lundi 19 octobre 2009

Another day, another crazy miracle in the garden

Hanging on, just barely


It turns out miracles aren't very uncommon. I don't know what made me think they had to be, come to think of it. They are merely miraculous; they might very well happen all the time. I am sure, in fact, that they do, otherwise I'd never get to see so many.

It all started when I went to take my motorcycle yesterday to pick Sam up from a friend's house, where he had spent the night. It was a gorgeous fall day, and I thought, "Perfect. I'll take a ride across the countryside south of Mantes." Only my bike had another idea.

It has a temperamental battery that is becoming an issue. I hit the electric starter. The bike whined and choked. It wasn't going to start, but I tried again. It made a faint noise that dropped and faded. The battery telling me that it was now out of j u i c e.

I left a note for my husband to explain why the car was gone when he returned, since when he gave me a peck good-bye before heading out at the same time, I was in my leather, carrying my helmet and one for Sam across the terrace, heading down to my bike.

This afternoon, I was stripping the last window frame, the one in the kitchen, when I remembered that I needed to take the extension cord and BMW motorcycle battery charger down to the bottom of the garden to charge my battery (for the second time in a week, but who's counting), and on the way back up to the get back to the window, I remembered that my husband would appreciate my closing the pool for the winter.

I passed through the gap in the overgrown hedge to go take a look at the pool, empty the skimmers, check the pressure of the jets and so on. The jets were a little weak, so I stopped off at the pool pump and started to empty the air from the sand filter when my eye caught a glint of gold and bronze in the filter basket.

I looked closer, and there was a toad. All in one piece. He was clinging, or had been clinging anyway, to the handle of the yellow basket, between it and the clear plastic lid. I bent down to look closer still, and I could see his flanks moving. He was breathing! I pounced on the valves to shut down the circulation and hit the power switch to stop the pump, and since he had survived that long, I dared to run up the thirty steps and across the terrace to the house for my camera, Baccarat on my heels and shooting past me into the house, and then all the way back down, where she bolted on past me, thinking we were heading out the gate for a walk, when I cut left to the pump house.

"Sh, there, there, little one. Hang tight. I'm here, don't move."

Like he was going anywhere. He was lucky already to have gotten a hold on the basket handle, or he'd have gone right past the top of the basket and on into the pump blades, unless this basket is higher than the old one and covers the hole.

What's gold and bronze and red all over? Oh. You've heard that one already?

There was also a small frog, green-backed with striped legs, in the basket with the leaves. He was quite energetic and leaped away. Holding the water-logged, frozen and beyond terrified toad on my left wrist, I managed to grab the little frog in my right hand and make it up the stairs to deposit him in the basin.

I tried to pry the toad off the cuff of my sweater to put him in a potted plant to rest and recover, or, alternatively, to die, but he wasn't having any of that. He stretched his legs out and locked them, pushing off against the edge of the pot, grasping my sweater with his forepaws. So, I helped him back up onto my wrist and to gather his legs. Apart from the effort to remain attached to me, he was very weak. Bubbles formed over his eyes and with his left forepaw he tried to wipe them away, his breathing slow and shallow, making occasional peeping, clicking noises.

The death rattle of a toad? He'd been sucked up by the intake for the vacuum, flown through the pipes and been flung into the filter basket, where he'd found refuge between the handle and the lid and where he'd been since sometime since I emptied the little yellow basket of leaves a week ago. That's a lot for a toad to handle.

The phone rang. I gathered him up, which wasn't hard since he was still hanging onto me for dear life, and ran to answer it. Sam's cell phone number.

"Sam?"

"I've been trying to reach you for like 10 minutes. I've called your cell phone over and over." I'm used to being chided.

"Oh? I don't know why I didn't hear it." Dumb thing to say. Of course I hadn't heard it. I was rescuing wildlife in the bottom of the garden.

"I'm on the bus, at the mairie in Rosny."

"I might be late. I, um, saved a toad from the pool filter basket and --"

"Oh, Mom! Just put it in the garden."

"I can't. He won't let go of me. I think he's really cold, or something." He made a sound, something like mild disgust with me. "I'll be there in a sec, Sam."

The toad was still making bubbles when he breathed and wiping at his eyes. I had already rinsed him in the clear water (no chemicals) of the basin, and thinking about a friend on Facebook, who told me what I remembered as soon as he said, that the oils on our skin are bad for frogs; I figured that might be the case for toads and went to get a paper towel, even though he wasn't on my skin now. He was crawling up my sleeve to settle near my armpit.

Definitely must be cold.

I wrapped the toad in the paper towel (he didn't really enjoy that), grabbed my keys and bag and headed to the car. I could just imagine what Sam would say.

From the pool filter basket to the BMW. What an experience for a small, wild creature. His first car ride. kd Lang's cover of Jane Siberry's The Valley, already in the CD player, filled the car when I turned the key in the ignition. His first music.
You rise every morning
Wondering what in the world will the world bring today
Will it bring you joy or will it take it away
And every step you take is guided by
The love of the light on the land and the blackbird's cry
He blew more bubbles, clicked, peeped and I noticed the thin, mucous film covering his head. He was trying to wipe it away. Gingerly, I took a corner of the paper towel and slid it off his eyes, his snout and mouth. Almost instantly, his breathing improved. The bubbles stopped.
You will walk in good company
The valley is dark
The burgeoning holding
The stillness obscured by their judging
I settled him in my lap, attached my seat belt, and we headed out for his first ride. I nearly ran into a van parked on the side of the street and then into a bicyclist.
You walk through the shadows
Uncertain and surely hurting
Deserted by the blackbirds and the staccato of the staff
And though you trust the light towards which you wend your way
Sometimes you feel all that you wanted has been taken away
I decided to pay more attention to the road.

Sam was already walking toward me along the place where the péniches captains tie up to rest and refresh the paint on their hulls, when I neared the bus stop. I slowed to a stop past him and he turned and jogged up to the car and hopped in.

"Oh, Mom, you've got the frog? That's disgusting."

"Toad, and he wouldn't let go of me, and it's not disgusting. Do you want to drive?" He shook his head. It's only 4 kms back home.

"A friend and I found out there was free coffee at the literature club that meets at 1pm. It was cold, so we went. It was 1:10 when we got there, and all the French teachers and the losers were there, but I said two brilliant things."

"How often does it meet?"

"Once a month, but I wish it were once a week for the coffee."

"What were the brilliant things you said?"

One was countering someone's argument that writers don't write to be published with Voltaire's statement that he writes to take action and make change. The other was to counter another who said that writers publish for money, "Zola," said Sam, "wrote to get the word out about the injustice of the mines." Or something like that. He admitted that Honoré de Balzac wrote for a franc a page, staying up all night to write to make as much as he could to live.
Que votre nom, vous dont le portrait est le plus bel ornement de cet ouvrage, soit ici comme une branche de buis bénit, prise on ne sait à quel arbre, mais certainement sanctifiée par la religion et renouvelée, toujours ...
-- Eugénie Grandet, Scènes de la vie de province

"What did your old teachers say?"

"Madame [une telle] was smiling with pride that I remembered that stuff."

"Will you go back?"

"It was fun, but I'll go back for the coffee."
You will walk in good company
I love the best of you
You love the best of me
Though it is not always easy
Lovely? lovely?
We will walk in good company
The shepherd upright and flowing
You see...
Now, the toad is nestled in my lap, Shadow, the big black and white cat, the last of the three from the same litter who flew here ahead of me from the States when we moved here 7 years ago, sleeps with her head against him, keeping us both warm.

He's going to live.

Do you think he will like being in my pocket while I make dinner? I could add string and everything that little boys and big girls are made of.




The Valley


I live in the hills
You live in the valleys
And all that you know are these blackbirds
You rise every morning
Wondering what in the world will the world bring today
Will it bring you joy or will it take it away
And every step you take is guided by
The map of the light on the land and the blackbird's cry
You will walk
You will walk
You will walk in good company

The valley is dark
The burgeoning holding
The stillness obscured by their judging
You walk through the shadows
Uncertain and surely hurting
Deserted by the blackbirds and the staccato of the staff
And though you trust the light towards which you wend your way
Sometimes you feel all that you wanted has been taken away
You will walk
You will walk
You will walk in good company

I love the best in you
You love the best in me
And though it's not always easy
Lovely? lonely?
We will walk
We will walk
We will walk in good company

The shepherd upright and flowing
You see...

....
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