For the Squirrels

September is Kill a Squirrel on Your Way to Work Month. Or so it would seem from the looks of it. Each day that we travel the 3.5 miles out to Highway 29, the road is freshly littered with furry little carcasses, as though an ogre has collected baskets full of them and is strewing them merrily along the aisle like so many rose petals before some unthinkable bride.

As autumn approaches and the oaks and hickories drop their copious fruit, the squirrels—more berserk than ever— dart about in their perilous zigzag, back and forth in front or between the tires of our car, and even my bicycle at times, threatening our lives and their own for the sake of an acorn.

Some make it, some don’t.

For those that do, we breathe a sigh of relief and, both hands on the wheel, drive a bit more slowly out to the highway. For those that don’t… well, that takes a little more time.

I have a long-standing policy of removing dead carcasses from the road, safety permitting. I do this for two reasons.

1. To give them a more dignified decomposition. Given the choice of being laid out beneath the shade of a cool forest, or being ground beneath the tires of countless cars and trucks into a greasy spot in the asphalt, I would choose the former.

“Why bother?” a friend once said. “They’re dead already.”

I wouldn’t feel that way if there were a human lying in the road, say my cousin, or a great aunt even. Wouldn’t I at least drag them to the side? I like to think I would. Same for the animals.

2. To keep the kids on the school bus from starting their day witnessing the results of the previous night’s carnage. When I was a kid, it made me sad to see a dead dog or cat in the road, or a deer, possum or raccoon. The image and the sadness would hang on me all day. So when I got older, I’d move the deceased just inside the woods, just outside of view of the kids on the bus. If the animal has a collar, I collect the information, contact the owner and gently break the news.

This later translated to my own kids. On weekdays, I was always first to leave the house. This gave me a chance to clear the road of its morning grief before their carpool shuttled them off for the day. Our learn-everything-as-it-happens world of technology offers enough sad visuals. Let our scenic road, at least, be a place of contentment.

So be on the lookout for a silver Prius, pulled slightly to one side of the road, emergency flashers blinking. It’s only me, going from one squirrel to the next, placing their limp bodies off to the side, offering a short apology for the speed of our world.

Thank God, September’s almost over.

Flippin’ Wonderful

Saturday morning, early. I’m at my sister’s house where I’ve come to celebrate our mutual birthdays. She turned 50 on August 30th. One week later I turned 55. The 14th is the 21st birthday of Molly, her daughter, my niece (though Molly is celebrating with her old college buddies at Radford). Every woman in this family is a Virgo, including our mother, who would have been 83 on the 10th.

Later, I must drive 2 hours home to Nelson County, but I don’t have to be there until late afternoon. Michael, Laura’s husband, is off working on a Habitat house. It’s just my sister and me and this cloudless September morning that spreads out before us like syrup on a pancake.

We drink our coffee, walk the dog. She runs a load of laundry, hangs it on the line. Sheets float lazily in the breeze.

We decide to wash our cars. We suds and scrub, wipe and rinse, and talk of kids. We talk of parents, now gone. We talk loss fresh and loss looming. This morning news comes to us of a high school chum who died today after a week in a coma. A heart attack while riding his bicycle. Massive head injuries from the resulting crash wrote the closing chapter of his rich life story.

We speak of a relative who elects to step off the roller coaster of cancer treatment after 3 long years. Or were they short years? Time expands and collapses unevenly with the humidity this low, the sky this blue; September days always seem more like a snapshot—sharp and bittersweet— than they do reality.

We give the cars a final hosing and as we walk back into the house, I notice the swimming pool, sparkling blue. “Did you do your flips this year?” I ask her. Each year, before the summer is over, my sister steps up on the diving board and executes first a front flip, and then a back flip, just to prove that she still can.

“No,” she says. “I didn’t get much pool time this year with the surgery.” Her seasons in the sun caught up with her this year. Early in the summer she had 2 skin cancers removed from her pretty face. My own nose has been carved up twice, several years ago. After all, I am the older sister.

“Well then,” I say, “There’s not much summer left —we’d better get flippin’.”

We look at each other. We look at the pool. The air temperature is in the 60’s, no warmer. The utter lack of humidity makes it feel even cooler. She kicks off a flip-flop and dips her toe in the pool. “Don’t even bother,” I tell her. “We have to go through with it, no matter what.”

We run upstairs and change into a couple of her bathing suits, grab towels on the way back out and throw them onto the waiting deck chairs. Laura thinks front flips are harder. I think back flips are more difficult. She elects to go first with a front flip. She steps up on the board, bounces a couple of times to test the spring, then up and over she goes, converting water droplets to sequins in the sun. She nearly makes it all the way around. “It’s not that cold!” she says as she surfaces. “I’ve got to do another, now that I’ve got the feel for it.” She does. The crowd goes wild.

It’s my turn for the front flip. I perform my first, then my second with similar results. Now for the back flips.

She stands, toes on the edge of the board, back to the pool. Bounce. Bounce. Up and over. She makes it look easy. Now me.

I have a fear of hitting my head, even though as a high school gymnast, I used to do these off a 4-inch wide, hardwood balance beam. I’d take a couple of skips, do a round-off—landing with both feet at the very end of the beam— then I’d somersault backwards off the edge into the air, onto the floor, nailing my landing.

So what’s the big deal now? It’s a springboard with a soft water landing. “I’ll do a couple of practice jumps backwards,” I tell her. “I’ll mark the place in the pool where you land,” she says, to give me confidence. I jump high off the board. She marks the place on the side of the pool where I land. “You’re a mile from the board,” she says.

I make a few more false starts, then I do it. Not quite all the way around, but now I know what I have to do. Another one. “Perfect form!” Laura says.

We both execute a couple of back dives for good measure, then we wrap up in the dry beach towels and lay back in the deck chairs, soaking in this rarified day. What comes next, who can say? But right this moment, we’re flippin’ wonderful.

Not Just Another Sunday Afternoon

$250 per ticket was not in our budget, even for a four-day rock festival. But when three free passes came our way on Sunday afternoon, Kevin and I met our younger son, Bram, and headed to the first ever Lockn’— in a field just five miles from our house in rural Nelson County—to see a band we’d been wanting to see for a while now.

I am now officially smitten with Susan Tedeschi, crooked-toothed angel with a salvation voice. I love everything about her. I want to look like her, sing like her, play like her. And her husband? Well…

What if someday Jesus makes it back here, and the whole world has changed and everyone is at peace? And what if he looks around and loves what he sees so much—understands that finally, everything he died so horribly for has worked out even better than he’d hoped it would— that he picks up the nearest guitar and begins to play? When Derek Trucks plays his Gibson, it sounds like that. There is nothing else like it in this world.

That, combined with his wife’s voice and presence on stage, brought Kevin and me quite literally to tears. I could have broken down and sobbed if I’d let myself.

Their band – keyboard player, base player, horn section, drummers — oozed talent. The horn section electrified the stage even when they weren’t playing. And it was hard to say who was having more fun – the audience, or the band.

Guitarist Eric Krasno joined them for a number. And was that the Black Crowes hanging out at the back of the stage, just diggin’ it? No – not just diggin’ it. For the last couple of songs, they joined the Tedeschi-Trucks Band. And OK – if there was one perfect male voice to partner with Tedeschi’s voice, who would that be (now that Ray Charles is dead)? Chris Robinson.

And was that Bob Weir picking up a tambourine and stepping up to the microphone as the band took “I Want to Take You Higher” to a new level? Boom shaka-laka-laka!

And we were there, not a hundred feet away, on a late summer afternoon in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Without even realizing it, I’ve been waiting for a live concert experience like this ever since I saw Little Feat on their “Waiting for Columbus” tour. I can die now. Play Tedeschi-Trucks at my funeral.