Meanderings in February


On the porch with the Big Dog, it was warmer than expected at coffee time. As the sun came up I had been reading upstairs next to the window that takes the full early morning sun. But the Big Dog was up now with a collar rattle and we were out on the porch together. He ignores the birds. I don’t think he can see them anymore in his very old years. Over 105 now, if the seven year rule is true. I listen to the birds though. And I do think he can still hear them. He may even note the change in the Crow talk. Crows this morning making the drawn hollow “ooooooo” note they make less in winter I suppose. It is a decidedly unbirdy noise that always makes me stop.

The Red-shouldered Hawks are in full hormonal shock, chasing each other and calling cries of what sounds like actual pain sometimes. At one point three of them, one right after the other, cut across the yard view heading north on folded wings, falling and falling away. I assume it is one female and two males. They nest on the property every year, but I don’t remember such competition, such heated chase.  The sounds of these hawks in late winter would be one of the things I listed on my list of things I would miss. You know, if I was getting in the starship to head off forevermore.

What I was reading at sunup before my Big Dog time was the third volume of Van Gogh’s letters. I have finally made it to the last year of his life. He is in Arles and dreading winter. He is alone and wishing for human contact, waiting for Gauguin to make up his mind about coming down and staying with him. He is painting like a storm is coming. Finishing whole canvases in single long days of heavy paintwork. All that art reading makes me take the camera out for this year’s winter walk.

I always favor black and white for this walk each year. Van Gogh would perhaps not approve. His last year so deeply devoted to the study and use of colors. I make my way around my property after the light is mostly west and filtered only by trees. There are no clouds at all today. Leaf litter browns and the greens of cedars and pines the dominant colors anyway. The shoots of the daffodils and tulips are showing in the yard. The recent winter icing has taken some more trees down. Nothing like the big snow last year. But still, things are leaning where they did not before. An oak in my swamp had gone down. I have been carving firewood from its lower arms.

After my circuit through the creek and the meadow the Big Dog joins me on a walkaround again. I stop to check the Devil’s Walking Sticks and find they are busy making more canes for Satan. Pointing them like weapons at today’s blue sky. The Robins are busy in the shaded cedar glade. Running and chatting. They are doing the Robin stalk and stare. Worms must still be moving. The buds of the Buckeyes are pushing open and greening. It seems early but is probably right on time.

I try to find the light. And keep the dog close. I take his image on the road. I may not get too many more images of him. He pushes his head against my legs, probably to verify me, to validate the blob he sees with the right nose codes, like dogs always do.  I rattle his ear. He lopes a few steps.

I had often thought in the past about where I would go with a time machine. Where and when I mean.  So many choices. I have my own rules about such a thing. You are only allowed one trip. Possibly because it costs, let’s say, a year’s salary to go. Like riding the gravity-free space rides now. Only this is time travel. You get to stay a week. You can’t take anything except appropriate clothes and maybe some gold. When would they not take gold? You are on your own. If you die you die. And, please, no assassinations. Going straight back to take out Hitler, killing Oswald before he fires those shots in Dallas. No. Not allowed. We did what we did. Live with it. And there are those who would want to go and have a week walking around with Christ. No guarantees he would pay you any attention. Or that you would learn anything truly specific about him. But still. And it was reading Vincent’s letters this morning that put this in my mind again. I am not sure I wouldn’t want to go to his house in Arles in about September of 1889. To see the place he was furnishing and filling with paintings. He supposedly filled the walls of one room with Sunflower paintings. He painted his own bed with Van Gogh images. He sat alone in the gardens worrying about money. He could certainly have my gold if we could just drink some tea and sit watching flowers. Walk out in the fields and chase crows together. Of course, I would need to learn French beforehand, but who cares. And I could just leave the gold somewhere in the house. Financial security might have kept him alive a few more years. And certainly I would want to hug a great painting and haul it back in the machine with me. But again, my rules: not allowed. But oh to come back with one of those brilliant sunflower paintings or one of his impressive starry skies. Oh to have the Night Café to hang in my office.

When I stoop to shoot the Big Dog again, he gives me a look. He is trying to figure out what I am up to. It is not my normal behavior. I may have been rambling on about color and sunflowers, inside the black and white winter world. “I couldn’t bring back a painting,” I tell the Big Dog. I say it out loud. But I would be there a week. Van Gogh was always wanting sitters to sit for him. And no one would sit without pay. He had one friend that came occasionally but he was a “poor and restless sitter” according to Van Gogh. No problem. And then when I returned. I could just hop on over to the museums in Amsterdam. And walk the Van Gogh decorated halls until I found myself staring back.

Worth the trip. Too bad I couldn’t bring him a puppy.

        HR