Ginger and Me

How strange they are, all green and kaleidoscope colors in the cold twilight. Flash, flash, cascading across the sky. Even Ginger stopped and watched the northern lights. After a few minutes, she snorted and signed almost saying, let’s go home now, let’s go in.

It’d been a long day and when we got to the barn, I was so stiff I couldn’t move, couldn’t swing my leg over the saddle without feeling like I was going to fall down if I touched the ground. I’d been riding since sun up, moving the cattle up to station C. C is for Cavendish but that’s a story for another day.

Ginger is a Mexican horse. She’s almost as old as I am now and loves to roam outside pushing cattle. She’s got a copper chestnut coat with a white sock on her left hind. She stands tall with straight legs and a round barrel. Her face has white flakes all over it that give her a look of being freckled. The first time I saw her was at the spring cookout and hoe down. She was probably three years old and playing in the trough. The water was splashing up and over everything as she pawed it with her front hoof. She raised her head and looked to the sky soaking herself good. Thump, thump, thump, splash! I liked everything about her and when I offered a peppermint over the fence rail, she came right to me. I ruffled her shaggy mane and offered $50 for her.

I brought her back to the ranch where Rusty and me trained her to herd cattle. Ginger has smooth gaits and moves lightly over the ground. She tucks her nose in and moves like a fancy dancy horse. We don’t canter too much. Life on the ranch is mostly about listening to crickets chirp in the grass. When we do, it’s so sweet to feel her take off. When I get the cue just right, it’s like lifting her up and bouncing into the canter. She shifts her weight back and with a big shhhhhhhhhwiiiiiiiishhhhhhhhhhh of her tail, off we rock. She rolls, rolls, rolls along the trail. I love Ginger.

Anyway, spring is trying to arrive early here in Montana. The cattle started shedding out already and get restless easy. It’s after lunch now and Ginger and me were nosing the herd down the north slope when it started to snow. The wind had been turning from the northwest all day. My belly was still warm from the split pea soup and I was dozing in the saddle. Ginger walks so nice and light, she kinda rocked me into a trance. The mooing cows and quiet clouds made it feel like siesta time. Ginger “tripped’ on a stone and woke me up just as I was about to slide off.

hargreavesprairiewinterscenicm6839We looked at the clouds and I swear one was shaped like a big angel. The wind was singing in the prairie grass ruffling Ginger’s mane. She snorted and trotted on. The flakes started falling fast. I heard a big rumble overhead and saw another big cloud roll in. We shivered a little and caught up with the herd.

The big flakes of snow fell on the cows. I watched all the designs form on their black coats. How can each one be different? How can that be? A rhythmic sound started up from all around us. Ginger pranced a bit and turned around looking for something then she looked up at the clouds. I guess it’s true, the angels really do dust heaven out and we were here to see it. Oh wow! They must have gone back to creation cause the mother of all snowflakes fell on the back of cow tagged number 360. I pulled out my rope and measured the flake. Fifteen inches across. I called john Henry and said, hey look at this! John Henry called Caspar over and we all stared at the thing. Wow, the biggest snowflake ever in Montana is on the backside of a cow.

100 miles from nowhere near Fort Keough MT 1887

Manfa ~ Old Maple

manfaEvery year, it’s the same thing. OUCH! The bird with the long beak gives me the needle. I don’t wake up slow and lazy the way I want to, but big and ouchy from that dang flicka drilling on me. It’s not tickling my roots awake, it’s stabbing my veins.

My name is Manfa. I am a big maple tree. I’ve been swaying here for about 100 sleeps. I felt the sun longer on my bark. I felt the winds shift too. The river has been happy and clear flowing by.

I was starting to rise by myself when I was pinged back today. So, I forgot what I was dreaming about too. It was a good one and it’s gone.

I’ll tune in and start to listen for the cackle I love it when the red wing blackbirds arrive. Oh, they make a ruckus and swam my branches.

I see the squirrels moved over to the oak tree this winter. What fun could there be in that one? So stiff and straight. So stingy holding onto it’s leaves still!

I live for the strong winds. I love to feel sister wind push me this way and that. I love when I swing my limbs almost to the ground and bounce back up. Sometimes branches come crashing down but I don’t mind.

Oh that flicka, pecks at my bark and leaves nothing behind but an ouch.

Greetings from far, far away

I’d been listening for the sound a while now. Where are you? Will you come back? The long night sky had come to the tundra. The stars are like clouds now. They are close and blink soft greetings from far far away.

Two years ago, I’d been out on my daily stroll to town when I heard the sound of wings coming closer and closer. A great white something hit the snow bank. A plume of flakes nestled around the bird.

It took me a minute to understand what was happening. Birds land gracefully, this one crashed. I walked over the rise to see what this was all about. There, half buried was a snow-white goose or a swan. I don’t know, but it was laying, panting and shaking all over. It laid its head down on it’s back and became still. A soft wheezing came from its beak.

Maybe it’s tired? I picked up the bird and carefully brought it to Tekee, the shaman who lived over the hill. She had an apartment above the garage, the only garage in town. I kicked at the door cause my hands were filled with bird. She opened the door, looked at it and said, “So?”

“So, aren’t you a healer? What’s with you? What do we do?”

I told her what happened and she said, “So just finish it off and enjoy a roast goose for dinner.”

0580_0Disgusted and shocked, I turned away and headed home. I thought it was a gift from the goddess. I put the swan down in my backyard under the eave. It was a sunny day but the wind had a bite in it. I ran down to the store and bought some canned sardines and fish cakes. The swan was lying still when I returned but I could feel it’s heart beating under my hands. I held out a sardine and didn’t she open her eyes and look at it. Quicker than sunlight, she snatched the fish in her beak and swallowed. In a few minutes, everything was gone down her long white throat.

She gave a soft coo, stood up straight, fluffing out her feathers and took on a regal pose. She blinked three times, stretched her wings wide three times and settled down. “Tea please.” What! “Tea please.” Her light high tone sounded in my ear. “Are you talking to me?” She just stared at me.

snow-goose-007I fixed her a pot of jasmine green tea and brought it to her in a large pail. By gosh, she dank it all down. The swan refreshed, started to tell me all about the long flight from the south. She loved the cold snowy places and darkness of the tundra in winter. She loved to fly in the cold air and feel the icy winds between her feathers. She loved to fly over the frozen lake and see her reflection on the ice. We became friends and I fed her everyday. Her name is Medusine and she is 200 years old.

Every spring, she flies south to spend the warm months at the lake under the mountains. She follows the rivers to her other home. For two years, she has returned to me. There are secrets in her startling sapphire blue eyes. I asked her how can she talk? How come she talks to me?

“Because I like you, and that’s all.”

“Why do you come north for winter?”

”To be with you.”

I pray for her safe return journey every winter. The shaman has become suspicious of what is going on here. Tekee sees the swan flying out during the day and spies on us. Once in a while Tekee is so bold as to creep up and look in the windows. In a flash, Medusine turns herself into a stone of lapis lazuli shaped like a swan. She sits there on the mantel piece ordinary and unnoticed while Tekee makes silly small talk and looks around. Once in a while, one of her feathers stays behind during the transformation. It’s the only sign she has been here.

The Story Behind My Nickname – Ringo

My name is Leroy Diva. I live on the south side of town with my mother and two sisters. We rent an apartment above Astronaut Pizza. The place stinks like pepperoni and burnt cheese all the time.

My sister Belle has no idea why I am called Ringo. She thought it was my real name and was shocked to hear Uncle Sam call me LeRoy one afternoon. Uncle Sam comes over on Sunday’s to watch football games, eat pizza and drink beer. He is a man that is what I want to be.

ringoWe have a cat named Ringo. He has big black round markings on his white coat. His tail has a ring of black and white with a big stroke of black on the end as if he had dipped it in a jar of paint and was ready to brush it on a canvas. Ringo likes to play tag on the stairs and chases anything that moves.

I do not know who Ringo Starr is and do not care, that is too old. No, I do not play drums either. I hate loud noises.

See it is like this, the first word out of my mouth was dinga. I did not say Mom or Dad, but dinga. I went on saying dinga for a whole year, no other word came out, and everything was dinga. My head got stuck on it and couldn’t nothing else be said. Drove my mother crazy.

I have this plastic pink bunny ring I found under my pillow this morning. I’d been in my first fistfight with the neighbor’s kid yesterday and lost a tooth. We were rolling around fighting about nothing, just boys fighting and he popped me good. I ran home. I felt cool cause I didn’t cry until my sister Belle did after she saw my face and bloody mouth. She hollered and cried and so did I.

I’d seen this ring before. My older sister, Ernestine says she recalls the last time we saw our Dad, he baked us a cake for my 2nd birthday. A nice big lemon cake with white frosting. Everybody at the table cuts a piece and whoever finds the bunny ring in their slice is king for the day. Well, it was my lucky day and was about to take a bite when the ring popped out on the plate. The story goes, I said ringo. I’d been saying dinga so long people were surprised. I wore that ring every day and put it under my pillow every night.

It disappeared soon after Ringo the cat came to stay. She liked to curl up on my pillow every night and managed to push me off it. Queen Ringo she is. Now, it’s back. So where had it been for eight years? Where did it go? Who put it under my pillow?

Ringo the cat just sits there with her cat purr and black tipped tail twitching on the pillow.

Ornithography

visitorA light snow last night,
and now the earth falls open to a fresh page.

A high wind is breaking up the clouds.
Children wait for the yellow bus in a huddle,

and under the feeder, some birds
are busy writing short stories,

poems, and letters to their mothers.
A crow is working on an editorial.

That chickadee is etching a list,
and a robin walks back and forth

composing the opening to her autobiography.
All so prolific this morning,

these expressive little creatures,
and each with an alphabet of only two letters.

A far cry from me watching
in silence behind a window wondering

what just frightened them into flight —
a dog’s bark, a hawk overhead?

or had they simply finished
saying whatever it was they had to say?

by Billy Collins