The River Flows On
This river idea is all things to all creatures, the durable object of song, worship and celebration of life. The river is home to teeming soups of life, yet it feeds its banks and plains and creates more life wherever it spreads. Yes, the river can take it all away, too. The river has time and gravity on its side, and the river always wins.
– A.Bear and the River, May 1998
February – Bearly a Year
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Hi everyone, it’s me, C.Bear, again! This year we’re advertising for squirrels. It was Cubby’s idea. No responses so far this year; it’s been a very bad year for squirrel detecting. All A.Bear will say about our marketing idea is that it probably wouldn’t have helped much to include the requirement that squirrels demonstrate the ability to read.
None of us can believe we wrote our last story a whole year ago. So much seems like it has changed. Maybe it’s always been that way and we just didn’t see it. When Bob was alive, Bob and Alex managed to make it seem to us fellers like time stood practically still. Laughter echoed down the endless hallways of our lives. There was always change, but compared to our world, the kind of change we knew just came and went like the weather. We Bears sure had it good.
And we still have it good, you know. We still get to come down to Phoenix to visit my bro “Phoenix” Bear and our whole crew down here. In less than two years, Alex says, we can all retire down here and us Bears can be re-united for the first time in years. For now, because we’re still split into two residences, we still do the nightly “good night” calls on the Bear Channel. There’s talk of a new mattress for us up north if something called an “income tax refund” arrives.
But we notice change now, and we watch it like a hawk. Old Mr. Cactipus is so tall now – all those Saguaro are – that he’s not chasing anybody, and he’s not scarin’ anyone any more either. Not me, anyways – you can only scare me once.
The last original rubber duck in the swimming pool is starting to tilt to one side. It’s time to retire him before he sinks. The perfect little miniature palmetto that Alex thought was a volunteer escapee from a houseplant nursery, years ago, has turned out to be a regular palm tree. It’s 25 feet high now!
Alex always wondered what would happen if we didn’t call in the tree service to trim the palm trees every year. Last year he didn’t have the phone for the service Bob used to use, so we didn’t call. In late summer, our trees send out unsightly long spikes, or shoots. These soon develop clusters of hard little seedlike berries. We found out that they in turn rain down tens of thousands of hard black berries onto the pool patio and even into the pool. You know what? Alex says we are calling a tree service this year, any tree service, that’s what.
Some things don’t change. Mr. Popslider and all his European Starling buddies are all over the yard, and Mrs. Popslider has taken up nesting in one of their favorite saguaros. Volunteer plants spring up each year and you never know what they’re going to be. Two years ago it was great big beds of Mexican poppies. So far this year we have a volunteer Lantana.
We had a big freeze a few weeks ago all over the West. My own favorite Bougainvillea looks like it is practically dead, but they say this plant will recover. The prickly pears are a messy plant anyway, and we Bears don’t care for them, but this year they dropped about half their petals. Alex says they look more like a disposal site, and he’s already complaining about cleaning the mess up. We fellers are taking bets on when he’s going to start.
We had rain yesterday, not enough to fill up any rivers, but enough to water the gardens. Right now it is sunny. I hope it gets warm enough we can all sit outside for a while.
March – Roars in Like a Bear
Up here in Castro Valley, me and the fellers think March started out like – well, we’re not allowed to say that word. We had snow in the hills. We had rain. We had an earthquake. And we had more rain. And the TV says they had hail, sleet and tornadoes in the Midwest. From what we hear, the weather was hardly any better in Phoenix.
Finally, in the second week, we had a nice day. We opened up all the doors and windows because Alex said it was “stuffy” in here. We’re not sure we appreciate the way he puts it, but we liked the fresh air. And no sign of Mr. S., you-know-who. We think they’re all down in sunny Squirrelpulco still, sipping their coolers. We wish we could have sombreros like those squirrels.
On March 12 our “Bear of The Day” list revealed a rare pairing – C.Bear and T.Bear were Bears Of The Day together, with A.Bear following the next day. No one could remember this, honoring the original “Three Bears” together in our random list, ever happening before.
On another nice day here in Castro Valley, we sat outside on the back balcony for a while. Well, Alex did. We tuned in on the Bear Channel. You would be surprised how many channels we can get.
The airplanes flew overheard toward Mount Diablo as they always do. Alex thinks of them as Cessnas and Pipers and such because he used to fly them, you know. He doesn’t like to think about that so much now, but we think he would if there was somebody to talk to. Sometimes we hear Bob calling from up there somewhere, and he says don’t worry, he is doing fine. Sometimes Alex thinks he hears too, but he isn’t sure. We are.
Someone in one of the apartments has a nice wind chime. We can’t tell who. It’s always in tune. It sounds like those eery notes in that movie “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” where Lee Van Cleef plays the watch chimes at dinner with this guy and draws his revolver and … you would just have to see the movie. The chimes go on and on and on, and you don’t even want to know what’s going to happen when they wind down stop playing.
The wind chimes are really a cheery sound. A.Bear says we have to get back to understanding that. It just takes time and patience, that’s all.
That big old eucalyptus tree, where Mr. and Mrs. Crow made their nest back in simpler times, is starting to bloom again. That means Mr. Squirrel will be back in time, for they sure like to nibble on those flowers! We might nibble on them too, but Bears don’t need to ’cause we don’t have squirrel breath.
Cubby is still in his teens, in Bear Years that is. He is a trustworthy part of the team, and a member in good standing with the Bear Union. Like most teens, Cubby’s ways of expressing himself tend to present challenges to the rest of the world. Cubby has also tried his hand at story writing; here’s a story he’s working on that he recently shared with us.
Benny and Herbie are brothers who live on a knoll in separate houses on the same street. Herbie keeps sheep and a goat as pets. Benny does not like the goat. Sometimes Benny will elbow the goat in the slats when Herbie is watching. Herbie doesn’t like that. “The goat likes it”, Benny will say. Once in a while Benny will stuff a nice Feta cheese in the goat’s silage. You can imagine what it is like to have “goat smell” in the house when the goat eats the Feta. Herbie doesn’t like that either. And once Benny took a bunch of goat droppings and hid them in Herbie’s TV set. Herbie was furious and blamed the goat. The goat was really a nice goat as goats go. Once, somebody asked Benny why he was so mean to the poor animal. Benny said, “Hey, I just like to get Herbie’s goat, that’s all.”
Well, I mean, what kind of dumb story is THAT? We told Cubby we think he’s been reading that sarcastic newspaper comic strip, the one with Larry the dumb croc and Pig and Zeeba and Rat. All Cubby will say is, “well, you’ve got to start somewhere”. Now it’s hard to say whether we want to discourage Cubby further or not. If we’d all said, “Why Cubby, how sweet!”, he’d have lost interest in the story. But now we found out he’s researching “Things that Smell” on the Internet.
Alex brings home good news: the squirrels must be on their way back up North from Squirrelpulco. We have a report they’re busy in a neighboring town across the bay, digging up flower beds. So, they should be back to Castro Valley just about the time Mr. and Mrs. Crow set up house in the old eucalyptus tree.
April Bear Essentials
One bright April morning in Phoenix, two starlings sat on their favorite perches, atop the highest lobes of the prickly pear, and they watched what we presume is the Popslider brood nesting in the hole in the side of their saguaro cactus. And, Mr. Cat came to the back door and gave us all his best performance of the “Please won’t you help me, I’m just a poor innocent down-on my-luck sweet little kitty” look. Mr. Cat is a well-fed quiltwork of brown and black fur patch, lovingly stitched by mother nature to foil his best attempts at looking serious and pitiable. The trick here is to get himself petted so someone new will fall in love with him and feed him, thus adding another household to his daily rounds. Although Alex would love to have a cat again, this wouldn’t work until we are down here full time, and even then there’s just too much heartbreak in taking up cat fancying with someone else’s cat.
Alex started work on C.Bear’s Bougainvillea, which did die back almost completely from that frost. And he puttered at the pool again, which is warm enough for him to get into for brief dips. “Hayward”, the pool bottom cleaning device, had to go into the shop for a tune-up. But first, the car wouldn’t start, so Alex had to call AAA. We don’t run it enough down here to keep the battery charged, he says, so he bought a battery charger. While out shopping, Alex then discovered they have Trader Joe’s down here, so he got a loaf of their great sourdough bread Alex likes so much. And, we trust, he surely picked up some Trader Joe’s Bear Kibble while there.
On April 10, we heard Alex in Castro Valley: “Come everyone look, look, look! Beep-Beep!” Had he finally lost it all?
No, we Bears knew that something he saw set off the Squirrel Detector, and we’ll let you guess what that was. He rushed into the bedroom and grabbed C.Bear and Little Bear, but when they came back to the balcony to look at the eucalyptus tree, no Mr. Squirrel was to be seen.
It was just like we predicted last month.
Alex explained: he saw Mr. or Mrs. Crow chasing something – they’re back too – and then he saw a young red squirrel running down a tree limb, away from the noisy Crow protests. So that’s it, then. Not only are Mr. and Mrs. Crow trying to nest again this year, the squirrels are back to make sure the crows don’t get a minute’s rest.
And that has to be a good sign. As a spectator sport, squirrels can’t be beat. It just doesn’t get any better than that!
In the third week of April we saw another squirrel, Alex said. From his fifth-floor workplace office windows, he enjoys a crow’s-eye view of the grounds that Junior doesn’t get on his velcro car dashboard perch. That’s three for the year, we think. A bad year for squirrels – so far – all we ask is one a week.
As you know, we fly down to Phoenix roughly every other week. All these years, Alex has been peering out of the airplane windows and studying the terrain. Hard to imagine that most of the terrain in the deserts of California and Arizona were once inland seas, some 72 million years ago. From the air, you can practically see where the shoreline might have been, though Alex always wonders how little of that is solid science and how much is imagination and fantasy.
You can see big mountains. You can see stooped old timeless mountains worn down to the nub and almost buried in a deep new ocean of sand and sloping jackets of rock debris. Some of those mountains, presumably once proud, are worn down to hillocks which might be a few hundred feet high on a good day, yet you can see from their much larger burial mounds of talus and scree how great they must once have been.
In a gymnasium-sized room, if you will, mentally place one of those fake lava rock fiberglas fountains, about five feet high, in the middle of the floor. Borrow some hopper and chute equipment from a sand and gravel company, and trickle a nice dry sand and gravel mix over the fountain, spreading it as you go. When the entire gym floor is filled with a flat bed of sand and gravel to a depth of about four feet nine inches, and you can only see the top three inches of the fountain, remove the equipment. Take a picture of the fountain from almost directly above, from the gymnasium rafters.
A.Bear asks, exactly what kind of scientific thought experiment is that? Nature never had sand hoppers with which to bury her oldest mountains. But we are trying to compress, into a weekend thought experiment, Alex says, the wear, tear and erosion of hundreds of million years of heating and freezing and flooding. We are trying to re-imagine the corrosive effect of a flash flood, heavy with boulders and sand and gravels, dredging its own dirty, roiling maniacal channel of destruction down the mountainside, year after year, eon after eon. Only then can we ask, so what explains the immense piles and delta plains of rubble? Here, you only have to try to imagine how much mountain range must have existed, at one time, to break down into these vast, almost featureless deserts of rock debris. That little circular nub is what Alex sees on the desert, from the air at 30,000 feet aloft. It was a mighty volcano, once, now reduced to a mound indistinguishable from all the rest, like a crumbled burial mound in some forgotten wetlands now gone to desert.
It seems that about every hundredth mound is a dark charcoal hue, almost black in the setting sun, and you see the rivers of dark rock outflow contrasting sharply with the muted pastel colors of the surrounding desert floor. Pyroclastic outflow? Volcanoes in Arizona? It seems obvious – but how long ago? How long does it take to wear down a mighty new volcanic cone, to the dimensions of a rolling, low lying Plains states hillock, smothering it in its own debris? A billion years? Is this the last of the Archaean, 3.8 to 2.5 billion years ago? Whatever the answer, these mountains and volcanoes must stretch back to some ancient pre-dinosaur era. Are they waiting, ready to erupt again when we are not looking? Not likely; the “hot spots” that spawned them no doubt drifted west, to the Sierras or Cascades, or perhaps diving down hundreds of miles into the plastic interior, taking their subterranean pyroclastic monsters along with them.
In the last week of April we saw two squirrels, almost a dozen geese, countless ducks and eleven ducklings. All our waiting was worth it. Spring is here!
A.Bear’s Law Of Canoe Entropy
Hi, it’s me, your old pal C.Bear, back again. Sometimes my story runs on about things that Alex is really interested in. But that’s OK, he writes those stories for us, anyway. And we Bears go anywhere Alex goes, as long as we don’t get our paws wet!
It’s kind of like A.Bear’s story of the River, all those years ago, except we could not see where the River was taking us, and we could not imagine that Bob would be taken from us along the way.
They say some canoes get swept under overhanging tree branches. Some get pinned under tons of falling water. Most make it as far as the Bridge, where you turn in the canoe, so you only remember when the River is calm and kind, and almost everybody gets a good ride.
And a few of those canoes make it all the way down to the mouth of the River, yawning open at the great Ocean, and we don’t ask, “What happened to the River?” We just say “What a great ride.”
© Alex Forbes, May 2007
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