27 February 2011
For most of the month cardinals and titmice have been singing for their territories, and in three weeks a new generation of spring peepers will emerge from vernal pools not yet free of ice. We've had a February thaw. The sun, though not visible today, is setting an hour and a half later than at its winter earliest. As it goes down it illuminates the rumpled grey and blue clouds on the western horizon with soft incandescent yellow highlights. Even as my former father-in-law lies dying, his long and useful life coming to its natural and inevitable end, we who for the moment remain are grooming our own successors. I'm on the way to my son-in-law Jeff's house to celebrate my birthday with my grandchildren.
As soon as I arrive, my twin granddaughters, who'll be twelve entirely too soon, show me their school volcano projects. In science class, both girls chose the volcano over other energetic natural phenomena—hurricane, earthquake, tsunami—as their presentation topic. Their task has been to write a report on the structure and operating principles of a volcano, and accompany it with a visual piece. The writing part is uneventful, but one girl must refrain from adorning her volcano drawing with birds and flowers, and her sister struggles not to crumple the paper and start all over again whenever a line deviates by a millimeter from her idea of perfection.
The girls exchange sly glances and broad hints about birthday cards, not daring to look at each other. If one so much as catches the other's eye both burst out giggling. Anticipating my surprise when I get a load of what they've made for me out of surplus poster cardboard, they can't contain their glee. Finally they can resist no longer, scamper upstairs, and bring down a card. In typical twin mode, they've attached their poster boards together and collaborated on a gargantuan joint card that dwarfs their brother's.
We have chili for supper, a new iteration of Jeff's already excellent recipe. Though there's some nagging uncertainty, we're all reasonably sure that it doesn't really contain the ostrich meat that Jeff says it does. My grandson has been tormenting his younger sisters only enough to maintain his professional reputation, and settles down to watch young Robert Redford in "Jeremiah Johnson." The movie fascinates him; he's seen it more than once. I understand why he likes it. It satisfies as an adventure, the story of a mid-nineteenth-century man trying to become a hermit in the Rocky Mountains, though it's sedately paced by today's standards. Any mistake Johnson makes could kill him in a heartbeat, so there's a certain suspense: merely enduring is asking a lot. My challenge will be to get the boy to read Thoreau, Johnson's contemporary, and hear him compare the movie to Walden. I can't wait.
The girls serve the chocolate birthday cake they baked earlier, which they've embellished with an iced "Happy Birthday" and a caricature of me duly labelled "you." Bedtime comes early; it's a school day tomorrow. Gram and I get a final chance to watch the kids burn off some spare energy on the doorway-mounted chinning bar. Exuberant and merry, the three are as eager to caper and brachiate for us as we are to ooh and ahh and incite them to further feats of strength and flexibility. Our grandson, in the early stages of muscled manhood, invites—challenges—Gram and me to duplicate his chin-ups. I take the bait and successfully haul my carcass up to the bar—once. I love it when I can surprise even myself.
Another year above ground. It never ceases to amaze me that there are people who insist on poking God with a stick. Of otherwise sound mind, they ask Him damn-fool questions about the purpose of their lives, as if being here were not gift enough.