Pairs of Rattlesnakes, Kayaks, and Beloveds

Mr. Rattlesnake just hanging in his pillow case (outside of course) before moving to his new home.
Mr. Rattlesnake just hanging in his pillow case (outside of course) before moving to his new home.

It was a weekend of unlikely pairs. First, there was the matter of returning the pair of rattlesnakes our friend Hank caught right against our house a few days ago. The Mr. and Mrs. had  just a little too close for comfort, pretty much on the other side of the wall of our bedroom, and although they were docile, because we wanted to welcome another pair–a pair of kayaks–to that area and didn’t want to accidentally step on rattlesnakes when loading or unloading, something had to give. After Hank drove around with them (contained of course) and housed them (he said Mrs. Rattlesnake rattled whenever he played the piano, but please know she was in a plastic tub with lid the whole time), he and Ken decided to put them back in our area, but far farther from the house.

The wrangling of snakes is not for the weary or timid. As I watched Hank open the tub where Mrs. had been angrily living for a few days, then hold her head gently down with a stick and reach in to grab her around the back of her head, I couldn’t help but scream. A lot. An experienced scientist and snake handler, he lifted her with ease, then dropped her in one of our pillow cases for the trek up the hill with Mr., already in his

Frank and Sandy say goodbye to their kayaks
Frank and Sandy say goodbye to their kayaks

pillow case. Ken, Daniel and Hank went on a great walk to find the perfect place near a rocky outcrop with the kind of habitat the rattlers prefer, and let them loose. They said Mr., a rather laid-back character, went straight into a hole in the ground. Mrs. coiled up and rattled at them until they were out of earshot.

The snakes out of the picture, we turned our attention to picking up the kayaks we were buying from friends Frank and Sandy, an endeavor that turns out to be almost as complicated as relocating rattlesnakes although not nearly as dangerous. After finding out weeks ago the cost of a car carrier, we set out to make our own, or rather Ken did while I drank tea on the porch. It took, as all home projects take, more trips to the hardware store thanIMG_4264 anticipated and a whole lot of “hold this while I hammer the nail” moments. Finally, tied into place on the CRV, we trekked to our friends’ house, and loaded up the kayaks. Let’s just say the tying of the kayaks into place would have earned most eagle scouts advanced badges. Frank and Sandy said goodbye to their old kayak friends, and we said hello.

We also said hello to a new pair, Dave and Marcia, ready to make the leap into marriage after four years of loving one another. It was my first time officially doing the marrying of a couple (I married another couple with my friend, Danny, who was the official Universal Life minister, and I married Courtney and Denise long before marriage equality was a glimpse in our Kansas eyes). We hauled a vase of sunflowers, a whole lot of black-eyed susans, a crystal bowl for a Buddhist water blessing ceremony, and accorded gadgets to make this computer loudly play Mannheim Steamroller’s “Sky” and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Marcia and Dave just before the wedding
Marcia and Dave just before the wedding

At the foot of Wells Overlook tower, we gathered in a crescent, starting with a smudging ceremony once Ken managed to light the sage they brought from their California home and the cedar for their Kansas roots. Their vows shined like a full moon on a summer’s night, full of beauty, steady light, and overwhelming awe in ordinary weather. The wind blew surprise gusts, tossing the little table we set up for wedding ingredients. The shade and sun mingled also, and when it was over, everyone hugged everyone, especially the new pair.

Now I will rest my pair of feet, drink a pair of glasses of water, and feed the pair of insistent cats, and later perhaps dream of kayaks, rattlesnakes, and a pair of beloveds happy in their new homes.

Catching Mr. and Mrs. Rattlesnake Right Now: Everyday Magic, Day 856

P1080333This is a live report: at this moment, just around the corner from where I sit on the screened-in porch, our friend Hank Guarisco, who is an expert at catching snakes (although he’s more of a spider man and one of the leading spider experts in the Midwest), Ken, and Daniel are entrapping a big rattlesnake. Hank is searching through the overgrown grasses, trying to hear the rattling that keeps warning them away. Daniel says, “I am 110% sure I heard the rattlesnake.”

“I think it’s probably somewhat near that hole,” Ken says. “So let’s not grab near that hole,” Daniel says as Hank leans toward it.

Sidney Iowa the cat and I, safely encased in our screened-in porch, watch with great expressions of concern. We are wisely very afraid. This is life in the country sometime.

Now they’re plotting how to catch the snake in the thick grass. “They’re not sticking their hands in there?” I yell out to Daniel. His answer doesn’t reassure me: “They’re getting to that point.”

At this point, I left this computer, ran to where they were, and found Hank holding up a 2-foot-long male rattler. “He’s so beautiful, and I love the way they smell,” Hank told us. My heart almost beat through my chest as Daniel and I took lots of photos while I couldn’t help but scream, “Oh my god” repeatedly.

The Mrs.

After a few minutes, I returned to my safe spot on the porch, opened this computer again, and listened to Ken and Hank puzzle over what to do with the rattle snake after they put it in a cloth bag. Then I heard: “There’s TWO rattlesnakes!” It had all the urgency of a midwife yelling, “Hold the phone! There’s twins.”

Turns out that when Ken lifted up a long leftover black tube, which would make a great habitat for Mr. Snake, a second snake fell out of the tube. This one was Mrs. Rattlesnake, and boy was she pissed and big too. Hank managed to pick her up with a branchP1080338 and drop her into a plastic bin we had. He explained that because of how big and angry she was, it was best not to grab her around the neck like he did with her mate.

When I saw her, I recognized her. A little over a year ago, I saw her sunning herself a few feet from our deck one fine spring day right beside some of the copper-colored irises in bloom. Beauty and terror, and of course, at the height of spring.

Both snakes caught — one in a sack and another in a plastic bin — the guys spent a lot of time trying to figure out where a good habitat would be for the rattling pair. Turns out that it’s a tough world for rattlesnakes these days, and there’s few good and welcoming habitats for them in our area. “It makes me sad,” Ken says, “to take them away from their home at our place.”

While I want the rattlesnake tribe to thrive too, I’m not so sad about them being further away than actually just on the other side of the wall where I lay my pillow.

Tonight the snakes will hang out at Hang’s house. He assured me that snakes can lie around in bins and sacks for a few days without any problem, and I’ve got to say that each of these beings were fat and happy, at least until homeland removal commenced. In the meantime, Ken and Hank will look for the best rattlesnake refuge in the area so that the Mr. and Mrs. can unfurl and uncoil into new digs.

Five Wonders at the End of June: Everyday Magic, Day 855


Little wonders abound, and in the last week, here are five I experienced:

1. Mothra! On Sunday we found this guy just off the side of our porch, a giant moth (over six inches across) who blended beautifully with the porch siding and ceiling. Sometimes the amazing is in plain sight, life camoflaged in life. Walk softly, and carry a measuring stick.

2. Flower Power: I caught sight of these gorgeous purple coneflowers aka echinacea right outside Plymouth Congregational Church

Purple Coneflowers
Purple Coneflowers

while strolling around Lawrence with Ken and our friend Stephen Locke. Mostly, we were pausing to listen to the nighthawks dive at dizzying speed while digesting superb Indian food and our lovely time presenting Chasing Weather at the arts center. The flowers grabbed my attention, and how could they not? They were bundling fountains of pink, happy as the day is long, and given that we were just past the summer solstice, the good day was long indeed.

Bathroom Notoriety
Bathroom Notoriety

3. My Name in Lights….in a Bathroom: Nothing like some recognition, but what a surprise to find this in the classy bathroom of the Kansas City Sporting (our local soccer team) fancy and friendly conference center. I was there on Friday to give a writing workshop to about 45 advertising professionals taking part in “Gas Can,” the American Advertising Federation Kansas City chapter’s annual conference.

Sun set, moon rise
Sun set, moon  rise

4. A Merchant Ivory Moment: Hanging out with friends, especially handsome ones, and one in a particularly spiffy hat, is a little like being in one of those luscious Room with a View-like films, only with more chiggers. We paused at the end of the woods after trekking around part of the hill to watch the sky, the moon rising just a little to the south of Venus and Jupiter, so close together. Nothing like being outside with friends to talk poetry, the mysteries of life, and tyranny of ticks.

5. Dessert Nirvana: Sometimes when you order

An Astonishing Dessert
An Astonishing Dessert

something without understanding what it is, what you get is made of amazement. This dessert, at the end of our Oriental Bistro dinner and Power of Words conference committee meeting, was composed of 80% snowy ice and 20% ecstasy. My friends were as amazed as I was; in turn, I begged them to help me eat it, which

Pre-Emptive Empty Nesting: Everyday Magic, Day 854

FullSizeRender-1I’m an expert at the pre-exemptive. If a beloved is dying, I’m all over pre-emptive grief. If I anticipate a struggle with someone, I’m processing pre-emptive anger and/or shame (and rehearsing what I’ll say or how I’ll apologize). When it comes to vacations, I’m an ace at enjoying the planning more than the execution. So it’s no wonder that when facing an empty nest sometime in the third week of August, I’m revising the house, starting with my office.

When Natalie moved out, my inner administrative assistant rejoiced to have a place of her own to work, plan and ponder. It seemed that there were only about 10 minutes between taking possession of said office and Daniel moving back in, and taking possession bedroom he shared with Forest. Ten minutes later (or so it seemed), Forest moved out and and into Natalie’s room, and my frilly little office was man-caved. Now that Forest tends to sleep exclusively on the couch (something I don’t understand but have no power to change), and he uses his/Natalie’s/my room as a closet, I decided to reclaim the space. Add to this that Ken’s current/ my old desk is the same height as my art table — so by swapping  I could speed swivel in my chair from one to the other. Also, my/Natalie’s old desk better accommodate a big rubber ball that he would rather have as his chair. Desk-swapping is not for the uncaffeinated.

The bulk of the resorting and moving of hundreds of small and big things took about four hours. I fortified myself with cold water, and occasionally ate one of the graham crackers that Ken bought for his mom. Wisely, I started with putting a tiny air-conditioner in the window of the room, then turned it to high because most home renovation projects entail a 96-degree day. Let’s just say there were many things in many drawers, including hundreds of unsorted business receipts, dozens of packets of seeds, flash drives with unknown contents, and too many pencils. There was also a mega army of dust bunnies. The cats sat on high and laughed at me. The dog tried to help.

While the project is not quite done, it’s done enough that I’m studying the walls in the living room and music room/Ken’s office/old kid’s playroom to consider what color they should be. I know life is about to change for the better and for the worse. I’ll rejoice, once Daniel isn’t grazing on all manner of vegetables and tortillas, in finding in the refrigerator exactly what I bought earlier that day to make spinach enchiladas. I’ll feel sad, probably even a little empty at times, to not hear my sons and husband laughing loud at a video involving watermelons and a bb gun. As with any big change, I’ll probably experience emotional weather patterns I couldn’t have anticipated, but in my own way, I’m preparing: one wall, one desk drawer, one struggle to sweep up the dust while the ceiling fan spins it back out again.

An Abundance of Cicadas, Hackberry Butterflies, and Rain: Everyday Magic, Day 853

IMG_4071So much comes so thick and fast sometimes, like this June when the 17-year cicadas hatched at the same time as the unleashing of thousands of hackberry butterflies. Walking from the car to the house, I have to close my mouth so a butterfly doesn’t zip in and avoid stepping on some of the dead cicadas, strangely enough, fed on by the butterflies. Meantime, the rain: a deluge so often that we’ve lost track of inches. Garden beds I weeded two weeks ago are buried in invader species, mosquitoes abound, and the rolling roar of the cicadas engulfs everything in the rising buzz.

IMG_4074Sometimes life is so outrageously abundant it’s hard to know what to do to keep some semblance of order or peace of mind. I clean the pantry, weeding out stale nuts and moth-invaded pancake mix. I bend over on the way to the car to pull weeds out of a small triangle of dirt where, a month ago I planted flowers now buried in green. I haul away stuff we don’t need anymore, only to return home to see so much growing and piling up inside and out while I bat away butterflies, walk through rain, and breathe in time with the cicadas.

Abundance shows itself in magic aIMG_4046nd delight too. This weekend, I went with friends to see Lily Tomlin live in Kansas City, all of us immersed in the rich dazzlement of her characters, the poignancy and humor of their stories, and her improvised jokes. I sang “Both Sides Now” and “You Are My Sunshine” with friends in an open-air out-building deep in the country with stand-up bass, guitar, accordion, hammer dulcimer, and of course, cicada accompaniment. I sat on this screened-in porch during a thunderstorm and listened to Pema Chodron, via my computer, talk about shenpa, what hooks us for the good and for the bad, and how we might try reacting differently next time to see what happens. I bought paddles for the kayaks we’re buying from friends and will bring home once and if it stops raining long enough. My work is rich, friendships full of humor and joy, and talks with Ken still surprising after all these years. Fawns walk close by, rabbits criss-cross each other’s paths, and everywhere, there’s birds singing happily of humidity and worms.

Not a very clear photo, but yes, foxes!
Not a very clear photo, but yes, foxes!

When there’s so much, there’s also so much opportunity for strange things to happen, some hooking us into joy (like seeing four foxes by the side of the road last night), and some hooking us into angst (like our water mysteriously stopping working this morning). Everyone I talk with has stories of strangeness to share, and through it all, cicadas, hackberry butterflies, and rain, reminding us to pay attention in a time when all comes at once.

Brooklynisms, Lower-Manhattanisms, and Other Things Heard on the Street: Everyday Magic, Day 852

Roaming around Brooklyn and the city for about five days yields not just astonishing things to behold (two Chinese multi-generational bands jamming in a park where dozens of people play table-top games at high speed in between yelling in Catonese at each other) but also snippets of things people say to each other. Not knowing Catonese or any of the probably 22 other languages hummingbirding past us as we walked, I could only catch these intriguing phrases in English, some of which Ken, Ruth or I may have actually said but most of which we heard:

  • They’re taking over an area that used to be HORRRRible!
  • In Dublin, Van B and Van C are far superior to Van A.
  • I basically made it sound like you’re the only reason the city could sell the company, so you should thank me.
  • He’s turning into you.
  • ….Or like a passive aggressive British woman.
  • The thing about her is that I could actually feel her aura vibrating. It was that intense.
  • The Paris Metro is far superior to this subway.
  • Waiting for the bathroom is a fucking nightmare at this theater.
  • I could sell him anything if he’d just answer the phone.
  • They do the voices really good, but it felt bad anyway. I didn’t get anything out of it but squeaks.
  • It wasn’t just that the penis was elevated.
  • They’re great at growing rocks here.
  • Bagels are for losers.
  • I loved him but not really.
  • I’m like the healthiest person on the face of the planet because all I eat is Chinese food, that and some salad.
  • Person 1: Watch it! Person 2: I don’t have to watch it. You watch it.
  • The rats all know about the third rail. It’s passed down. It’s in their DNA by now.
  • Father to 5-year-old daughter: What did you see? Daughter: Money!
  • The olive oil cake is sublime.
  • You have to go down to go up.
  • Don’t open your mouth. The devil is going to trick you.

So I’ll close my mouth now and go find some Chinese food, that or salad.

For the Love of Animals and Community: Everyday Magic, Day 851

Vigil for lost animals
Vigil for lost animals

When we found out about the fire at Pet World, so many of us in and around Lawrence rushed to the scene or to the many scenes in our minds of this sacred animal-human wonderland. When my kids were growing up, I took them there weekly or more often if I needed to hold a bunny to deal with the stress of big messes, not enough sleep, and all manner of infant, toddler, young child and older child mayhem. I carried my children in front packs, back backs, strollers, then simply held their hand as we rounded the display of ferrets, or delighted in the love birds singing.

I wasn’t alone. Many families did the same, including families of myriad shapes. I often saw people in wheelchairs or with developmental disabilities in the store, being led from furry thing to furry thing by their caregivers or family members. Dogs, even my own who had a habit of peeing on the dog treats near the cash register, frequented the store as often as humans. Bus loads of school kids came as did elders in the neighborhood. For my own family, these trips morphed into pet-obtaining excursions too, especially for my daughter Natalie who fell in love with amphibians. We had lizards of all manner, Australian and then red-eyed tree frogs, newts, and expanding to mammals, dwarf hamsters.

I didn’t realize until recently how I took for granted that we were allowed to hold the animals at Pet World, something I realize now isn’t common for pet stores. In Pet World owner Sherry Emerson’s very moving statement about the fire — which tragically killed almost all the mammals, all the birds, some snakes, reptiles and fish — she writes of her co-owner husband:

Tim can never forget how he felt as a child when he and his young friends were refused entry to their local pet store and not allowed to hold the animals. He knows that the total separation of humans and animals will ultimately lead to the disconnection of humans and nature. We truly believe in our mission.

Marilyn's photo collage of the scene
Marilyn’s photo collage of the scene

So does our community. Last night, hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil for the animals lost. The crowd was anything but vigil-like: there were scatterings of baby strollers with shrieking babies, many people with disabilities being wheeled or led around, piles of kids of all ages, some laughing with friends, and some standing quietly, crying. The community support throughout the week has been mind-beautifyingly powerful, from the veterinarians who rushed to the scene alongside past and present employees, friends, and even employees at a nearby store, as Marilyn Naron writes so eloquently about here along with what Pet World meant to her and so many of us:

When Greg and I went to Westlake Ace Garden Center this afternoon to buy tomato cages, we did not know that a fire had broken out at their neighbor across the street, Pet World Lawrence. Pet World is a beloved institution here – a caring, 27-year-old business that is more animal education center than retail store. The staff will talk to you passionately about the needs of tiny tropical fish. An ancient double yellow-headed parrot, Fletcher, hangs out overhead. People bring their kids to watch the rabbits play and to watch the giant python, Goliath, eat (not the rabbits).

Today the firefighters tried to save as many animals as possible, but the news was awful – none of the guinea pigs, rabbits, chinchillas, gerbils, mice, parakeets, cockatiels, or other birds had survived, including Fletcher. But the reptiles did. Pet World staff began running across the street to the garden center, each of them carrying soot-covered turtles and lizards. I watched the garden employees drop everything to create a sort of reptile triage; they rushed to pull planters and pots off the shelves, filled them, and then used their hoses to spray each stunned turtle back to life. Staff from both stores were crying and hugging and doing what they could. It was a sad day in Lawrence, but still. Good neighbors. (And Goliath made it out.)

Pet World will, thankfully, and thanks to so many children who encouraged the Emersons, rebuild. Sherry writes in the official statement:

We have been blessed with the ability to connect children to nature. That’s what matters most to us. We feel, as responsible stewards, that this is our calling and we will continue to answer it. We have two choices in life: surrender or fight. For us, surrender is not an option. We thank you for your patience, kindness, and support, and look forward to seeing you again soon.

I’m so proud of my community and this business for upholding the essential connection we human animals have and need to have with other creatures. Thank you especially to Pet World.