This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jobba Flats-- No Car!

MY FRIEND CLAY, a teacher who has this week off for April Vacation, asked me last week if I would go birding with him one day. I said I would, but then forgot until he called last night (from the Red Sox game-- lucky duck!) and reminded me. They were calling for a spectacular day, and we planned a trip to Jobba Flats at the Parker River Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island, right off the coast of Newburyport, a beautiful old New England port city full of quaint shops and magnificent architecture.

Clay said last night he would be at my house by ten-- that meant eleven (I always add an hour, as Clay is habitually, but dependably, late, which is fine, really) but he actually didn't make it here until noon. This was somewhat problematic in that I wanted to get my haircut on the way to Jobba Flats, a thing I haven't been able to do for a month as my car has, finally and irrevocably, given up the ghost. I took it out to Quabbin about a month ago and it was fine; the next day after that, I took it into Boston for the day, and ditto; the next night, driving one mile to the Flynn Skating Rink Parking Lot to take Fionn for a walk (we like to vary our walks) it started acting up, shuddering and belching and barely making it up the hill on the way home. "What now?" I thought. Several days later the prognosis came in from the 'Hi How Ah Ya' mechanic down the street ("Ya gut Trubble!") and it was a fatal one. There were several holes in the radiator; the catalytic convertor was gone; the head gasket was about to go. It would not be worth repairing, especially in light of the fact that the car was 15 years old, and a (once) rather sporty American vehicle to boot-- not the type of vehicle designed to last very long. It was a heavy, two door, black Monte Carlo-- a car I never liked, to be perfectly frank. I liked it even less after we (the car and I, and Fionn) got rammed in it by this clueless woman in a massive behemoth of an SUV. It was oppressively hot (the a/c never worked and finally broke outright, a condition that, like a karma, seems to follow me from one car to the next), not very kind to the environment in terms of its gas mileage, and definitely not 'me.' I always pictured it as a white-lipstick hussy's car, or a teenage boy of unevolved taste. But it was a very good deal when it came into my life-- from my mother, no less!-- (who hasn't worn white lipstick in years, I hasten to add). But I am grateful for all the places it brought me to, and all the people in my life who once rode in it, some of whom are no longer in my life. (You know who you are!) Thus I wax a little sentimental when I say adieu to a car-- even the ones I want to say, "don't let the door hit'cha where the good Lord split'cha" to.

Thus we have been walking quite a bit lately-- more so than usual. We haven't hitch-hiked yet though, unclothed or not.

But getting back to today-- Clay wasn't thrilled at the haircut delay (while remaining silent about his own two-hour tardiness!) but I didn't think it would take that long-- usually it doesn't, I get the same thing every time, 0-0-0-0-0 on the sides and back, and a little off the top. My coifer (and me being the coifee I guess) is Ridyah, a wonderful, stout, happy woman from Lebanon who occasionally makes me falafel. She has introduced me to the beauty of Ramadan and we have great gossip while she attends to me-- we love to heap copious calumny on the current administration. But when we got to the hair place where Ridyah works (which changes its name every month-- currently it's the Hair Cutery) there were two people ahead of me for Ridyah, though she told me there was only one. Both of them were peevish and fussy and after Ridyah had finished with them they wanted this different and that changed-- Murphy's Law! Only when someone's waiting for you impatiently in a hot strip mall parking lot with birding on their mind! I told Clay to forget about it but he said, "Well, we're here, so get your haircut, but we probably can't go now as it's getting late."

Of course we still went after my haircut, and it was heaven. Like stepping into a Monet or Millet-- long sweeping vistas, open marshes, a magnificent sky above and beyond, and all kinds of bird life. The light was radiant. Plum Island, or at least the Plum Island one usually sees, is chock-a-block with tacky cottages too close together, kind of like Tobacco Road by the ocean and always kind of depressing to me to see such ugliness by the sea-- but beyond the dense concentration of cottages, one comes to the lower 2/3 of Plum Island, which is all Natural Wildlife Refuge-- and heaven. A long straight road cuts through dunes and salt marsh; then the road turns to sand. There are parking areas here and there and one of these we got out at and hiked from. We came across this wonderful 'duck blind' structure, old fashioned and made out of green wood, with a pointed roof-- about twenty by forty and open on all four sides and the walls going up like three feet-- picture a four-sided porch, out in the middle of nowhere. Behind you is a dense jack pine forest, and before you is the open salt marsh, mile after mile of it. The structure is like something out of E. M. Forster, one of his romantic English boathouses of flickering light and languid water.

We saw: grackles, red-wing blackbirds, crows, savannah sparrows, song sparrows, palm warblers, pine warblers, mute swans, killdeer, yellow legs, a few snowy egrets (gorgeous!), northern mockingbirds, sundry ducks and geese, and a few other things I can't remember. Clay brought an extra pair of binoculars for me so that was cool. At one of the posts of the Duck Blind, massive hornets were busy making a nest-- big mothers, with dangling participles (as it were) that suggested a heavy payload of sting-a-bility-- fascinating to watch. Right at the nest, they were all clustered together one atop the other, just staying still-- I think they were using their spit to hold the pieces of their nest together. That's just a theory-- but still, there's a lot to be said for field observation!

I was STARVING on the way up and wanted to stop for food. Clay said he had brought food, and it was a surprise. Then again I wanted to stop in New Hampshire for cheap cigs and fireworks (we missed the correct exit because we were waxing passionate about the Clintons and how they should JUST GO AWAY NOW PLEASE (we like Obama) but Clay wouldn't hear of it. Lunch, as it turned out, was dinky little boxes of raisins, thirst-inducing crackers, drinkable yogurt, and warm water from an old canteen that looked (and tasted) like it had seen service at Waterloo. Not the chicken parm I had been dreaming of, but it kept body and soul together until other arrangements could be made. And of course, any food is always a gift, in a world where too many go hungry.

The whole was so much more than the sum of the parts-- it was a day from heaven and one I will never forget. That's really what spring's about, or should be-- to shove your face (as it were) into the busy-ness and beauty of life returning, to feel the sun warming the muscles of one's shirtless back, and to know how lucky one is to be filled with such bliss-- and all the better if you have an old friend who loves you along to share it with you. My advice: go and do likewise!!!!


Blogger Chico said...

Re: "Day from Heaven"

A really good and funny little road trip story! You should work it into one of your stories/novels if you can. The car almost deserves to be a full participating character! So you two passed a beaver on the way
to look for birds (sorta looked like the type who'd want to charge for a ride...).
Now look - if Michelle could make Barack stop smoking cigs before she'd let him run for president, can't you take the challenge and try? I know it won't be easy...I had to stop beer and coffee for the 3 week duration of cold turkey (like what do you wanna do when you drink beer or coffee?). And you gotta be prepared for caffein-withdrawal headaches. (Yes you can!)

1:10 AM  
Blogger BiscuitsBoy said...

Thanks Chico for the comments-- where you writing from?

9:34 AM  

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