Willem Lange: An Escape From the Squabbles and Imperatives of Mere Human Beings

For the Valley News
Tuesday, May 08, 2018

East Montpelier

A mind unstimulated by conversation can wander some strange roads. With my puppy, Kiki, so far apparently unwilling to speak with me in any human tongue, I've had occasion to ruminate at length in silence and calculate the odds of the occurrence of various phenomena. The odds that my washer/dryer combination will turn undershorts inside out, for example, is roughly 50 percent. Far more interesting is the almost 90 percent chance that my microwave oven, having been given a coffee cup with the handle turned toward me, will stop rotating with the handle in the same position if I press double figures of seconds — like 66, 88, or 99.

And it's almost a sure thing — 99 percent — that when I turn on the television to a news channel, the first sentence I hear will concern the latest actions or declarations of the president.

Never in history has a political figure so powerfully dominated the national news. He's a genius at the business; the publicity he's commanded would cost billions if he had to purchase it. But the subjects of the news have grown tawdry, and becoming interested in them is like catching myself reaching for a checkout-line tabloid with a lede about Hillary Clinton's secret infant fathered by an extraterrestrial.

The internet isn't much better. It features people arguing over the same stories, puppies climbing all over their mothers, or cat owners scaring the daylights out of their pets with cucumbers. I also read a lot — several magazines, a couple of newspapers and, currently, The Worst Journey in the World, by an English nobleman/explorer with the great name of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who was a member of the ill-fated Scott expedition to the South Pole in 1910-13.

But all that can take anyone only so far, and doesn't do much for the old corpore sano. So my little non-English-speaking pal and I get out as often as we can. She's hardly inarticulate when it's our usual time: shaking her tags, standing on her hind legs and planting both front feet on my sore arm, or jumping up into my lap and thence to my shoulders, a perch from which she can survey the back yard for dangerous predators and, while there, make it very difficult for me to type.

But it's when I'm with her in her favorite haunts that I can experience things far more important than the constant ruckus of the nation's capital. Like, who cares who paid whom how much for what? — when, charging into the garage, she flushed out a pair of robins building a nest atop the garage door opener? Time to shut the doors all day till they build somewhere else.

Then, following the scent of something small through dead grass, she led my eyes to my beloved little tamaracks, which I noticed for the first time have begun to brighten with tiny lime-green buds. A memorial to happy times right at treeline in the Canadian Arctic, they're planted in a semicircle around our last dog's grave, where I go now and then for fiveses with Jack Daniel in a garden chair and ask her how she's doing. OK, she says, but when are you coming?

Her successor knows we're headed for the park, and bounces around the inside of the car like a crazed Mexican jumping bean. The eager whining starts as we head up the hill. Parked, we go through our ritual of restraint: sit in my lap, poised to spring; stay; open the door wide; wait; OK! and she's off.

Today was as lovely a day as we've had — cold high pressure and cloudless blue above us. No mud, snow or ice beneath our feet for the first time since last year. The grass, which a week ago shivered under a couple of inches of fresh snow, was suddenly green as Ireland. The maples, birches and popples didn't seem quite as convinced as the grass and the tamaracks, and budded only tentatively, as if poised to pull it all back in with the first hint of another storm.

Kiki was fired up as a spring colt. She zoomed through the bare woods, a tiny ginger-colored meteor, scattering occasional squirrels and robins before her. (Someday she'll start a bear, and I can't wait to see that one!) Just watching her and her pure joy in what I call her lickety-split mode almost brought tears to my eyes; but I'm a bit leaky lately, anyway. They say it'll pass.

Then, beside the trail, where a patch of sun warmed a bank, the mottled leaves of a patch of trout lily caught my eye. The breeze stirred, and half a dozen of the tiny, delicate yellow blossoms nodded to it.

These were flowers of my boyhood; they bloomed for only a few days when the streams were finally clear enough for trout-fishing. Along with the pussy willows, wild leeks and skunk cabbage, they were, after all of spring's false starts, an assurance and a promise long desired. They were, in those days of a horrible war, a signal that things always recover — that nature's rhythms have little to do with the squabbles and imperatives of mere human beings. That it was time to take a soup can and a garden fork out to my mother's compost pit, dig up a dozen or two fresh, muscular worms, and go a-fishing.

Willem Lange’s can be reached at willem.lange@comcastl.net.