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November 25, 2011

From Fly Creek: Tail over tin cup

— It’s taken me weeks to work up gumption to tell you about a spectacular piece of stupidity. The stunt was so dumb that I’m ready to believe that, along with other lost ground, my common sense is eroding, too.

The stunt occurred back in the warm wetness of earlier fall, when a hurricane and then a tropical storm had left us with a final misery: tiny, frenzied mosquitoes that swarmed on us as soon as we dared venture outdoors, especially in the early morning and in the evening, too, when the stunt took place.

Inside the house, where I should have remained at dusk on that damp, quickly darkening eve, I got to wondering what the awesome flooding of Oaks Creek had done to our little campfire site down on its shore. My concern was the picnic table. Had I moved it far enough up the steep slope to escape the waters?

And so — here’s where common sense deserted me — I decided to walk out through our west field, climb partway down the slope, and see if I could spot the table down below.

As I walked through our back room, I passed Blue, snoring in his dog bed. No need, I thought, to disturb him for such a brief sortie.

And so I left the house and walked the length of the west field with not so much as a cellphone to keep me company.

At the field’s back corner I opened a gate and stood at the top of 12 wooden steps built ten years ago by my buddy Wolfgang Merk. The steps spanned the worst steepness of the hillside; and from their base I’d continued Wolf’s work by building a meandering path, incorporating a few more steps here, a few more there, all the way down to level ground and the creek’s edge. It would be foolish, I told myself, to go all the way down the meandering (primrose?) path in the dimming light. And so I started down Wolf’s steps, holding carefully to the railing, Parkinson’s, of course, at my side.

After the last step is an earthen platform, and that’s where I intended to stop and squint down through the trees to the campsite. And I did. But Parkinson’s didn’t. Before I knew it, I was tumbling, tail over tin cup, down the hillside, ripping up lots of thorny black cap vines that wrapped themselves around me. I was alternately shouting, “Ow! Ow!” and punctuating with other, unQuakerly yells.

A locust tree stopped me about 50 feet down the slope.

I lay still for a while, inventorying parts and wiggling each in turn. Nothing seemed broken, but I sensed I’d lost my right shoe in the avalanche. My thought now turned to getting on my feet, back up the hill, and to the house. This was important since darkness was settling in.

But there was a problem. I was enwrapped from shoulders to knees by a dozen long and thorny vines, and any movement seemed to upset them. They at once tightened their grip and stabbed me.

Wait a bit, I thought. Let the vines calm down and my mind with them. Then maybe I could negotiate with or even outwit them. (Note gently, please, my befuddlement.) But there was to be no waiting a bit. For, summoned, it seemed, from miles around, an enormous swarm of those frenzied mosquitoes divebombed me, suddenly all over my bare arms neck, balding head. They were in my ears and up my nose.

“Yaaah!” I screamed, as if they could be frightened off. And then I lurched my feet, ripping free my legs (at some cost to them and my muddied pants), and stumbling across the face of the slope toward the meandering path.

By the time I was stumbling up the path, one shoe off, one shoe on, I’d freed my arms and could slap and flail at the mosquitoes. I fell a couple of times, tripping on my own carefully constructed steps. It was not a dignified retreat.

At the top of Wolf’s staircase, I slammed the gate, as if that would stop the insects. It did not. The cloud whirled about me as I flailed and slapped and stumbled back to the house.

Inside, I shut the door and leaned back against it, panting. Blue still lay across the room in his dog bed, snoring. He was on his back now, his ears spread out from either side of his head. He looked, I thought woozily, as if he’d attempted flight with those ears and crash-landed.

But my mind was just clear enough to recognize one real thing. I was too worn out to climb the steps to bed. I had to rest first.

That explains my crossing to Blue, who raised his head slightly, gave a token wag of the tail, and settled on his side to snore some more. And it explains my kneeling, lowering myself sideways, and placing my head on Blue’s warm shoulder. He stirred again, licked my paw, and returned to snoring. I slept there for a half hour before struggling up the staircase.

My Anne, bless her, was asleep through all this. The next day I went back, found my shoe, and looked again for the picnic table. It was gone, perhaps down the Susquehanna and into the Chesapeake, floating toward my boyhood home.