The birds of summer

photo by Brent Moore

photo by Brent Moore

I am on vacation. "Yeah." I hear you saying. "Apparently since FEBRUARY." 

Here's the thing. It's not exactly that i've written nothing since February, it's just that I narrowed my audience down to one person. I have a friend who was stricken by an illness of the big and scary kind. The kind where the treatment goes on and on, all the while making you feel worse than the illness itself. As I floundered around trying to think of something I could do to help her, beyond adding my name to her considerable list of volunteer chauffeurs and casserole providers, I decided that I could write to her. And so I did.  And so I have been doing, I should say..  As a result, she has gotten envelopes full of my free-associative blather and you have gotten nothing. Is that fair?  Possibly not. But then, neither is cancer.

However, I have just had a birthday that defines me, numerically at any rate, as indisputably an adult. It is sobering.  I have many friends who seem to be accomplishing impressive things at a great rate, whereas I woke up in a motel in Redding yesterday morning in the throes of an unscheduled existential crisis. I had planned to spend my vacation eating ice cream that I would later regret and staving off sunburn, not panicking about my lack of creative output. While I would typically choose to worry about this for several weeks while doing nothing, I am rapidly running out of summer vacation ad need to get back on the regrettable ice cream schedule as soon as possible. And so, here I am.  Creatively putting out.  As it were. Also sweating profusely, not in the manner of a fevered artist, but more in the manner of someone sitting in an Airstream trailer on a hot August day. That is because, dear reader, I am sitting in an Airstrem trailer on a hot August day.

Vacation! See?

It is somewhat cooler outside than it is in here, and the trailer is accompanied by a very picturesque deck, but the fly situation is suboptimal out there. I tried.  I was so busy flailing my arms around in a fly-deterring manner that I nearly flung my breakfast yogurt over my shoulder, so I have admitted defeat.  I will happily take flies over mosquitoes, sure, but I will also happily take sweating over flies. That is not the most fortuitous literary construction, but you get my point. 

Additionally, there is a very large wild turkey (perhaps there is no such thing as a small turkey?) stalking the perimeter and, if you must know, I am afraid of him. I have spent very little time in close proximity to live turkeys and this morning's encounter has not made me regret it.  Turkeys look like they have been made from spare parts--as though nature set out to make a perfectly respectable bird, but found it had tun out of proper heads and had to make due with a bunch of creepy prehistoric left overs. "Friendly" is not a word that leaps to mind when looking at a turkey. Not this one, at least.

I did not expect "being quietly menaced by large fowl" would be a thematic through-line of this trip, but I can't deny that Saturday's giddy excursion to Whiskeytown Lake involved a hell of a lot more geese than I had bargained for.

I arrived in Redding in the mid afternoon when the temperature was hovering around 105 degrees. I didn't pause, but headed straight to Whiskeytown and its lake, that, until the day before, I had never heard of.  It promised a swimming beach complete with a concessions stand and a changing room. Summer! The bad news was that the concessions stand, where I thought I might get some kind of delicious processed lunch, had very limited fare. The ice cream sandwich I had was inadequate as a meal, but, on the bright side, was quickly dispatched and did not attract much attention from the geese.

The geese were a surprise. I don't know what geese typically eat, but I do know that when their lake is in a state park, whatever they would typically call lunch is protected and probably abundant. The Whiskeytown Lake geese don't care. They want your snacks. They walk around the beach in groups of four or five and silently surround picnicking families at close proximity. They're like school bullies whose reputation is so fearsome that they can back a kid against his locker and relieve him of his lunch money using nothing more than a hard stare.  If ducks tried to pull this, it would probably be cute, but when you're sitting on the ground and a bird as big as two-year-old wants something from you, it definitely feels like it could go either way.

Happily, I was not called upon to rumble with a gang of water fowl, but later that night, a mosquito did fly all the way up my dress, content to bite me only when it reached the very edge of my underwear--not the place the sun don't shine, perhaps, but certainly a place the sun don't shine.  The wildlife of Redding is not joking around, man. Do not mess with them.

Tomorrow: the Airstream revealed.