Tuesday, August 15, 2017

ACK! FLEAS!!! -- Nonfiction


Isn't it enough that I live in my beautiful United States while the White House is infested? Now my beautiful Colorado is infested. FLEAS!!!!

It'll be six years this Christmas that I've lived here. Never until today have I seen a tick or a flea. We've had dogs here. We've had cats. We've had fish and a snake. So, okay. Fish and snakes don't get fleas. But none of our other animals have either. Until today.

The dogs didn't have fleas last night. I'm sure. I held them. I brushed them. I did not see fleas.

This evening as we watched BBC America with its sort-of-good-news that North Korea isn't going to bomb Guam today. And its really bad news that *rump has had oral diarrhea yet again telling us that there were "fine" people carrying those Nazi swastika flags and those Army of Northern Virginia battle flags in Charlottesville, Virginia. Let me think. The former was disbanded forcibly May 8, 1945, and the latter disbanded equally forcibly April 9, 1865. I have to remind myself that this is August 15, 2017.

And my dogs have fleas. I discovered them first on Lily. Scott checked. Yes, they were fleas. He checked Cooper. Cooper had fleas, too. Then he snatched up Kočka. Kočka, who does not like to be held or petted or touched by humans, did NOT have fleas. Kočka immediately fled the area. We found him in the office taking refuge behind my chair. (See photo above.)

Where did they get fleas? From the little pocket mice who live in the roots of the pine tree at the edge of the patio? Bubonic Plague is endemic to Colorado. Yes, that Bubonic Plague that killed millions of humans during the Middle Ages. It's carried by rodent fleas. Scott does not believe our dogs have rodent fleas. He thinks the dogs have the most common kind of flea -- the cat flea. Which our cat does not have. Trust a veterinarian to recognize the subtle differences in fleas.

The Good Doctor thinks it likely that neighborhood dogs are to blame. Who knows where those other dogs have been? Kočka's never been outside. But he'll get those fleas from our dogs. 

This is not to make light of the world's problems or my country's problems. It's just the straw....

This is, however, a straw I can do something about. I jumped in the car and headed to Pet Smart. Yes, my beautiful Colorado has fleas and rush hour traffic. Those other drivers are crazy. I wasn't even on any freeways. It was like a NASCAR race -- cars dodging in and out, hurrying through yellow/red lights. Heaven forfend that anyone should get ahead of anyone else.

Then and then and then, it was home finally, with the preferred flea treatment.

Cooper, normally the more docile of the two dogs, struggled mightily, but I held on tight as Scott applied the premeasured dose for dogs five to twenty-two pounds. Thank goodness, he doesn't weigh the full twenty-two pounds yet.

Lily was a good deal easier. And Kočka? 

Kočka was at the back of the top shelf of the tall book shelves in the office. I could barely reach him. Kočka bites. It was only yesterday that he brought the blood on me because I wouldn't let him play with the tie on my robe, I told the Doc to have the little vial open and ready to apply when I got the cat down.

Kočka was a perfect gentleman. He did not fight me. He did not bite me. He didn't call me ugly cat-names.

Now, if the rest of the world would behave so well as Kočka did on this one occasion, perhaps we'd have fewer infestations of unwanted pests.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Crown Hill Walk -- nonfiction

Here I am on the trail again. 

This time the walking group visited Crown Hill Park, a Jefferson County Open Space. The 242 acre park is fifteen minutes from my house. It has 9.5 miles of natural surface and paved trails, including 1.2 miles of paved trail around Crown Hill Lake. In the northwest corner of the park is Kestrel Pond, a certified National Urban Wildlife Refuge.

This truly is an urban wildlife refuge. The park sits on the border between Lakewood and Wheat Ridge, Colorado, in the midst of a human population estimated at almost 156,000.

Wheat Ridge High School is just beyond the northern limits of the park. In the background you can see the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The haze is from wild fires in the Pacific Northwest, some more than a thousand miles away. The jet stream (one of several upper air currents around the Earth) flowing from west to east carries the smoke across the mountains. The smoke then settles south along the east side of the Rockies compromising our mountain views and our air quality.

A gentleman just coming out of the wildlife part of the park, alerted us to the presence of a deer and her twin fawns ahead. The Mule Deer doe calmly grazed in the meadow as we walked past. In the background you can see electric lines, and just beyond the trees is Wheat Ridge High School and the rest of the city.

Kestrel Pond is fenced so that it can be closed to humans during nesting season. This spring  it was closed for the early days of these two fawns' lives.

More a wetlands, than a pond, Kestrel Pond is home to migratory water birds and shore birds.

In addition to the Canada Geese on the bigger lake, we saw these on Kestrel Pond. The bird in the upper left is a Killdeer. The two larger birds are American Avocets and the little brown bird is a Sandpiper.

Not to be outdone by the fauna in the wildlife refuge, the flora is abundant this time of year including a plant I did not recognize.

This is the Arrowhead plant, also known as Indian potato. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service the Indian potato or Wapato (Sagittaria cuneata) is common and widespread from eastern Alaska east to Newfoundland and south to Texas. The tubers have a potato-like texture but more the flavor of water chestnuts when boiled or roasted to remove their slightly bitter taste when raw. Arrowhead tubers grow in muddy soil underwater and were harvested by Indians using sticks or with their bare feet (once freed, the tubers float to the surface to be gathered).

None of us knew of their special properties, though I doubt any of us were inclined to squish around barefoot in the mud to harvest them.

Another plant new to me is the Red Smartweed -- apparently an invasive species that's hard to kill out, but very pretty with its bright fuchsia colored flowers.

I love living here. Here I am in the midst of suburbia complete with decent public transportation, excellent medical facilities, ample shopping, and world-class entertainment venues and still have the natural world practically outside my front door.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Help -- Flash Fiction

"Mister?" she called.

He didn't answer.

He couldn't hear her. Too many cars sped past her on the bridge. The noise drowned out her voice and the wind dragged her hair in its wake. Why didn't they stop? Couldn't they see? He needed help.

She'd been there herself. Once. Three years ago. Or was it last year? Or yesterday? Someone had stopped then. To help.

"Please." She leaned out over the railing. "Don't jump!"

They were so high. Her stomach felt hollow. She could feel herself falling. She clutched the railing. All she could see was the top of his head. He seemed intent on the rapids far below them. She had to do something.

"Hey, Mister?" She climbed up on the bottom rung of the railing. She hated heights.

She saw him let go with one hand and lean away from the rigging.

"Mister," She willed him to look up.

He didn't.

The rapids. "Oh, God." Three, maybe four stories below them. She had to get to him. She crawled over the rail keeping her body against it, its chill seeping through her shirt and jeans, her belt buckle scraping against the metal. With her right foot she reached for the narrow ledge. Too narrow for her whole foot. It would have to do.

"Mister. Don't." She moved down to a beam. First her left foot. Then her right. She wrapped both arms around the slanted metal brace. The rumble of traffic and the roar of her own blood filled her ears, pounded through her body. She had to get to him.

"Hey!" she yelled.

He looked up. Squatting there, on the second beam down, he looked up. Thank God, he looked up.

His eyes wide with surprise, he spoke, but she couldn't hear him.

"What?" she shouted.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"Please, don't jump."

His brows arched high above his eyes, then furrowed deep into a vee. His eyes narrowed to little more than slits.

"Dammit, Lady. You think I'm a suicide?" He put something into his shirt pocket. "You be still. I'm gonna climb up to you."

She couldn't breathe. She pressed her face against the metal brace and waited.

He hunkered on the beam behind the brace she clung to and touched her shoulder. She was afraid to move her face away from the metal. Afraid to move. Afraid to look at him.

"Aw, Lady." He brushed her hair away from her face. "This wasn't suicide." He pulled something from his pocket. A tiny gold locket on the finest of chains. "This was my wife's. I meant to throw it in the river, but it got hung up." He put it back in his pocket and waited.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"Sorry about that woman I married? Sorry, you came to help? Or sorry you're dangling out here over the river, shaking like a leaf?"

He helped her let go. "You're gonna climb back up now."

He grasped her belt as she reached up the brace toward the ledge. "I've got you. You won't fall."

He put his face next to hers and said just loud enough to be heard over the river and the traffic, "I do appreciate the help."

This story was inspired by the 2017 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Competition. We writers were each placed in one of eighty groups and assigned to write a story of 1,000 or fewer words in a genre, a location, and including an object. I have previously posted my submission. This assignment was for a group not my own -- genre, romance; location, a bridge; the object, a locket. This story comes in at 537 words.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Moose and Elk and a Bank Robbery -- A Day Trip

In July my son's family and I took a day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, my second favorite place in Colorado. It is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Its 265,461 acres of forest and tundra is bisected by the Continental Divide, which means that for the most part streams that head up west of the divide join the Colorado River and make their way to the Pacific Ocean. The water of those to the east of the divide eventually makes its way to the Atlantic.

After an early breakfast at home, we had an early lunch in the village of Grand Lake, the park's western entryway.

The Sagebrush Bar and Grill is a welcome stop for people hiking the Colorado Trail.
Good food. Good service. And they can leave their back packs and trekking poles
inside the front door. On a visit a couple of weeks earlier I saw one young man
whose pack I swear was at least as big as he was.

That earlier visit was made ostensibly to get a Lifetime Senior Pass for $10. It's good for all our national parks and it's going up to $80 August 28. You can get them online, but it was a good excuse to go, right?

So I handed my pretty, floral card to my son as we approached the entry gate. What? No rangers in sight. Just a sign that said to proceed. They didn't check my card. They weren't charging the standard day fee of $20.00 per car. And there I was all prepared to save money.

Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (a Roosevelt New Deal program during the Great Depression) Trail Ridge Road runs 48 miles from Grand Lake at 8,369 feet above sea level to Estes Park, the east gateway, at 7,522 feet. Eleven miles of it are above tree-line, the highest point being 12,183 feet.

As you travel the road, the climate and ecosystems change as you change altitude. From marshy river valley through montane, subalpine, and into alpine tundra at its highest.

The best opportunity to see moose is in the Kawuneeche Valley of the Colorado River just up the road from Grand Lake, at relatively low altitude, though still well above the mile-high mark.

Kawuneeche means "valley of the coyote" in Arapaho. You can tell when there are moose or, indeed almost any large wild creatures in sight of the highway. People stop their cars alongside the road and pile out to get a closer look. The public is advised not to approach the animals and because the Kawuneeche valley is well below the level of the highway and very marshy, the public behaves. We joined the crowd and did see a moose and her calf. Sorry, I only had my cell phone and they were too far away, so no photos.

Trail Ridge Road is a series of switch backs and steep grades. Around each curve or as you start down a ridge you are treated to a new vision of the world. Dramatic valleys falling hundreds of feet below you or sheer cliffs rising as many feet above. Waterfalls and clouds. Clouds dancing among the mountains and around you.


And wildlife.

    Elk alongside the highway                 A marmot near the wall at a scenic overlook 

Then down from the mountains, we skirted Estes Park missing the traffic. A stop at Colorado Cherry Company for an afternoon snack -- Cherry pie and coffee for me. Then on to Lyons for a stop at Oskar Blues, a bar and grill complete with a pinball arcade in the basement.

As we got out of the car and my daughter-in-law was divvying up quarters for the pinball machines, we noticed two sheriff's deputies running into a neighborhood -- one with a rifle and the other with a police dog -- their vehicles parked at odd angles in front of a neighborhood bank. Yes, indeedy. My first bank robbery.

We did not dawdle outside to see what happened. The kids played pinball and I finished reading a very good book.

Here I am with the grandchildren all lit by a black light in the basement pinball arcade.

According to the next day's Denver Post the robber got away on foot with an "undisclosed" amount of money and had not yet been apprehended.

The Grandkids figured he had a getaway car parked somewhere in the neighborhood north of the bank. I figure, considering how many tourists were in town, he probably couldn't find a parking place any closer.

Anyway, after the children ran out of quarters, it was home again for us, completing our 210 mile loop through the mountains. All-in-all, a good day trip.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Icarus File -- Flash Fiction

Ch 1 G7 Spy, A Sand Dune, An Extension Cord

      “Adele.” Armand called. “Adele, can you come in here?”
     No Bond Girl, Adele, at just over average height and more than average weight, dressed in olive drab scrubs, looked more like an army nurse than a caterer’s assistant.
     “Yes, dear. A moment. Let me start the dryer.” She had to start the dryer, air only. She moved a tray of seedlings off the dryer and unplugged the grow light from an extension cord. The missus was apparently into fresh herbs.
     “Adele, now, please.”
     Armand leaned against the kitchen counter, blood seeping from just above his left eye, his left cheek swollen and beginning to color.
     Two very large, very fit young men stood, one on either side of him. Aleksei, the blond, had his back to her. In a club or a bar, Aleksei and Kolya, with his shaved head, would be bouncers. In the Portero home, they were Uncle Aleksei and Uncle Kolya, security.
     “Armand?” She pulled the hand towel from her waist band. “Aleksei, get some ice.”
     Aleksei turned toward her, a gun in his hand. A Glock 19. Good choice, she thought. Reliable. Easily modified to fit a smaller hand. Standard 15-round magazine. Reduced dimensions make it ideal for concealed-carry. She wished she had hers on her. She glanced at the box of clean towels sitting on the other end of the counter. Beyond her reach.
     “Give me your phone” the blond ordered her. She did and he motioned her to Armand’s side.
“Have you been in the Communications Room?”
     “Communications?” She pressed the towel against Armand’s wound. “You mean with all that computer stuff?”
     Kolya got ice with his bare hands. Adele wouldn’t serve ice from that tray. Who knew where his hand had been?
     “May I get a clean towel?” She nodded toward the box of towels.
     “Kolya, get her towels.”
     Kolya, brought her one towel. Not the box as she’d hoped, but she was glad he took only the top one.
     Without giving her time to deal properly with Armand’s wound, Aleksei herded them into the laundry room. The door had no lock.
     The Communications Room, a half-bath, and the mudroom also opened off the kitchen. Mudroom, a misnomer if she ever heard one. They were in the desert, an hour and a half southwest of Vegas. Beyond the wall surrounding the house was forty-five square miles of sand dunes and many more miles of Mojave Desert. Not much mud.
     “Make sure the guests all leave, then check the perimeter. I’ll watch these two.” The blond scanned the laundry room. Probably looking for weapons. She didn’t see any either. He then closed the door and poured himself a cup of coffee.
     This was her third dinner party at the Portero house in five weeks. Its layout suited Adele perfectly. She had easy access to the Communications Room and their main computer. The Portero people hadn’t caught her before. The Field Office planned to use her for continuing information mining. Tonight the goal was the Icarus File, a list of access codes. Low-level stuff, but useful. Continuing? Guess not.
     “I am so sorry, Adele. I didn’t know. But they pay well and their parties are small and easy to do.” Armand’s considerable bulk seemed to have melted onto the floor. “You’ve not been with me long. Honestly, I don’t usually have these problems.”
     “I know. I know.” She patted his shoulder then listened at the door. She couldn’t tell who was out there or what they were doing. “Can you get up?”
     He struggled to his feet.
     “We’ve got to get out of here.” Adele rolled up the extension cord and stuck it in her pocket. She got her smock out of the dryer and took a thumb drive out of its pocket. “Be ready to go when I get back.”
     “Aleksei, please,” she called.
     “I need to go to the bathroom.”
     He opened the door and stepped back. He stood relaxed, his gun holstered. He could easily watch both the door to the half-bath and to the laundry room.
     She flushed the toilet and ran water.
     As she walked back to the laundry room, she seemed to stumble. Aleksei, walking behind her, failed to stop and suddenly he was right against her.
     She stomped his instep with her full weight. Turning into him, she brought her knee into his groin. He went to the floor. Luckily for her he was face-down with the wind knocked out of him. She kneeled on his back and uncoiled the extension cord. Wrapping it around his neck, she pulled it tighter and tighter. It seemed to take forever for him to stop struggling. Kolya would be back soon.
     “Armand! Come on,” she called as she retrieved her phone from the dead man’s pocket. And his gun.
     Armand staggered from the laundry room. She grabbed his arm and dragged him through the back door.
     “Do you have your van keys?”
     “Keys?” he wondered. “Kolya took ‘em.”
     She pulled him to the gate in the wall and into the sand dunes beyond. They didn’t have much time.
     Less obvious than white in the moonless night, she could clearly see him in his black chef’s clothes against the sand. She got him to the back side of a small dune twenty yards from the wall.
     “Lie down.” She started scooping sand onto him. “Be still.” She didn’t have to completely cover him. Just muddy his lines, Camouflage 101.
     “Who are you?” he whispered.
     “Just a cook,” she whispered back. “But I have friends.” She waved the phone at him. “No matter what happens, be quiet. I won’t be far.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Three Books -- A Conjoined Review


Like Nature, I abhor a vacuum. (A misuse of a metaphor if ever I misused one -- horror vacui is a postulate attributed to Aristotle: to wit, nature contains no vacuums because if there were a vacuum, the denser surrounding material would immediately fill it and it would no longer be a vacuum.)

All that to say, I hate to finish one book without another or two or three waiting in the wings. So I check books out of the library. I buy books at book stores. And I save them from the dumpster.

And how does this work out for me? Well, let me tell you.

I was in Barnes and Noble last month, gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket and a coupon in hand for a classic. Wuthering Heights was right on top of a stack of classics in the front of the store, wearing a beautiful olive, faux leather cover. I hadn't read it since high school, and, as I remembered, it was tragic and romantic and fixed Emily Brontë forever in my mind as the best writer of the Brontë sisters.

When next the opportunity to start a book presented itself, I started Wuthering Heights. Alas, I have passed the age where tragedy is synonymous with romance. Wuthering Heights is a litany of mental and physical cruelty against Heathcliff as a child and into young adulthood. By then he is so emotionally scarred, his humanity so disfigured, as to make his character as repulsive as the people who had mistreated him. 

Spoiler alert: Nothing ends well for poor Heathcliff.

I avidly read murder mysteries. Unlike Wuthering Heights, the dastardly deed is usually done and over in a few pages with the rest of the story devoted to bringing the miscreants to justice.

Luckily I was saved from reading the rest of  Wuthering Heights. I got an email that the third in Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series, The Cruelest Month, was waiting for me at the library.

But alas and alack. It seems I am not yet old enough to appreciate Ms. Penny's cozy mysteries. They are simply too cozy. I started the series, because several of my friends really enjoy her work. 

CBS Sunday Morning had a piece on Louise Penny (click here) just before I started The Cruelest Month. I very much enjoyed the interview with her. She is much more interesting than her characters. She said when she developed Chief Inspector Gamache's character, she wrote a man like she would like to marry.

I find the character altogether too perfect. Gamache never gets upset, or if he does, he doesn't show it. If I were to meet him, I would be sorely tempted to pinch his nose to see if I could get a rise out of him.

One thing I've got to say for Ms. Penny -- she employs the most creative methods of murder I have ever read. And another positive, her characters do not abuse children.

What am I reading now? Jodi Picault's House Rules, a book my daughter rescued, along with two bags full, from outside the dumpster near her home. (Her mother raised her right.)

I have not read Picault before, so we shall see.

So far my only complaint is that the book smells of tobacco smoke. I wonder what happened to the previous owner that all those books were discarded. They had had the books long enough that they should be so impregnated with the smoke. Do you suppose they died? Of lung cancer, maybe? Did they have a pet? What happened to it?

Can I get lung cancer from the book? Sort of second hand smoke once removed.

Ahhh. Mysteries everywhere.

Friday, July 7, 2017

My Life According to The Rolling Stones

Sometimes Facebook inspires me. Grace Wagner posted the following:  "Using only song names from ONE ARTIST, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to 15 people you like and include me. You can't use the band I used. Try not to repeat a song title. It's a lot harder than you think! Repost as "my life according to (band name.)"

If you decide to do this, too, I suggest picking an artist or band that's been around for a while and covered everybody in the business. Plus choose someone who just makes you happy.

I'm not including all the questions. Lord knows I've spent most of the morning on YouTube revisiting these songs. I've put links to the songs I do name here just in case you want to spend too much time with Mick and the Boys. So here goes.

Pick your Artist:  Well, duh – The Rolling Stones
The closest I've ever come to them was many years ago, driving west on US 66, yeah the famous one. It was late at night and The Stones were playing in Norman, Oklahoma, less than 50 miles south of the little town I was driving through. I knew they were there and I was listening to them on the car radio, just cruisin' and groovin'. And then, and then, there were flashing lights in my rear view mirror. Yep, I was being stopped by the only police officer on duty in that very small town. Speeding.

Back to the Facebook questionnaire.

Are you a male or female:  Honky Tonk Women
This video is from 1969 when Charlie Watts still had dark hair.

Describe yourself:  She’s a Rainbow

How do you feel:  Just My Imagination

Describe where you currently live:  Under the Boardwalk

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:  Down the Road a Piece
This video is from 1965 on the TV show Shindig! back when Mick and I were just babies. This is what we watched instead of American Ninja Warriors. Shindig! was probably lower budget, but then it was in black and white.

Your favorite form of transportation:  Driving Too Fast
Another one of those rockin' songs that could get me in trouble on the highway. That's why they call that electronic device in a motor vehicle cruise control and I should always use it.

Your best friend is:  Midnight Rambler
OMG! What Mick lacks in rhythm, he makes up for playing the harmonica. And Charlie Watts with white hair. Can't sit still while this is goin’ on?

What's the weather like:  Gimme Shelter
Reminds me of the Whoopi Goldberg movie, Jumpin' Jack Flash -- I can't understand what he's saying on this one either. But, who cares, it's rock n roll!

Favorite time of day:  The Moon Is Up

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called:  Out of Control
What can I say? Keith has finally gotten as old as he's always looked, and Mick and I aren't babies any more.

What is life to you:  Silver Train

Your relationship:  You Got Me Rocking
My husband keeps me rocking and I don't mean in a chair.

Your fear:  Ventilator Blues

What is the best advice you have to give:  You Can’t Always Get What You Want (but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.)

Last year this song was in the news because the 'rump campaign used it. The Stones to tweeted “The Rolling Stones do not endorse Donald Trump. 'You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ was used without the band’s permission.” In this instance I didn't get what I wanted or needed. I just hope we all survive it.