So. This morning I was sitting in the office here to La Casita Johnson de Santa Fe where my computer desk is situated to provide me the full view out the window. What I see on any day is first the sharp angle of the stucco corner of the master bedroom roof which is backdropped by the largest of our Ponderosa pine trees. Sharpen my eyes to mid distance and I can see the rooftops of homes and other buildings as the topography rises towards the mountains.
When I focus my sight to the distance, I have a clear view of the ski mountain—Santa Fe Ski Basin. On any day my view of the world as I write to you is nothing short of spectacular.
Today, however, my view was something beyond that. It was snowing again this morning, a light, fine crystalline ice crystal snow that was falling straight down in windless air. Since everything is already coated with the week’s fluffy snow, this looked like when I would shake off my shirt onto a white granite counter top that time I had a terrible case of dandruff—the tiny flakes just disappeared into the already-white landscape.
The neighborhood crows and ravens have decided to grace us today, likely because I set a big loaf of bread on the roof of the portal for them. For the life of me I can’t tell them apart—ravens and crows—but Google tells me that ravens are the larger of these two majestic birds. But whichever ones these are, I have fallen in love with them. At least I am in love with what they seem to be to me—calm, thoughtful, playful, smart, communal. They seem to take life as it comes without complaint while honoring each other’s existances.
While the starlings and sparrows and other birds squawk and twitter and fight over every scrap of food and territory, the bigger black birds share, and even seem to invite company. The first time I put bread out, a lone crow (raven?) flew in to look things over. He pecked at the bread’s hard crust, scrabbled it with his beak, then turned his head like birds do to peer a large orange eye at the bread. After maybe a half-minute of peering, he, “Caw-caw-cawed,” and stood there.
He just stood and turned his head in the circles that birds do, and he, “Caw-caw-cawed.”
Other crows and ravens began their fly ins and I soon had what I guess was a flock of them. Ten birds by my count, sharing the loaf of bread. It was a big loaf, a rustic Italian sour dough three-pounder that I had forgotten and allowed to go stale.
Any of the other birds that visit the yard would squabble and fight over every crumb, but these guys shared. There appeared to be some sort of pecking order but I had no sense of their priorities. Having watched them many times since, they seem to have a societal sharing structure based on need. Whichever bird’s needs are greater gets to peck first and most often. There is one bird—the largest and most weatherbeaten—who is usually the last to fly in for dinner. As soon as he lands and settles, the others make room for him to eat. I named him The Old Man.
They wait while The Old Man spears a first chunk and swallows, and let him get a second bite before they resume their dining. It happens that way every time. Every fucking time.
I say all of this to you because when I first sat down to write to you about my retained anger over last Friday’s massacre of school kids, I was looking out my office window at the aforementioned view, pissed at the world. I was staring over the sharp angle of the master bedroom wall, over the roof and into the snowy pine tree. There was motion from deep inside the pine’s snow-weighted mass, motion moving from the far side towards me.
I realized it was a big bird and I soon saw it was The Old Man. He was branch hopping from way up in the far side of the tree towards me. He flew out of sight for a minute and then returned to the same branch with a mouthful of bread. He perched for a moment on the largest branch closest to the house then flew the one wing flap distance to the master bedroom parapet—the tip of the angular wall now thrice-mentioned.
He gripped the stuccoed wall with huge clawed feet. I was surprised at the look of his claws and stared at them in what might have been awe. This angular wall is maybe ten feet from my window, and from that short distance the bird was a giant. I knew then that The Old Man is a raven.
He set the chunk of bread on the wall and “Cawed” at me. He looked straight at me from his wall perch, and “Cawed” at me again. My desk phone rang and its jangle broke the moment. The Old Man jumped to lift off in flight and I answered the phone.
It was Mother. “Hi, Mother, how are you?”
“I’m just sick to death over this gun control business, Mooner. Where are you?”
Here we go again. “I’m in Santa Fe, Mother, just like the last hundred-and-thirty-nine times we’ve spoken. You know, like the six times yesterday?”
A pause, and I hear her make a sharp intake of breath. “How many times must I warn you about Santa Fe, son? All of those homo-sex-u-als will ruin your life. They have their ways, Mooner, and you aren’t the sharpest knife in the drawer you know.”
“Oh for shitsakes, Mother, whatinthefuck do you want?” I asked, maybe my words carrying a touch more sting than I meant. Maybe.
“Don’t you curse at your mother, Butcher Einstein Johnson. I can still bend you over the kitchen table, you little brat. What am I going to do about this gun control mess? Where are you—I need you to come here right now and fix this gun mess for me.”
“I’m still in Santa Fe. and what gun control mess are you talking about?” With Mother you’re not allowed to be quite certain of her references. She might be addressing Friday’s gun mess or maybe a time back in the Civil War, when Minnie balls weren’t the same well-aimed missiles as today’s precision killing machines. It pays to not assume.
“Pastor Browningwell told me that the President is going to take all our guns away and that we need to stand and fight. I need some bullets, Mooner, where are you?”
Huh? The old dingbat needs bullets?
“Why do you need bullets? Mother, you don’t have a gun, and as of a few seconds ago, I’m still in fucking Santa Fe.”
“I bought a gun yesterday to protect myself against the President and you need a gun too. You have just got to keep those homo-sex-u-als away, son. They can turn you in a minute.”
Sweet Jesus, if you ever had any power, will you please take me NOW!
“What the fuck is wrong with you, Mother? You don’t need a damned gun—you live in a secure building.”
Son… Of… A… Fucking… Bitch!!! My batty and demented mother bought a gun!
“Well, I don’t actually have the gun yet, they had sold out before I could get a reservation on the facility bus to take me over to the shop. But I want bullets for when my gun comes in and I WANT THEM RIGHT NOW!”
I thought she would bust a gut she was so mad. My first impulse was to test that idea and attempt to stir her up. Instead I said to her, I told her, “OK, settle down. I’ll be there Saturday morning and we’ll see about getting you some bullets. What kind of bullets do you need?” I asked.
I had to fucking ask.
“Oh, I don’t know, Mooner—seven-thousand-sixty-two?”
What? Did she mean 7.62?
“Do you mean seven-point-sixty-two? Moth-errrrr… Did you buy an assault rifle?”
She hung up on me. I tried calling her back but there was no answer. I then called American Express and canceled the transaction at On Target Gun Shop of San Antonio, hung up and called On Target where I gave what sounded like a pimply-faced teenager an earful of shit while telling him I’d canceled the payment. When I’d spent all my anger with the sales clerk, he did that exasperated sigh that teens do and said to me, he said, “No problemo, signorio, we got a waiting list.”
I slammed the phone down and redialed AMEX where I canceled Mother’s AMX card. Cancellations of Visa and her debit cards followed. I called Sister to tell her what was going on and asked her to go down to San Antonio and meet with the management of the facility where our mother now lives.
“Give them $500.00 in twenties, Sister, and instruct that Mother can have fifty bucks a day. We’ll discuss longterm arrangements when I get there.”
Then, it dawned on me that I had just canceled an AMEX charge for $1,986.52 that was payable to the On Target gun shop. I felt so angry I thought I’d bust a gut.
“Calm down, Bwana, cool your jets. You’re gonna bust a gut.” It was the Squirt who was dressed in the new sweater I got to wear under her parka. The diminutive brown puppy looked totally fucking adorable.
“They charged her almost two-thousand dollars for a five-hundred dollar gun, sweetie pie. My mother has lost her mind in more ways than one.”
“Ugh,” I added with a tired breath.
“Who gives a shit, Mooner, you got it fixed. Lets go to Trader Joe’s and get some cheap wine, a leg of lamb and those French caramels you like so much. You can get drunk and Yoda and I can fight over the lamb bone.”
Squirt nudged my leg with her cute little nose. “Come on shithead, you can fix the rest of this mess on Saturday.”
It’s now early evening and I’m two bottles of Trader Joe’s Coastal Merlot in the bag. The smell of roasting lamb has my mouth watering like the leaky water connection I just found in the wall behind the vanity in the hall bath. I love roasted lamb and I love my two dogs and I love living in Santa Fe.
And I want to love my mother. I truly do. But I’ve forgotten how or maybe I’ve forgotten what loving her feels like. It’s impossible to feel love for her now when feeling loved by her is a forgotten memory. Maybe I’ll get those feelings back when I visit her over the holidays.
Maybe not. And why am I starting to feel that crows and ravens have a more well adjusted society than we humans?