BLACK CAT

I think about that black cat this time of year, every year. The mixture of longer shadows, shortening days, and God knockin’ the edge off of the Arizona summer, ensures the memory of that early fall afternoon and the black cat.

It was football season. Two a day summer practices were well behind me and the season that would eventually attract Snowbirds from the other parts of the country to flock here was closing in on us.

It was a Friday, I know that for sure because I had my smelly football uniform stuffed in my tied up jersey that was slung over my back, my socks and tennis shoes along with the other pieces riding along.

The dusk air was cool, but the sidewalk was still warm from the retreating sun. It felt good on my feet. Kids, especially in the desert, just end up with tough feet.

Back then 37th Avenue had a dingy stop sign sunk in the dirt beside the earthen drainage ditch on the north side of a jagged edged two lane Cactus Road. The ditch on the west side was full of grass, weeds and critters and what not on. The other side wasn’t as thick with grass and weeds, but the house on that corner was overgrown with mountain ash bushes. The tiny orange berries were in full bloom and crowding the sidewalk.

As I strolled past the berried bushes I heard a sound. I stopped. I listened. Sure enough I heard it again and it was the faint sound of a cat. I stood listening and heard the soft meow again. I squatted down to peer under the bushes and there he was; the black cat. Except he wasn’t a cat yet, he was still a kitten.

I called him to me with quick multiple kissing sounds and with a little persistence the little guy came to me. I petted him, scratched behind his ears, and rubbed his nose in downward motion. Then I set him back under the bushes. I knew he was in a dangerous spot and his short life was in jeopardy being that close to a busy streets.

I looked back and the little black fur ball with the brilliant green eyes was following me. I picked him up and took him back to the bushes gently. I was two blocks away when I looked back and he was following me again.

sprucecats.com

I scooped him up and started thinking through the tactics I’d try to use to convince my parents to keep the little guy as I walked home. My mom would be easy to convince, my dad, not so much. Trying to impose your will on parents in those days was a tall order, especially for a freshman in high school…

The little black cat spent the rest of his days with my mom. He was still keeping her company years later. He was around when I started driving, graduated, and got married.

I think that sound, taste, or smell, that transports us back in time, back to a different world, is a gift from God. Each season is a gift as well. Pondering ones long gone add to the treasure of the current one.

I don’t know why, but I think fall is my favorite season. Maybe it’s due, at least in part, to the fact that I live in the desert and the season that follows a brutal summer is appreciated just a little bit more. Or maybe, at least in part, it’s because this season reminds me of the time I saved that little black cat… and we all need Saving…

GOOD MORNING DEATH

This is a guest post by my good friend Keith Walker. This is a sad and gruesome and true story that happened September of 2016.

Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I’m going to die on the way to work today.” Even without the thought, it still happens. It happened to a man today. He died in the turn lane on 19th Avenue between Greenway and Thunderbird. I don’t know his name. I don’t even know what he lookd like. By the time I got to the accident scene, he no longer had a face. I’m sure I’ll find out his name eventually, but for now I’ll just call him Eddie. 
Eddie is dead.

My wife drives the same route to work every morning. A long roll from N. Phoenix down 19th Avenue to the medical campus on Thomas. It’s a dangerous route. A long stretch of it has been aptly named the “suicide lane” because the turn lane is opened up to south bound rush hour traffic in the morning and north bound traffic in the afternoon. People forget and try to make turns all the time.

The auto insurance industry is kept very busy by this corridor. Strangely, Eddie died before the suicide lane kicked in.
Eddie was a big dude. Probably five foot eight and 250 pounds. He was astride a metallic blue Harley Davidson motorcycle. He was dressed for work, but I don’t know what that means. By the time I got there, you couldn’t tell what his clothes looked like. Too much blood. He wore a half helmet instead of a full helmet. This meant the only part of his body not crushed or mangled was his skull. I don’t know what Eddie was thinking about this morning, but it wasn’t the road. He didn’t see that traffic had come to a stop right in front of him. He was about to collide with a 2007 Toyota Highlander. My wife behind the wheel.

She tried to roll him over but couldn’t. Too big. The four bystanders worried that he shouldn’t be moved at all.A Phoenix policeman appeared on the scene remarkably fast. He saw the blood, snapped on gloves and rolled Eddie over. He stared compressions. She found another pair of gloves in the squad car and tried to clear Eddie’s airway. Beneath all the blood he was the color of a bruised thunderstorm. The helmet strap had constricting his airway. They cut it away and took turns giving compressions. Eddie was so big, she had to crouch in a squat position over his chest in order to pump the heart. 

She couldn’t figure out why the damage to Eddie was so catastrophic. He should have some road rash and maybe a few broken bones, but this . . . dear god. It wasn’t until later, after listening to the witnesses, that she learned what had happened to him.

Eddie never even tried his brakes. He swerved to avoid the Highlander, but didn’t make it. The front wheel of the Harley disappeared under the back bumper and tore it off. It shredded the tire and pushed the axle eight inches forward. The bike whipped around, pulled free and spun down the turn lane. Instead of going end over end, Eddie was thrown perpendicular right into oncoming traffic. A construction worker heading Northbound in his work truck ran him over. The driver had no chance to swerve. To him, it seemed like Eddie dropped out of the sky. Eddie disappeared under the front bumper, rolled and crushed three times underneath the chassis, then spat out from underneath the back bumper. That’s how he lost his face, had his internal organs crushed and found the unexpected exit from this life. 

They continued the compressions for what seemed like forever. Meanwhile, the traffic continued to weave its way around the body. Four Mexican painters working in the front yard of an adjacent property took out their phones and started filming. The paramedics finally arrived and took over the process of cataloging death. More police arrived and cordoned off the scene. The interviews and forensics began.

At one point a well-dressed man wandered through the scene on foot and was almost arrested because he refused to cross to the other side of the street as instructed. Instead, he insisted on walking right through the accident scene. He was put in handcuffs, escorted away and eventually released to get to his work. 

None of this mattered to Eddie. He was gone. That shade of blue had turned to black. It would be his final color. He got up this morning, got dressed, probably ate some breakfast and set out for work. Maybe he was daydreaming of a better life right before his front wheel went under the bumper. Now he was a bloodied shade of night. 

It is impossible to exist by the cliche live every day as though it’s your last. Usually, it isn’t the last day. The days repeat, and as with all things repetitive, the meaning is lost. Until one day the last day does roll around. Then it’s too late. That being said, it might not be a bad idea to say the following greeting and ask the same question at every daybreak.  
Good morning, Death. Will I see you today?

THE WORLD

It’s been pushing fifteen years since I hand picked the trees, bushes, and flowers for my yard. I made sure each one was placed strategically around the yard; front, sides, and back, to make the most of the shade, but more importantly for the tropical oasis that I’d envisioned in my mind – a getaway from the world…

I’ll admit that the selections were a strategic as well as a self serving endeavor. And while I was trying to create an escape from the world, I stumbled into bringing some of the most beautiful parts of this world into my oasis.

The west and east sides of the house, where the morning and afternoon Arizona sun pierces even the toughest dual pane windows, are now massive yellow bells and orange jubilees.

In the backyard, among the same yellow bells and orange jubilees, behind the queen palms and orange trees, is a mixture of bougainvilleas, red and purple, and hibiscus trees.

Hibiscus flowers are my favorite. And I have every color hibiscus God made in my backyard.

For all I accomplished in hiding neighbors yards and road noises, as well as creating an oasis to find solace from the vicious world, probably the best thing I accomplished was creating a home for all the birds and critters that don’t pay rent.

The trees are filled with nests of all types of birds; doves, cactus wrens, sparrows, blackbirds, but mostly my favorites, hummingbirds.

We have hummingbird nests in front, side, and backyards. There’s been more than a couple of seasons when we were flogged by a tiny hummingbird mom trying to get us away from the nest she’d built in the tree under our back patio.

But just like the movie “Field of Dreams”, “Build it and they will come”. The squirrels are winning the battle to take over underneath the spa and boulder water feature. It’s also a losing battle trying to keep the rats from the orange trees. They aren’t pretty, but the baby lizards perform the nighttime dinner show by eating the bugs gathered to the light coming from the windows under the patio.

The pigeons have been in retreat for over a year now since I went on the offensive to rid them from destroying the front of the house. They’ll come back. They always do. I’ll be ready.

Death and destruction are part of this fallen world… and even in a retreat designed for a break from the world, it falls there too.

In Matthew 10:29 I’m reminded that a small bird doesn’t have a lot of value in this world, but they matter to God and He knows when one dies… which means He cares.

With all the birds that live in my yard, I’ve seen many fall. And it reminds me that it’s a fallen world. Children are dying and being abused… evil is real.

We need rest from the world, but even a beautiful oasis can’t bring peace. That only comes from God.

THE HIDDEN TREASURE

Repost from September 2011

hidden treasure

image courtesy of photobucket.com

He was weary from the journey, the unforgiving desert seemed never ending. He couldn’t decide which was worse, the long flat dirt stretches mixed with a smattering of occasional cactus and creosote bush, or the rocky treacherous hills.

The topping of each hill or mountain felt like a little victory in itself but was short lived, only to discover another one following the last. He knew out there on the other side of the hottest stretch of dirt on earth was what he considered the promised land. The hidden treasure. He remembered the land transformed into it’s most unforgiving point right before the magical place.

After what seemed a lifetime, he finally reached the four thousand foot mountain range. He could see for endless miles west from that vantage point. He knew his destination was in reach as he braced himself and slowly made the descent back and forth, cautiously down the mountain. The drop off in spots was several hundred-foot sheer cliffs. One wrong move would mean certain death.

He smelled it before could see it. After a treacherous journey, he could feel the air begin to cool. He could almost taste the cold water as he swallowed, his dry mouth beginning to water in anticipation.

He crested one last hill, not knowing for sure if that was the last one, but alas he found himself looking at the most beautiful place on earth. His aching back and legs now couldn’t be felt.

He beheld the beauty first. Right out of nowhere it looked like his personal Garden Of Eden had sprung up. The vivid green leaves of the well watered cottonwoods formed a tall barrier hiding the treasure below that sustained them.

Below that, deep rich green bushes and vegetation among the cottonwoods spread out and up from the valley. Across the canyon, he glanced a high mesa, “If this were my land that’s where I’d build my home,” he mumbled in a low, barely audible voice as he talked to himself.

He envisioned looking out over the valley from that mesa in the late Fall afternoon. He could picture in his mind the beauty enriched by the long shadows across his perfect canyon.

He suspected a place that beautiful would likely have some dangers. He thought about the serpent in the Garden Of Eden he learned of as a child. His head locked straight ahead, eyes squinting at half mast, trying to focus as he searched for any movement. Even more troublesome would be the two legged animal. He’d come to realize it was easier to guess what a wild animal might do than it was a desperate human.

As he slowly continued along the far ridge, he caught sight of the very source of life that turned that place into an oasis. Making its way through the golden crust and sand, he spotted glimpses between a few cottonwoods of the dark blue shimmering water. He could see the sun brilliantly reflect off some of the bigger partially wet boulders flanking the creek.

He’d seen the beauty many times… He got close so often but never got to touch or drink the cool water or sit in the shade of the heavy cottonwoods with his toes buried in the golden sand.

He was moving too fast… He had a schedule to keep, he had responsibilities. He was caught on the hamster wheel just like a rodent… He could only look at the beauty and study it by slowing down to 70 miles per hour as he passed by on the interstate.

Those were the dreams of his youth… Those were the dreams of yesteryears…

The road to the big city was the on-ramp to life in the fast lane.

He remembered the verse from the Bible, “Be still and know that I Am God”….

He wasn’t very good at that one…

He is me…

CAULKING

I read somewhere that no matter where you are on earth, you’re within about five feet of a spider. Kinda creepy to think about. Especially ’cause it’s probably true. Caulking is sorta like that, but only if you’re in or close to a structure created for shelter.

Everybody knows about caulking, most have dabbled with it, but we don’t give it a lot of thought. That’s the whole point; it’s created so that nothing stands out or catches your eye that’s not supposed to.

I liken caulking to asphalt filler. When we’re sailing down a nicely paved, or repaved, road we don’t give it a lot of thought. Some of us with heavy feet syndrome tend to give in to our disease…

It’s not until you get on a crummy street that has cracks and potholes in it that we tend to pay attention to where the jarring and damage causing crevices lie waiting to take out a precious tie rod.

I pay a little more attention to finish details and design than other folks, due to my being in the business and all. When the areas around the corners of windows aren’t caulked properly they stick out like a sore thumb. Same with the tops and the bottoms of baseboards; if they’re not properly caulked that dark line grabs my eye like a drowning chap grabs a life preserver. You can add the side of a cabinet where it attaches to the wall to that list as well.

The genius design of that simple sticky mixture that we call caulking is that it hides the imperfections that exist in every structure ever built. And like riding a bike; most of us can do it, but some folks, especially the ones that do it for a living, do it a whole lot better.

There are a lot of things in this world that are similar to caulking. A lot of women won’t leave the house without their caulki-, I mean, makeup on. I don’t tuck my shirt into my pants anymore… untucked somewhat hides what used to be ripped. I don’t smile as big either. I quit wearing my retainer after I got my braces off when I was a kid…

Most of us have issues we like to cover up, or not draw attention to, like caulking at the top of baseboard to fill in the voids between the trim and wall.

It’s peculiar how we use invisible caulking to hide our hearts… Since none of us are perfect, it’s easy to assume that we hide behind a facade of invisible caulking from time to time. We hide what we want to say and do, but just like every structure has flaws… so do we… but we can only hide them from others… not ourselves and not our Maker.

I think true craftsmanship and beauty are about the foundation and structure… not the color of paint and makeup that hides what’s really there…