I love the way little kids think. One fall evening we had a huge bonfire on the beach built from drift logs with a lot of family members sitting around shooting the breeze and poking the logs to make the embers spark and glow, reflecting a golden glow on familiar faces. The forest was a black silhouette of jagged points all around us, with a full moon rising like a ghostly galleon just above them on the far side of the beach.
Left: My nephew Sterling. Right: Moon above the forest, totem pole in the foreground.
I did my best to explain the earthbound facts to him, but in the end I knew I'd failed his faith in me. Instead, I did my best and got him a glow-in-the-dark moon decal to put on the wall near his bed so he could look at it when he went to sleep. And I wrote him a poem that was one of the first things I had published:
A MOON FOR ME
I see you
wherever I go.
I see you
hiding behind the trees
playing with me.
I see you
as I reach out
to make you my own moon.
Recently a friend told me her own story of the moon and an older family member...one who came much closer to giving her the moon than I did for Sterling. Here's her story:
When I was about five, I would stay at my grandparents' house for a while. That was supreme ecstasy anyway...but my grandfather had been flying since the 1920s, and had a hangar with a few planes. I adored flying, even then, and was even allowed to take the stick sometimes.
I would be in my pajamas, ready to eat, but a brilliant idea occurred to me (as it seemed to me--anyway). I refused to eat. Grandpa asked if I thought that I might have a better appetite if we flew up and kissed the moon good-night. A brilliant idea, indeed!
He had planes in his blood anyway, so this was no great sacrifice to him. He called the hangar, had the guy get the plane of choice fueled-up, and off we went. Me in my airplane pajamas and little house shoes with wings and a prop on them.
We carefully inspected the plane and climbed in.
And taxied out, lifting off to see Mr. Moon.
In amidst other treasures of my childhood that I found filed in an old beach-combed dairy crate were some handwritten, hand-stapled school newspapers. Our school had seven rooms, but it was conducted in the spirit of a one room school. It had two teachers, and a teacher's aid--who happened to be my grandmother. She had so many grandchildren in school that even the kids unrelated to her, and the teachers, wound up calling her "Grandma." (Actually, we called her "Grambo," but that's another story....) The school catered to all grades with kids ranging in age from five to eighteen.
The "Big Kids" had their classes mostly upstairs, while the "Little Kids" did their schooling downstairs. We even had a Big Kids' upper play deck and the Little Kids' lower play deck. There were frequent rumblings of rebellion from the Lower Deck, accusing the Upper Deck of teacher favoritism, but in the end we all pulled together: after all, we all went to school together and wrote the newspaper together.
I found two charming news articles by my little brothers Robin and Chris (grades 3 and 1 respectively) and here they are.
Robin's news report:
Robin showed the musicians around the chuck. --I showed the musicians around the chuck. We went to the Back chuck. Pete told me to show the musicians around. We went by the store. I was going to show them around the whole chuck. They bought me some gum. Fritz did not git to go because he got sick. they took a spike out of the chuck. thank you.
by Robin Neilson
THE END by Robin Neilson
"The Musicians" in this concise exclusive were two artists, among others, that the State arranged to visit outlying bush schools to make sure the kids were exposed to culture through what was called The Artist In Residence Program. "The chuck" is the local nickname for the village, and the "Back chuck" is a tidal lagoon behind the main harbor. "The store" had only one room, with at least one of its freezer's in a shed outside, right behind the enormous fuel drum that my Uncle Lance had been commissioned to paint as a giant beer can."Pete" was the teacher, and Fritz was the schoolmate closest in age to Robin. I have absolutely no idea what the "spike" was that they took out of the chuck, but I'm intrigued.
Chris' news report:
Gary helped make the playdeck and he cut the red cedar for the play deck. and Gary brought the lumber in the skiff. Steve Peavey and Dean Carmine hauled the lumber up to the deck. Chris
Gary is my dad's name and he was the foremost carpenter/electrician/handyman around; plus he had the only sawmill in the area, a one-man mobile sawmill that provided for the entire community and outlying area's lumber needs. The lumber he milled built our house (and the floathouse I built that I'm currently living in) and pretty much every new house around, in addition to any repairs that needed doing. Steve Peavey is one of the most well-known fishermen in SE Alaska and a witty raconteur of stories about old and new Alaska. Dean Carmine is the father of the "Fritz" in Robin's story.
My brothers, Robin (upper left) and Chris, playing in the burned out, rusting ruins of the old cannery where we grew up. Our cat, Creosote Bill (upper right), is overseeing their play. We skiffed to the nearby village to go to school and write articles for the only newspaper in the area.
Since today is National Respect Your Cat Day, I thought it only fitting that I invite Katya, my Maine Coon, to tell you about our life out in the Alaskan bush from her own perspective.
You'll have to forgive my Person, she means well, but I'm sure all of you, like me, have thought since I first appeared on her blog that it would have been better written by me from the start. Better late than never. That is one thing I have to praise my Person for. She may be slow, but she always gets there in the end...with lots of encouragement. And some discipline.
For instance, I have trained her to recognize The Back. When she has done something inappropriate, like ignore my announcement that it's time for a treat, or to have my bedding changed, I will find the most prominent position in front of her--sometimes on a stool at the kitchen table, sometimes in front of the couch, sometimes in front of her laptop--and sit with my back to her. I can keep this up for an hour. I'm happy to report that, after a little training, she is now fairly prompt at recognizing that she has misbehaved in some way once she sees The Back. She will then, with pointed help on my part, figure out where she has gone astray and correct her behavior.
This is good, because my Person is worryingly dense when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For one thing, she's always trying to stay up past her bedtime. I can't tell you how many times I've had to resort to giving her The Back until she realizes her shortcomings and will get into bed and turn off the light. Sometimes I have to go to the neighbor's house and nearly rupture my vocal cords informing her that it's time to quit jibber-jabbering and head for bed.
She is so helpless that I've made it my business to escort her about her business whenever she leaves home. I try to educate her by encouraging her to take paths through intriguing, dense undergrowth, but she boringly sticks to the well-traveled paths.
If her blogs are bland, it's through no fault of mine, I assure you. When she's taking pictures of a scene, I always try to spice it up by putting myself in the frame. I have a better understanding than she does, apparently, that every picture is improved by having a Maine Coon in it. I'm sure you'll agree.
I take no joy in exposing my Person's faults, but it has to be said that she is sadly ungrateful. Sometimes, when she has been especially good, going to bed on time, giving me treats when they're required, changing my bedding daily, if not hourly, I will bring her a little something.
Sad to say, but she was badly brought up. Despite all my later attempts to straighten her out, she has never learned the gracious way of accepting a present, perhaps preserving it and mounting it on the wall. She could at least take pictures of myself and my trophy and post them on her blog. I'm sure all of you would have a proper appreciation for my prowess as a verminator. Instead, her response, every time, is to dispose of my gifts as quickly and squeamishly as possible. It embarrasses me to say this since she attempts to project an image of a tough bush woman, but it's true.
Here's another issue I have with her related to my graveyard shift on the vermin eradication duty (code name: VERAD): there are times, like night before last, when I am so focused on my job that I lose track of where the tide is. On this occasion it cut me off so that I couldn't return to the floathouse where I keep my Person and where she maintains my bedding and food dish.
Naturally, I took up a position as close as I could to the house and informed her of the situation. And I kept informing her, as loudly as I could all night long without taking any breaks. Until about four a.m. when the tide finally went back out and I could return to the house. I immediately went to my Person's bed to let her know the situation had been resolved (no thanks to her), but she was amazingly cranky. Apparently, she didn't realize that I was the one who had something to complain about.
It is spring now, which is when life becomes interesting. (I tried to get my Person to realize the insanity of snow, but she refused to put an end to it when asked nicely. Even The Back had no effect. There is nothing she likes more, apparently, then shoveling snow all hours of the day. I worry about her.)
I'll have to end here. I've noticed that there are ravens swaggering about on the beach like they own the place and since my Person won't do it, I'll have to go out and set them straight. Also, there is gravel to be rolled in to help dispose of my winter fur. Then there are the mink that need to be chased, vermin to be eradicated, small, hopping, scratching birds that obviously want to be stalked. Who am I to disappoint them?
See you later, vermin haters.
Special thanks to Terry for the idea and for many other reasons.
If you're not tired of reading about animals, my next column at www.capitalcityweekly.com, appearing Wednesday 29, 2017 is titled: "Twenty-Plus Dogs."