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Charlie Checks Out

Sunday, September 30, 2007


I got a call not long ago I'd been waiting for, ever since taking Charlie for his first veterinarian visit in--eep--18 years? I got Charlie in Connecticut in 1986. Connecticut's a hotbed for birdkeeping, with a strong Italian and Latin American birdkeeping tradition running through much of the populace. Charlie had a wonderful avian veterinarian in Dr. Robert Giddings, and we saw him often. On moving to Ohio, I found the nearest avian veterinarian to be 2 1/2 hours away, outside Columbus. And so most of the questions that arose I handled with phone consultations to Dr. Giddings. And truthfully, nothing's happened that I couldn't handle. I trim toenails and beaks, broken blood feathers, and deal with the occasional insect sting. When Sherri (of Raven's Haven exotic bird rescue and Magic the Hummingbird fame) told me she was hosting a bird wellness clinic at a Marietta hotel, featuring Columbus avian veterinarian Dr. Mohan, I leapt at the chance to have Charles seen.

Charlie: Please, may I see your finger? You could use a little exam yourself.

There are precious few veterinarians who see exclusively birds, and only one that I know of in Ohio: R. Mohan, DVM, MS, PhD. Needless to say Dr. Mohan goes through a lot of towels, since that's the way you restrain birds who can bite your finger off. He's really good with a towel.

Charlie had bloodwork done; he had a gram stain and a fecal exam. He had feather follicle biopsies taken, to see if there's any organic cause for his featherpicking. I knew that I had a healthy bird; at 386 grams he's a hefty little chestnut-fronted macaw. I knew he eats wonderfully, a varied and healthy diet, and that he gets plenty of love. Although it's hard to give parrots, who spend their lives monogamously paired, as much love as they need. But it was nice to hear Dr. Mohan say he tested out fine in every way for a bird his age (21). His flora and blood counts are normal. I'm especially grateful, having heard recently that Alex the African grey parrot, subject of years of language acquisition studies, died suddenly. What a shock, and tragedy, to lose such a learned, beloved and Very Useful bird at only 31. His last words to Dr. Irene Pepperberg: "Good night. Be good. I love you. See you in the morning."

So we're giving Charlie extra kisses and bits of ribeye steak,
and we're thankful to have his greenness in our lives. He gives me a bird's perspective on things from his perch on my shoulder as I paint and write. He breathes in my ear and makes sure my eyebrows are on straight. I'm thankful to have a macaw I can trust to sit on my son's chestand preen my daughter's cheek with his odd, rubbery tongue. He's even made room in his little parrot heart for that interloper, Chet Baker, and he's just as sweet and playful with Bacon as he is with us. What a guy. It'd be easier (and more characteristic of many parrots) for him to be cranky, but Charlie goes toward the light.

On these lovely autumn evenings we bring Charlie outside to sit with us in the slanting light. When it gets cold he climbs down our shirtfronts and chuckles in the warm darkness next to our hearts.

The Moonlit Ride Home

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Seen in the ladies' room of Bixler Hall at Ashland University. I would have planned to attend, but the Whipple One-Shot Buckmasters Club is meeting that night, and I'm bringing petits fours and doing the minutes.
Spotted on a sweet potato leaf in one of Ashland University's glorious flower beds: a male Fiery Skipper. Ahh. I love this bug, and rarely get to see it. For those who are stymied by skippers, its bright orange, lightly-dotted underwing is unique. Which is to say: a beginning butterflier who shies away from skippers has hope of recognizing it.

Filled with the thoughts given to me by the students in David Fitzsimmons' classes, and fueled by the good conversation David, his cool wife Olivia and I had in a sweet little Mexican restaurant afterward, I climbed in the car and started home. I passed Grandpa's Cheese Barn and Heiny's Cheese Chalet. Who comes up with these names? And why do they make me want to abstain from eating cheese for awhile? Could it be the juxtaposition of Grandpa and Cheese, or, worse, Heiny and Cheese? Ponder it. Now wipe your screen. Considered photographing them and decided to keep going. Not in the mood.

I desperately wanted to drive home in the evening light, along old Rte. 250 East through Amish country. A little thundershower had dropped a freshet of rain on the thirsty land, and the full moon was rising in silence over the fields.Coming down out of Apple Creek. Ahh, ahh, ahh. The misty trees folding into the fields, road as river, silo as finial.

The skies were mesmerizing.The moon was big and pink and kept getting itself caught in the wires and treetops. I kept pulling over to gawk and take pictures. The ride, not the destination, is the whole point, and that never seemed truer than tonight. I wished the moon would stay low and pink and that Highway 250 and the evening would go on forever.
How lucky I feel to live in Ohio, to be able to travel through pastoral landscapes like these, passing thin Standardbreds pulling black Amish buggies (images I yearn to capture, but can't bring myself to photograph).

Even birdwatchers have to stop for gas now and then, and where better than this station in Strasbourg?
Besides, it wuz $2.89 a gallon over to the Kaufmann Mart. sorry Kenn, sorry Lisa

My last picture of the night, Simon and Garfunkel singing in my mind's ear.

And the moon rose over an open field
We've all come to look for America.

Advice to Writers, and Myself

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

photo by David Fitzsimmons
I spent yesterday at Ashland University of Ohio, where English professor and gifted photographer David Fitzsimmons had invited me to come up and speak. David became aware of my work when he heard the commentary, "OK 1902" (about a dying beech tree on our land), on NPR last winter. As a naturalist, conservationist and awesome photographer (click the link!) as well as an English professor, he connected with the commentary and did a little digging around on the Web. That led him to Letters from Eden, which he decided to use as a text in his composition classes at Ashland University. Gaa-aaw-leee.

So I walk into the morning classroom with 16 adorable smart thoughtful students yesterday and there's one of my sentences up on the board with circles and arrows around it. Another Gomer Pyle moment. We settled down for a Q and A session. I was blown away by the questions the students asked. Several of them cut right to the emotional core of the book and we were off. A high school student who is taking college courses asked the most penetrating question of the day. She's the tiny blonde in the Superman T-shirt, front left row. "You are so passionate about nature and writing and art, and so much of your creative work seems to be done alone. Does this ever impact or hurt your personal relationships?"

Give me a second here. I was really expecting something more along the lines of, "How long did it take you to write the book?"

From there, we got into the issue of how one preserves time and mental space for creative pursuits, and I had a quote from Tillie Olsen ready. I've excerpted this from The Writer's Almanac, which sends me meaty things to think about every day. Tillie was 48 when her short story won the O. Henry Award. She was 49 when her first book came out. We have a little common ground...

It's the birthday of American novelist Tillie Olsen, born Tillie Lerner, in Omaha, Nebraska (1913). A young radical, she started work on a novel about the struggles of the working class, but put it aside when she was raising her children. Her short story, "Tell Me a Riddle," won the O. Henry Award for the best American short story in 1961, and became the title story of her first published book (1962). In Silences (1979), she wrote about the conflict between motherhood and writing. She wrote: "Children need you now ... The very fact that these are real needs, that you feel them as your own, that there is no one else responsible for these needs, gives them primacy. It is distraction, not meditation, that becomes habitual; interruption, not continuity; ... Unused capacities atrophy, cease to be."

It was so good to share, and as a published writer make real for the students, that struggle that all artists and writers and creative people fight each and every day--to push aside that which is unnecessary and make room for that which is vital to their spiritual health. I told the questioner that if I let myself, I'd do nothing but wipe counters all day, that it would be easy to let laundry, lawn care and kid-taxiing rule. That sometimes it does, for days or weeks at a time. And that every creative spirit has this conflict, and must find his or her own answer to how to balance the things that must be done with the more spiritual and fulfilling things that really should rule the day. I told the class about sitting at basketball games and practices with my laptop, typing madly, thinking, writing...cheering Phoebe on, in an absent-minded way. Knowing that it was a compromise all around, hoping that Phoebe and Liam understand and see that it's a way for me to strike some kind of balance, hoping that they learn from it how to keep their creative cores burning bright. (To my left, Liam is drawing a cityscape, with night club and coffey shop, peopled with penguins, ghosts and Halloween pumpkins. I think it's working.)

It is an honor that David Fitzsimmons chose Letters from Eden as a textbook for his composition classes. Thank you, David, and thank you for bringing me to Ashland. It was nice to sign every student's book, to meet each one and shake their hands and connect with them. Some of them had me sign it to their mothers, or grandmothers, because they would love the by David Fitzsimmons

Many had removed the dustcover to keep it unbent. I loved hearing that they like the book and are enjoying dissecting it for composition and style. But the fulfilling thing for me was to show them that an ordinary, sweaty human being who gets stuck behind trucks and is 20 minutes late to class, who trips over strewn toys and cobbles together suboptimal meals and never catches up with housework, who tries to do too many things and screws up and falls asleep at the wheel and sometimes gets utterly lost, also manages to squeeze out a book. I want them to know that it's in their grasp to do all these things--to do a lot of things badly, and to do one or two things well. Putting out a product should be part of every creative person's life. It's their duty, in a way, and also a reward. And the thrashing about and clawing for creative freedom and the mental space to use it well is part of the cost. Nobody has the answer as to how best to go about keeping the creative flame alive. How to remain a giving human being, a member of family and society, while still answering the call to be wild and introspective and silent and alone. We're all just blundering, no one more than I. That's what I hope they took home, that and the spirit to keep trying.

Here's Louise Erdrich.

Advice to Myself
Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

Goat Showmanship

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


It was unutterably hot the day we went to the fair, and these 4-H'ers were gathered under the galvanized metal roof of the new cattle barn for a Goat Showmanship competition. Two of the girls are friends of Phoebe's, and we watched with great interest as they pulled and tugged on the collars of their recalcitrant animals, trying to get them to stack up and stand right for the judge (in red).

Rumor had it that one of the goats in the group had been purchased for $1,000. Our friend McKenzie's goat, Simon, had cost about $50.00. The longer I looked at the bunch of animals, the more convinced I became that Simon stood head and rounded shoulders above the lot. What a gorgeous animal--well filled out, straight of spine and leg, clear of eye, just about perfect, as far as I could tell.
McKenzie's other goat, Randy, was supposedly better-behaved, but went into a snit just before this heat, so Simon stood in. I told McKenzie's dad that I thought Simon was a keeper, though I knew the whole point was to sell him to the highest bidder. Just wanted to put in a plug. I'd stop short of spray-painting NFS on his side, y'know. I mean, look at that sweet goat.
There's something doglike about these meat goats. OK, I can't think about that any more. Moving along...

Phoebe's friend Jessi had her goat there, too. I think his name was Jared. I like this picture. Jessi looks so intent and serious. That's big old Simon's pink posterior just to the right of Jessi. My gosh, what a gorgeous goat, even his bum's nice.
There's a lot of standing around and waiting in ring judging. This goat alleviated its boredom by trying to nibble the rivets off its handler's jeans.
The judge carefully considered each animal, teaching the kids and onlookers a lot about goats in the process.
In the end, Simon won Grand Champion of all the goats entered. We were thrilled for McKenzie, and I got a little glow that I'd been able to spot his quality, knowing essentially nothing about goats. Yaaaay for McKenzie and her folks! I will tender my application for goat judge in 2008.Today, I'm whipped. I've been on the road the last three days with some good adventures and funny pictures to show for it. Sure has been nice to ride on my ant's harvest of blog posts--a nice break after the couple days' work it took to put two weeks of posts together. But they're petering out. It's 10 PM and I've just finished driving the same durn stretch of I-77 for the third time in three days. Phew. I fell asleep coming around a sharp curve on the road home--just one of those moments of unconsciousness that remind you that your heart can still leap and race. That would have sucked, to run my old car into the crumbly shale cliff face that had ZICK written on it... Smacked my thighs so hard to stay awake I have bruises. But I can stay home now for a little while and paint!! Yay¡¡ Talk to you soon...

Writers and Big Red Dogs

Monday, September 24, 2007

On September first, Bill and I had a book signing at the grand opening of a new Books-a-Million near Wheeling, West Virginia. It's one of the many stores that has followed the opening of a Cabela's sporting goods store. We have been in this Cabela's once, just to see what it would be like. We were on our way back from Chautauqua, Chet in tow, and they put Chet in a courtesy kennel for us while we "shopped." By the time we got into the dimly lit Hall of Dead Deer, we were ready to get back out. It was the size of your average ballroom, with a naturalistic island running down the middle, and velvet ropes holding the onlookers back from the exhibits. There were probably 50 mounted bucks standing on the middle island, another 75 around the perimeter of the room, and another 200 whose heads had been lopped off and put up on the wall. I could feel their departed spirits swirling all around me, asking, "What's the big deal about our antlers?" All due respect to hunters and giant gear retailers, that is not my cup of tea.

But I digress. This development, called The Highlands, reminded me of Brasilia. It was so huge, and the distances so vast, that you had to drive from store to store. Each store was bigger than the last. You practically had to drive from your car to the door, the parking lots were so huge. I wondered what had been here before these hundreds of acres went under the bulldozer. Box turtles, oaks and hickories, maples and pines. Tanagers. Eventually we found the Books-a-Million and enjoyed a warm reception by Jacquie, their Regional community Relations Specialist. They'd gone all out to make sure someone showed up, making color posters and buying spots on local TV and radio.

We spoke a bit, signed some books, met friends new and old. It was nice. I liked being surrounded by a million books, and seeing people reading and looking at books. It gave me hope that there will still be books for some time to come, all indications notwithstanding.

But the main attraction of the day was Clifford The Big Red Dog.

Liam was almost too old to hang with Clifford, but despite his tuff exterior he was quietly and genuinely excited.

Phoebe was a little too old to want to meet Clifford. Make that a lot too old. Does she look like her mom is forcing her to pose for the picture? She threatened me roundly about posting this picture. We'll see if I can sweet-talk her into it. She's been known to go in and edit my posts after they're up…
I'm a lot too old to pose with Clifford, but at least he still looks like a Big Red Dog next to the Zick, all 5'5" of me. Hey! I'm taller than Clifford! And he's Big! Does that make me tall? Ooh, I wanna be by Miss Phoebe Thompson

Bill of the Birds, on the other hand, rendered Clifford a Medium-Sized Red Dog. He is tall. Times like this make all the head bumping worth it, huh, B?

What's that Bird?

I'm trying not to commit too many Science Chimp attacks on my fellow bloggers. I'm paranoid, to tell you the truth, because I don't want people to roll their eyes and say, "There she goes again!" If someone asks, well, I'm happy to try to help identify something. It's a Science Chimp's favorite thing to do. Here's the thing: we all get caught out from time to time. Bill caught me on this one. I photographed this bird, virtually convinced that it was a summer tanager. All the marks were there. Large paleish bill, low-contrast wings, warm ochre-green-yellow coloration, longish tail. I truly thought it was a summer tanager until I examined the photos, and until I saw what might have been the same bird the next evening. Bill and I had a lively exchange about it. "Oh! there's that summer tanager that's been hanging around the Spa!" I said. "That looks like a scarlet to me," Bill commented. Being a chimp, I went one by one through the ID characters that I thought added up to summer tanager. He wasn't impressed. It seemed like an impasse. And then the bird sang, sitting up in the bare branches of a dead tree. It was a scarlet tanager's song.

So I looked at these photos with a fresh eye, and realized that, while it bears a certain resemblance to a summer tanager, this bird lacks the oversized and rather homely yellow beak, the long tail and undertail coverts, the rich coloration, and the large size of a summer tanager. But look how big that bill looks when the bird's head is sleeked all the way down!
From a field mark standpoint, this bird is pretty confusing. Scarlet tanagers are supposed to have blackish wings, which contrast with a pale body. Summer tanagers have very little contrast in wing to body. Like this bird. Or like a fresh juvenile scarlet tanager.
Scarlet tanagers are supposed to have darkish beaks, not yellowish, and the beak should be much more delicate than a summer tanager's. This one has a dark culmen, but the mandible is pale. Again, this is a function of its youth.

He contemplates his own identity. Darn it, I'm still not dead sure. But I can tell you that all the photos in this post depict the same individual.Bathes with an immature indigo bunting.
It just goes to show you that it's easy to misidentify a bird, and uncertainty can be waiting right around the corner. It helps to have multiple observations, multiple observers, and it really helps when the bird opens that indeterminately sized-and-colored bill and sings!
It really looks like a scarlet from this angle:

I'm convinced that birds enjoy bathing together. One splashing about brings others from far and near. It's so cute...the bather gets going, and birds come to the nearby birch and fluff their plumage, and you can see them thinking, "Man! That looks like fun!" The next thing you know they're in the tub. This young cardinal was geeking out, thinking she was bathing with a celebrity. Allow me to splash you.

Gremlin's Gold, Revisited

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Is it the weekend already? Yes, it is. Phenomenon noted: Weeks go by much faster when Bill is home. Weeks draaaag when he is in Peru, looking at fabulous birds and not hugging me.

I will leave you for the weekend with a post about Baker, because after all it is time for a Chetfix. (Not the same thing as Chexmix, which you eat in your living room around Christmas time).

Chet Baker. You know you are not allowed to have this teddy bear. photo by Phoebe Thompson

I am not Chet Baker. I am The Gremlin. And I defy you. Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

The first winter of my bloglife, I posted about a game Phoebe, Chet and I play every night without fail. It's called Gremlin's Gold. (Worth checking out. Phoebe looks so little and so does Chet! And I got one comment, from Rondeau Ric, aka Old Faithful, thank you.)

Chet stands, ears flat back, watching Phoebe go through her bedtime routine. Just as I'm tucking her in for the fourth and last time; just as I'm ready to turn out the light and think about what I want to do with what's left of the evening, Chet Baker vanishes. He drops to his belly and crawls under the bed, dresser or desk, then glares balefully out at us. This is the equivalent of going into a phone booth and coming out as Superman. Only Chet undergoes a reverse transformation; he becomes an Evil One. We aren't sure why he does this, but we're glad he does. It's an essential part of bedtime stalling for Phoebe, and sometimes it's the best laugh I get all day.

Anyone passing by (say, a little man walking innocently on two fingers) usually gets grabbed and dragged into the Gremlin's Lair. There are many kinds of gremlins, and we determine which kind we've got with this little finger-man test. For instance, there are Licking Gremlins, Barking Gremlins, and Biting Gremlins. The Biting Gremlin is most common, and one of the worst of the lot. Worse yet is the Biting, Stealing Gremlin.

What the Gremlin is waiting for is some gold. The best Gremlin's Gold is something the gremlin knows he is not supposed to have. In this case, it is a pink plaid teddy bear Phoebe got for her birthday. He is really not supposed to be chewing something like that. Chet Baker knows that, but the Gremlin ignores convention, grabs the nearest Gold, and drags it into his lair. Chet Baker never growls or bites. That is the evil work of the Gremlin. I don't know if there was a radioactive spider involved, but our dog mysteriously disappears every night around 9 p.m. And then we find the Gremlin. His eyes have an evil glow, otherworldly. I am not chewing it. I am just holding it.
I will take it to the couch and open a seam, something that milquetoast Chet Baker would never dare to do.
You may tug on it all you want. You will not get it back. By the way, your fingers are in extreme danger.Sometimes the Gremlin relocates to a place where he will not be so vulnerable.Sometimes the game goes too far and the Gremlin has to be chastised. Some of the chastisible offenses include: Growling too realistically, biting too hard, and opening teddy bear seams. It is worth noting that the gremlin will chew vigorously on Mether, but only licks Phoebe. We can switch our hands as cleverly as you please, but he can always tell which hand to lick and which one to chew on.
Why are you using the name of that sissy dog? Why do you use an angry tone with me? Where is your sense of humor? Did you lose it along with your sewing kit? Because you are going to need both.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My mother-in-law, Elsa, co-founder of Bird Watcher's Digest with my father-in-law Bill Thompson Jr. , likes the county fair for all the same reasons I do. She loves to people watch, gawk at the animals and chickens, look at the flowers and produce, eat corn dogs, and ride the merry-go-round. She's much more adventurous than I am. The merry-go-round and sometimes the swings that hang on long chains are the only rides I will go on. Nothing stops Elsa.

Here's Elsa, with her two granddaughters, Annalea and Phoebe. I think Annalea looks just like Elsa.
It was about 225 degrees under the merry-go-round canopy.

This guy was heavily tattooed and kind of scary looking, and he had the giant homey shorts working. But he walked slowly though all the flower arrangements, considering each one. "You never know," Elsa commented, as we watched him appreciating them.
Confession: I love corn dogs. I eat approximately one and a half corn dog per year. That would be the one I buy for myself, and half of Liam's. Whoever came up with the concept of putting a hot dog in cornbread batter and deep-frying the thing deserves a ribbon. I do not approve of deep-fried Twinkies or Snickers bars, the other treats that are sold at the corn dog stands. But corn dogs are divine. Bill of the Birds enjoys his yearly allotment of a single corn dog. He came to pick us up at the fair when our brains were thoroughly baked, and I brought him a corn dog as thanks. Although I believe he got another at the Demoleetion Derby on Tuesday night. So he's over quota.You put a big squiggle of bright yellow mustard on them, wait for them to cool, and bite. I gotta say, this is the best mustard line I've ever done. Ahhhh. I really like eating dinner at the county fair. Which consists of corn dogs, a lemon shake from the Band Boosters, and home made ice cream.

These are meant to scare crows, but they scared me badly. I call them Scarezicks. I would not take a kernel of corn from a garden protected by these apparitions.

Yellowthroat Toilette

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Regular readers of this blog will remember the yellow-throated warbler (Dendroica dominica) that hit my studio window in early September. In that post, I made a bit of a slight against the common yellowthroat, and one of my old friends called me on it. I said that the yellow-throated warbler outclassed Geothlypis trichas six ways to Sunday in the beauty department. As my pal pointed out, this wasn't fair, so I want to go on record here as stating that the common yellowthroat beats the tar out of its more elegant cousin on the cuteometer.
The common yellowthroat is a bird of wet meadows and marshes. It likes water. It looooves water. It is among the most enthusiastic bathers that visit our Bird Spa.
Like any songbird, a yellowthroat bathes by first dunking its head, then raising the head, which rolls water down the back. During this maneuver, it flutters its wings, which sends spray flying into the plumage. This immature male yellowthroat added some curliques to the routine, though. First, he literally dove beneath the water's surface, like a dipper. He'd travel for several inches, pushing with his feet, then pop up to bathe like a normal bird.When he was done fluttering, he'd pop straight up about six inches into the air. He looked like a kernel of corn with heat under it. He'd come down in another place and start the routine all over again.
Ahh, serendipity, and the flutter of small birds' wings. I can practically live on both.

Closet Cleansing

Monday, September 17, 2007

I had a choice. I could slowly lose my mind while waiting for Bill to call saying his plane had gotten in to Lima, Peru. Or I could occupy my hands and mind with SOMETHING. I knew better than to write while in such a state. Nobody wants to read that stuff anyway.

So, after putting him on the plane in Columbus and doing just a little shopping (read: applying money directly to what was bothering me, which seems to work for some women), I came home and went to my closet (there are two walk-in’s) to try to get some hangers for the new duds I’d bought. New, bright-colored, slinky, dressy, fun clothes. Couldn’t find a single free hanger. Couldn’t have hung the clothes anyway; prying a temporary space for them to be smashed in the press would be a more appropriate term.

So I started throwing out things I didn’t want. The sack dresses, in shades of sage, sand and dung. The elastic-waist casual pants. The high-waist, pleated-front khakis. The dresses friends had given me because they couldn’t bear to leave them at the Salvation Army. Heavy denim jeans, some weighing four pounds each. More sack-lady dresses. Hippie dresses that scraped the floor, because I'm too short to wear long dresses made for normal people. What the hell was I thinking? I bought this stuff when I was young! Why would I have wanted to cover myself in sackcloth?

Pretty soon I was singing a little song with each piece of clothing I’d toss out the closet door. “I’ll never wear this again, I don’t want it at all. It means nothing to me, it’s practically an antique!” Operatic runs and rills, white rap. The piles grew. Hangers stacked and multiplied on the bed. I finally collapsed just before midnight, and was going into REM when Bill called to say he’d made it to Peru.I got up the next morning and started back in on it, because I was about a quarter done. Oh, here’s the infamous dress I’d worn only once. It has little Parisian street cafĂ© scenes on it and a big tulle skirt, and when I bought it I thought it was summery and charming, so much so that I wore it for a special event. At the end of the evening Bill confided that it kind of made me--which you aren't!! he hurriedly added--look just a teensy bit wide in the beam. I looked at the dress with new eyes. It made my butt look the size of Texas, to be exact. It might have been better to have known that before we’d stepped out. The event was my 25th college reunion dance. Oh, good. That's where you want people thinking how much you've swelled. (Ever notice that the gals who CAN dress in size zero skin-tight tubes at college reunions? I need to get with the program).

Since that soul-crushing moment, I've pulled that dress out and hung it back up probably a dozen times. Needless to say, that one went out the closet door with a flourish of tulle and Parisian street scenes, and a special snarl.

Some things I couldn't throw out. This fringed, sleeveless T-shirt/tunic, for instance, stating an essential libidinous truth. A souvenir of the Washington County Fair, and veteran of a Swinging Orangutangs Bad T-Shirt Night gig.By evening, I had 13 oversized black leaf bags full of clothes and one full of shoes. There were 30-year-old cowboy boots in there, that I could wear before I got pregnant and my feet spread with the extra weight I was carrying. There were clogs and slip-ons and horribly painful Evan Picones and ugly Sears old lady pumps and dopey short boots that clopped against my ankles when I walked and, when you get right down to it, pretty much anything that wasn't a Keen or a Pikolino went flying out the door.

Today, I took it all to the Salvation Army, where it joined a pile of black leaf bags full of similar stuff that was about 12' high and 20' long. There were women putting clothing on hangers and dumping some of it into hampers. It smelled of sweat and cigarettes in there. I left my sartorial past behind and got in the car and drove on, feeling a little smaller in the beam, a little lighter on the earth.
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