23 December

I sit here at the breakfast counter, the granite cold, hot tea hot, cat curled up next to me, and gray ice outside for as far as I can see.  Brandon swirled in from his Northwest Odyssey with friends at midnight.  He is sound asleep, and Jill is preparing to do battle wih WarMart.

I can’t work in the field, have no other crashing deadlines, and so I am awaiting Christmas.  I put it off this year, but here I am awaiting Christmas.  I practiced this so much through the years.  I thought I would bust as a boy for Santa Claus, while trying to remember Jesus as the Reason for the Season.  I don’t think I got high marks in that effort.  But as a child, I was also a Baptist.  I know, you just let my IQ dip twenty points.

Baptists were / are strange about Christmas.  The preacher thundered that we should not worship at Sears and preached salvation sermons all through December until the last week.  Then we exploded a cornucopia of Christmas cantatas, music, orchestra, bells and pageants in the last week.   It was as if, even when ignored, Christmas exploded at church every year.

Grew to find the rest of Christendom celebrating something called Advent.  Boys and girls had Advent calendars, so my sons did.  Families had advent wreaths, so we did.  Churches celebrated by hanging the Green(s) and I always felt sorry for the Greens, but we celebrated — waiting.  We celebrated expectation.  We learned to embrace the building, pent-up hope for Light, for Salvation, for One to make a right world and us righteous.

Grew up to weep because loved ones slip away just in time for Christmas.  Sons, daughers and friends die in hospital beds, on battlefields we can’t easily pronounce, or at parties and in cars.  People lose homes, health, and hope — while practicing expectancy.

Which made me revisit Advent.  Made me revisit celebrating expectation: such a powerful narcotic.  Made me watch my spouse wonder if she could imagine and hope for something too wonderful for Heaven’s actuality.

So sitting here and expecting my family to gather, talk, eat, build fires, tell stories, and play games, and enjoy the Grandest of grandbabies (fill in your own names here) I realize that this is my favorite time of Christmas.  The waiting.  I cherish the expectation because all Christmases have had that slight tinge — just as the wrapping paper settles in the flurry of opening and you stare at another pair of socks or tie that begs to be exchanged  — that down here, Christmases never quite fill the billing.  Never were intended to do so.  Nothing can quite fulfill the expectation here.

Only in Heaven can a yearning, can a hope so great due to our dire need be met or exceeded.  And just there, right at that point lies the ache.  Beyond all the marketers’ empty promises that reduces us to consumers, can a Place, a Person exist who makes our needs and hopes and brokenness vanish without leaving the salty tracks on our cheeks?  Did He really visit us?

We have practiced being let down for so long, invested so much in the practice, will we even know how to respond when not let down?  I can’t wait to know.

In memory of Anastasia, Thomas Kincaid, Tom Johnson, Vincent, and Greg.

Trains’ Wail

The bitter cold out in the unproteced pasture found no break in the bleak, gray on dead grass and gray rock features.  

Eyes gave way to hearing for some relief as I worked all day on a well.  And the diesels’ singing caught my attention and began to haunt me.  A major line lay to the east six miles away with a siding, and to the west nine miles, after driving across Oologah lake.  

So the behemoths trumpeted warnings as they approached crossings, gave differing toots and greetings as they passed other trains on the sidings.  The wind carried some songs as if they were just past the cows on the ridge just this side of sunset on sunny days.  Not this day, though.  

The wails of these mournful, melancholy monsters whose men smell of oil and long days sound like the siren call of wolves.  Their intelligence and remorseless hunger to gobble miles through gray days and frightening nights alike is a given, a constant, a hidden-behind-trees backdrop to life in the country.  

And like people who take wolves for granted unless surprised in the wild to be frightened like a rabbit caught out of its borrough, the siren song of diesels is forgotten, placed in the sensory background with wind and rain.  But also like wolves, these behemoths with unyielding steel mouths rarely lose when people want to race them.  Racing alongside them in parallel tracks is exhilirating like seeing a wolf from the car and listening to the kids ooh and ahh.  Racing a Siren to the crossing is smart like covering yourself in blood and hikng toward a howling pack unarmed.

So the pink granite on the headstone of the beautful softball player is testimony.  

She barely got in front of the wolf that snatched her life and didn’t even grind to a stop for a quarter of a mile to stand there shuddering while the warning claxon continued dinging for the girl who had roared past it as her last act on earth.  

You can hear the mournful wailing of the diesels standing there in the cold gray by her headstone.  You can also hear them not far from her house when the TV and radios have gone quiet for the night.  The bags under her parents’ eyes and gray hair mark a place taken forever, filled by no one, no matter how much they love them.  

Mournful.  Wailing in the night, both for the life snuffed out in the maw of the beast, and the man horrified to see that she has miscalculated and nothing in this world will keep him from being at the brake as his diesel drags her like a rag doll in the mouth of an enraged wolf.

So I sit in this bed and listen to hear the diesels’ song into the night, just there in the background of the songs around us, sad at the passing and amazed at the courage of those who live, listening to the wail and living their lives in spite of wolves that wish it had happened differently.   

Jacoba, photos to follow

Jacoba died two nights ago.  He was eleven.  In dog years that is 77.  In wolf years it seems longer.  No shorter. 

Kaylynn G. was working as a vet’s assistant when they brought in Jacoba.  She was somewhere between not impressed and enraged.  She hates it that people think getting a wolf is cool, and are clueless how to care for them.   Jacoba was 90+% Wolf.  I am not certain how you get those numbers in breeding, but the overall effect was astonishing. 

A wolf looks at you, and through you at the same time.  He sizes up everyone and everything every day as matter of factly as breathing, eating, pooping, and eating the stray cat that falls into the back yard.  And that intrigues as well.  Most wolves translate “cats” and “small dogs” as “snack” but in today’s topsy-turvy world, those in Jacoba’s house were “pack” and all others were varelse.  Status can upgraded or downgraded with a good fight.  His nose and eyes always seemed to be working on a zero sum basis if you were not “pack”. 

The pictures will reveal perfect markings, lucid eyes, huge size, but they can’t compose his presence.  Jacoba in the night in his front yard, which had a buried electrical fence, only had to watch you.  Even after the G’s had introduced you a few times, something from our dim past whispered for my hair to stand up on my neck. 

He endured petting, and endured it by watching the alpha male and female in his house say it was okay.  I telepathed that I was alpha male in my house, and had flashbacked to Never Cry Wolf as a researcher tried to out pee a wolf marking and remarking the same territory.  Losing battle.  Wolf won.  Jacoba accepted my telepathed thoughts with a small “hmph”.  Not terribly important.   

Jacoba died of cancer and that may easily be our society’s gift to him as cancer rates go up and even affect the wolves in our circles.  And the night seems emptier.  Jill and I walked last night and heard not wolves and not coyotes.  Someone must have served notice.  Stars didn’t even fall   

I had a friend explain that they are making no new land, and my translation is they’re making no new wildness.  So to see something as astonishing as Jacoba pass back to dust makes me hope that other people are guarding the wolves in Yellowstone and other places where we are reverently restoring wildness, and fear, and all those things that makes us feel small.  It gives me hope.   I miss Jacoba making me feel a little smaller.  How easily does that get crossed up with the desire to tame these astonishing creatures?  Why are we wired that way? 

But then, Jacoba felt more complex than a hereditary hunger.  I miss him.  Couldn’t bear to say goodbye to the idea of him as well.  I miss his imposing quiet.  Few of us possess that. 

What Things Come Together

None of us live in a world where only one thing happens in a week.  Things come together in time.  They may not share any logical connection, or any choice of ours, but in Time — they come together.

Ten years ago Jill and I walked one night and aired our “list of things that had deluged us”.  Suicides, deaths, divorces, sickness of a very young child: the usual culprits.  We finished.  Walked in silence, and I started laughing.  We had omitted that my sister was to have a needle biopsy the following morning for breast cancer.  Too many things came together, and I forgot to put her on “the list of 65”.

I know, laughing now seems grim, but it helped that night.

Right now I am leveraging our last funds to install our oil field technology on the last well we can afford.  Jill’s brother, Steve, drove into Oregon’s hills to try out his new living arrangement — a Ford Expedition — and paint.  No one has heard from him in over a week.  He who is meticulous about paying everything on time has allowed some things to lapse.  A huge norther is blowing in.  Jill is finishing the biggest and best art project she has attempted in years.  Colt and Claire are expecting baby number two, and pushing out further, so many friends are facing their “First” holidays — without people who died naturally or by their own hand. And OSU stands to beat OU this weekend. 

Everything colors everything else. 

For Lincoln, the closing days of the war saw him accept Chase’s fourth or fifth resignation, be blue again about his own son’s death in the War, and actually tour the stunning, industrialized devastation of Richmond.  Those events colored his days alongside the looming end to the war and defeat of Lee — his first candidate for commander of the Union Army!

We think that becoming a billionaire, marriage, birth, purchase of an opulent house or boat makes someone happy.  Everything else in their lives colors those events. 

I am nervous and thrilled about being so close to proving the technology and new investor help.  My best friend is taking prayer walks in the woods.  She fears that she’s saying goodbye to her brother.  These came at the same time, strange bedfellows on our calendar, unasked, uninvited, and profoundly antithetical to the other.  Yet linked now.

I must remember that what comes linked together in friends’ hearts and calendars all too often inexplicably color their moods, hopes, and thinking.

I can’t take it for granted that a success comes without alien, antithetical mates.  Just when I thought Sensitivity for Dummies would make a great book.