's vines are laden once again.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Musings Autumnal...

Today I took down the butter dish to prepare the foundations for my lunchtime sandwich. To my surprise the butter was hard, not the malleable, soft collapsed mound it's been all summer. And I had to don a sweat shirt this morning. It seemed just a few short days ago, my first chore of the day was to open all the windows and screen doors to let in the cool of the morning; I knew in the afternoon even with the ceiling fans whirring away the house would be uncomfortably warm. Today I opened the same around noon to let in some heat from the outdoors. Now that I think of it, last week I even tried on some long pants hoping to find a pair that fit, a sign my summer short pants are soon to be retired. And that hankering for an iced coffee? It's been a few days now....

Just a couple weeks back, it seems, I groused because I had to stay up past my bedtime to wait for the chickens to roost so I could coop them for the night. These days they're snug in the coop by the time I finish dinner. The Stellar's jays, those raucous marauders, pests I haven't seen all summer are everywhere now, sorting hazelnuts, culling the empty ones, making daily forays to the walnut tree to scope out the season's crop, cussin' me every time I exit the house. The squirrels have returned, romping here and there about the place, hoping to give the rascal jays some serious competition. Despite entrance reducers, hornet activity is frenetic around the hive entrances, voracious little scavengers seeking drone and worker carcasses, winter's meat, sustenance for their overwintered queens.

Like thin red lines of heroes, tomatoes line the windowsills awaiting their transformation into salsa, juice, and sauce. The steam canner and pressure cooker are on high alert. The garden is pregnant with produce: corn, peppers, cabbage, tomatillos, squash, beans, beets, eggplant...time for the ants to ramp up their industry because they--we-- all know just what's lurking around around the corner.

2017 to date has been one for the record--or records: record breaking rainfall last spring; summer, one of drought, fifty-seven days without measurable rainfall (the record? 51 days set in 1951, last century; never before have I hauled so many buckets of water to thirsty plants, shrubs and trees). The streak for most consecutive days of temps above seventy degrees just a memory as of this summer. Yesterday morning I headed to the coop to let out the girls and was amazed to see what I thought was a light blanket of frost on the hay clippings in the neighbor's field. The touch test confirmed my suspicions. "9/15/2017: first frost" I marked on the calendar, the earliest date Ol' Jack's made an appearance in the forty-six years we've lived in the Valley. (Thirty-nine degrees at 7:30; a week ago morning temp was seventy degrees). Climate change, shifting Gulf Stream currents, El Ninos, La Ninas...whatever...this has been a year that challenges memory. One can only guess what further surprises Ma Nature has in store the remaining months of the year.

And while I've yet to see hordes of woolly bear caterpillars looping their way across the Tualco Loop asphalt, I've seen other signs the Earth has tilted: the bedroom is still dark at 6:30 a.m., the porch light still aglow. Loads of firewood trailer by the place daily. The chill in the house this morning prompted me to haul and stack a ton of wood pellets in the garage .

Tomorrow promises nearly an inch of rain and a rainy week to follow. I have pullets that have yet to experience the wet stuff that falls from the sky. I wish them well. And as for the rest of us, it's time to rummage about the house, dig out those dusty umbrellas and shake loose the moths. Happy Autumnal Equinox, Valley folks. And good luck wrestling with your long pants.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Technology for the Birds or the Whistlin' Gypsy...

Midday and a hot July one here on our slim acre. Between the obnoxious rumblings of the weekend Harleys riders we heard repeated shrill whistles issuing from the trees along the property line. Our first thought was someone at the horse barn next door was whistling dog commands, some sort of canine training in progress.  But the whistles came at regular intervals, were too precise, too perfect for human efforts, tuned only in a way Mother Nature would program a bird call. We had never heard any such sound on the place before.

I went out back to investigate, thought maybe the new neighbors owned some exotic bird and this hot day had set its cage outside to enjoy the shade.   (The other day I had seen them carrying a newly constructed cage to the backyard.) A parrot perhaps, or a cockatoo, myna...some mimicking type of bird? The whistles seemed to issue from that general area. As I prowled around out back, whatever creature produced the shrilling moved down the property line whistling as it went. I followed the sound back to the house where, I-Phone in hand, my wife was waving at me. "Is this what we're hearing?" she asked, holding out her "hand held device" from which issued the selfsame whistle coming from the trees next door. "bob white! bob white! bob white." I could hear it clearly now, as if a stranger were whistling in my face. She had solved the mystery. Ah, technology! The whistlin' mystery bird was a northern Bob White quail.

For years I've kept a backyard bird tally, a checklist of all the avian species we've seen either on or from our property and while I've checked off one quail species, the California quail, a few of which we've seen over the years, I have yet to check off a Bob White. Besides, my Washington State field guide does not even list the bird whose normal range is in the southeastern states. Seeing is believing, the saying goes, and I had yet to see our visiting Bob. How to get the bird out of the bush without frightening it away was the challenge.

The next hour was interesting, a reprieve from what had been an otherwise uneventful day in late July. Our whistlin' visitor was "bob whiting" from a big leaf maple adjacent to our bedroom. I crept carefully to a vantage point hoping to glimpse the bird among the foliage. Meanwhile, my wife quietly slid open a bedroom window and propping her phone on the sill, played the You Tube recording of a Bob White's whistle, hoping to coax the bird into the open. The quail began a dialogue with the phone and its replies came closer. Suddenly it rocketed out of the maple in characteristic quail fashion and flew in the direction of the front lawn. It landed at the end of our landscaped mound and quickly scurried behind it. And that was that, we thought.

It turned out not to be so. We still wanted to see the bird up close and personal if possible, so we cranked up the I-Phone again, looped the You Tube video, moved the phone to the front bedroom window, and waited. A short time later "bob white, bob white" echoed from the rhody bushes under the window. We sneaked a peek through the window screen and there the little fellow was, echoing the electronic bird: the phone would tweet and Bob would retweet . I wanted a photo record of the bird's presence but knew it would jet away at any movement. After all, he was a "quail," wasn't he?

For a quarter of an hour we let the electronic bird and quail whistle at each other. We felt a twinge of guilt at having duped little Bob as he no doubt was lonely and longed for some Bob White companionship. For an hour or so after we shut off the phone, he continued to whistle, which saddened us a bit. The whistles came less often and from farther away until they ceased, leaving us with a hot afternoon and the ever present roar of those Harleys.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Someone there is who loves a wall...

Walls have been much in the news these last several months and The Ripple is proud to report the Valley has not lagged behind in this arena. I've been watching one go up at the stately residence that is the Broers' Family Farms. Boulder by boulder, each especially chosen and cherry picked into place like pieces of a Stone Age puzzle, fit and snug, the wall stretches the entire length of the berm upon which the residence rests.

The old wall had been all but swallowed up by a verdant bank. Years of "wave action" from seasonal floods lapping at the foot of the wall and a Valley soil that never seems to rest (moles: those pesky soil shifters?) I assume had either compromised the wall or rendered it sub par to the Broers' rigorous aesthetic standards. Thus Broers' new wall is the latest stage of the ongoing restoration and upgrade of this old Valley farmstead.

As of this post the landlocked (at this season), trim little farmhouse now perches like a seaside cottage atop a boulder-butressed  "seawall,"daring a flood-plained Valley to throw its best diluvian punch which, like the"waters off a duck's back," it will easily repel.

There is a time and place for walls. (After all, they support the roofs of our homes, don't they?) In   Broers' case it's wall against wall: that of stone against that of water. The Ripple is all in favor of walls that retain. Walls that restrain...well, not so much.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Valley Resident Deported...

No doubt you've heard it said that the criminal returns to the scene of the crime. That commonplace phrase lends credence to the truth of the matter, the matter, in this case, being the "egg missing in broad daylight." It turns out I didn't have to puzzle over the mystery long. No need to hire a private investigator or arrange for a video camera stakeout...the brazen perp returned to the chicken run the very next day. There he was in all his gray glory, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, scurrying about "in broad daylight," a trespasser clearly embarrassed at being discovered in the chicken run.

I never did see the squirrel's escape route; I was too into the moment wondering just what means of prestidigitation a squirrel could employ to make a grade AA egg vanish without a trace. And the squirrel had to be the culprit...too coincidental, a vanished egg and a gray trespasser. To corroborate my suspicions, I needed to do a bit of forensic research, and where better to find evidence of squirrels behaving badly than the internet. Video after video on You Tube showed squirrels raiding hen houses, cradling the eggs in their forelegs and sashaying away with them; some robbers had no qualms about scooping an egg from beneath a setting hen and then making their getaway. I learned, too, that squirrels eat all sorts of eggs...apparently shell and all.

Once Mr. Bushy Tail exited the chicken run, he nonchalantly parked himself on a round of firewood and flipped his tail at me a time or two, gestures I interpreted, if not obscene, certainly defiant. Murderous thoughts crossed my mind and I was tempted to return with the shotgun and ventilate the gray varmint's thieving hide. Experience told me the culprit would most likely be gone by the time I returned for revenge, so I wandered to the house mulling over my options. I had to do something: my breakfast poached eggs were in jeopardy.

Now my environmentally sensitive friend Nancy L is an old squirrel trapper going way back. I fired off an email to her in which I made clear my problem and in less than two hours she appeared on our deck carrying a live trap baited with a stale peanut. After educating me to the mechanical workings of the trap, she left it along with a brusque directive that should I catch the thief, I was to transport it a few miles up Ben Howard Road, release it where it would be someone else's problem. Under no circumstances was I to let it loose on her side of the river, nor was I to release it in the park by the bridge. Her opinion was there were too many squirrels in town already. Later that afternoon I set the trap and placed it on a scrap of plywood just beyond the chicken run.

The next day, around noon, we returned from an errand in Everett. First off, I went out to check my "trapline" and found it full of squirrel, eyes as big as saucers, tail inflated whisk-broom size. Let's just say there was a frenzy of activity in a very small space, Mr. Bushy clattering around in the trap like rocks in a can kicked down the road. I placed the gyrating trap and the incarcerated in the bed of the truck and with Nancy L's "Take him way up Ben Howard" still fresh on my mind, headed north.

Six miles later I found an abandoned road approach next to a grove of budding cottonwood, a small wilderness any squirrel would love. I carried the trap to the edge of the grove, set it down and opened the trap. The squirrel shot out and vanished into the brush like a wisp of gray smoke.

I would like to say "and that's that," but this morning there was a pair of gray gangstas foraging for birdseed under our backyard maple. I baited the trap with a fresh stale peanut, reset it, and there it sits...awaiting its next passenger.