Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cape August again

August in, en aout. (I'm sure there's a way to put an accent circumflex over the o of that aout to make it more august, but I can't figure out how.) In French it's pronounced "oo," which could be an 8 lying on its side, maybe because it's too darn hot, as Ella Fitzgerald used to sing.

I've been on vacation, mostly, in July. It was over the moment our airplane rose off the runway at SFO—an audacious thing to do, which made everything that had been right-sized around us become smaller and smaller. Unreal, a toy geography. It displaced us, we belonged to the barren zone of the sky, and we were brought back home like disobedient fugitives. We managed to run away again, to Cape Cod, and one day to Tanglewood to see Steely Dan. We drove there and drove back, so nothing got small. But California, we have to squeeze the memories out of a kind of extruder. Quentin, the llama in my sister's yard. A blue grosbeak singing from a telephone wire. A friend's house in Berkeley with avocado trees, a palm tree, and a redwood. Fireworks over the Marin County Fair. A Giants game. A Cubana band at the Dance Palace. All true but taking on the granular texture of a story now.

So I find myself aout-daciously rounding Cape August, as I always do, but usually with a stretch of vacation in the middle. Last year it was a trip to England. Other years, California or Maine. This year, the month lolls before me like a red hound dog on the sidewalk. I will get to know it in one place, through heat wave and thunderstorm, through perseids and loosestrife. I will follow the intensifying crickets and the occasional washboard katydid. I will accompany summer with empathy for its aging, for we are both approximately 63. We are both heading for September.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Of Mice and Midsummer

No sooner does summer begin than it's midsummer. Funny how that works. Midsummer is a big deal in many countries, especially in northern Europe. Judging from A Midsummer Night's Dream, it seems to be a time of magic and puckishness. In the eastern U.S., fireflies emerge, our version of fairies. Also mice emerge, and not necessarily at night.

The other day I saw one in the kitchen, near the garbage container. A little graybrown fast thing, too big to ignore. This could only lead to an unhappy outcome for the mouse and me, the reluctant exterminator. But it couldn't be helped. Friends would be staying in the house while we were out of town. A message of zero tolerance needed to go out among the vermin. And this time the means would not be a Have-a-Heart trap with peanut-buttered Q-tips, resulting in gnawed plastic, unravelled cotton, and missing houdini. This time it would have to be a pair of beige-and-red Victory traps with spring-loaded bludgeons.

The next morning, my sleep-fogged eyes registered something dark and stationary by the right-hand trap. Death had come, at my invitation. A dirty trick, but I felt less guilty than I thought I would. Unseen mice at night leaving poppy-seed size turds in the silverware drawer was one thing. Conspicuous raiders in broad daylight was another. Rule number whatever.

The next day, some time in the afternoon, I was on the phone. "Dad!" Matt yelled from the living room. "Mouse!" It was a baby this time, a tiny gray fluffball with big black button eyes, peering at us from underneath the couch. Possibly orphaned by the events of the night before.

What followed was a kind of opera bouffe in which father and son, armed respectively with a sponge mop and aluminum bowl attempted to coax the little fellow first from under the couch, then from behind the radiator behind the couch. No amount of whacking and prying with the sponge mop seemed to persuade the mouse of our good intentions. In fact, we weren't sure exactly where it was until Matt spied it unaccountably clear across the room, huddling next to a leg of the dining room table. A different mouse? Not likely. Somehow it had escaped our dragnet and our peripheral vision and pulled off a disappearance/reappearance that nature has granted mice with the ability to do.

This called for a new strategy. Luckily, the mouse felt either helpless or invisible enough to remain beside its table leg while I rummaged through the recyclables bin and came up with a vente Starbucks container. I approached the mouse cautiously from the rear, expecting it to bolt at any second. The tail could be a problem. At last in a slo-mo fell swoop—tail at the last minute pulled in—I managed to enhouse it in the vente. It jumped and hit air-colored wall. I slipped a thin piece of file folder under it for a floor, and in a swift inversion, it became the ceiling, shortly replaced by a length of Saran Wrap, bound by a rubber band and ventilated by Matt with a few pokes of a scissor blade.

"Baby mice," I informed Matt, "are called pinkies." This one was probably too old to be called that, but still young, terribly cute, and very panicky. We slipped a couple of veggie chips through the roof holes and considered our next move. Keep it as a pet? There was the matter of no cage, going on vacation, and the fact that it didn't seem to want to be kept, from the way it kept jumping in its confines. No choice seemed kind, either to us or to the mouse, but the best one was to release it outside. Since we were going out anyway, we got in the car, container in Matt's lap, and drove down to Spy Pond. 

No one noticed what we were carrying to the copse of trees near the bike path, or saw us kneel by a tree, roll the rubber band off the Saran Wrap, and give a tap or two to coax the former resident of 34 Allen St. to venture out into its new home, the great outdoors. Could it survive out here without the benefit of fallen Cheerios? Instead of our comfortable crannies, it had to learn a new wild architecture in order to avoid crows, hawks, owls, gulls...what was I doing, subjecting it to nature's rules? But this wasn't our pet hamster. And wasn't this its real home, or at least its parents'...or grandparents'....? Finally it crept out of its last vestige of human habitation and into the unfamiliar green world of grass blades and leaf litter. Big-eyed. On high alert.


Midsummer is actually not a midpoint but a broad field to get across. It takes a month or two, then it's noticeably late summer. But not quite yet. July is still a summer novel on the beach. Half-read.Along the way, the venue has a way of shifting. I started this post in Massachusetts. Now it's a cool night in northern California. There is a llama outside. Matt and his uncle are playing a duet on guitar and flute ("Goodnight, Sweetheart"). My sister is reading the Sunday Times magazine. At some point, in a few days, our midsummer will move back to Massachusetts. It will also continue here in California, and elsewhere. Canada. Florida. Northern Europe. With the best-laid plans of mice and men going predictably agley.