Monday, November 7, 2011
Coley Blackstone wandered outside to look at the stars. His dog Chubby close by his side, he and the little four-legged black and gray rag mop trudged through the 12 inches of snow in the front yard. Chubby was chomping on his saliva slicked plastic banana. There was dead silence for a few moments as Coley looked up, gazing at the constellations.
With no artificial light to dull the brilliant sparkle of the stars, the view was breathtaking. As Coley ran down the list of constellations he recognized in his head, the silence was broken as Chubby bit down on his plastic banana causing it to emit a high pitched squeak. Coley looked down at him briefly and returned his gaze to the sky.
"Look at that, buddy ... You can see the Milky Way!" The dog looked up at him, just for a moment, and then went back to running his wet, black nose through the dense and wet accumulation of snow. In the distance a generator fired up, robbing the scene of its almost mystical solace.
It was Halloween night. There was a foot of snow on the ground. Trick or treaters were no where in sight. The bowl of candy near Coley's front door would remain filled this year. It was far too dangerous to venture out and it was announced by the Sheriff's Department that Halloween had been cancelled.
The ground was liberally littered with tree branches of every shape and size. Tree tops still lush with their green leaves lay on the ground bent in the middle still attached to their shattered trunks. Young birch trees still standing had their tops touching the ground and they were bent in a very radical U shape.
The tree limb which had come to rest on Coley's roof was splayed in two different directions appearing as if a mighty giant, a drunken Paul Bunyan perhaps, had split it down the middle with a dull axe.
The generator starting in the distance had distracted Coley's attention from the stars to the fallen debris littering his neighborhood, downing power lines, destroying property, the fallout from a freakish Nor'easter which had paralyzed Muskrat Flats. The devastation was insurmountable, it seemed like it would be days before power would be restored.
Coley once again addressed Chubby, as he looked up to his master's voice with his snout covered in snow.
"It looks like God is reminding us that he is Still in charge, Chubby. Yep, he's still in charge." Chubby went down into a crouch, began to bark and romp around in circles, ready to play. Now that the silence had been broken by the drone of one generator, Coley trudged back to the house to power up his own. Coley was glad to be alive despite the harrowing ordeal he had endured getting home in the storm the night before ...
Yes, it was an odd week in Muskrat Flats. It was a long, cold, dark week which put Spiritual Principles such as Love, Friendship and Truth to the test.
The neighborhood near the old railroad yard known as the Iron Triangle, just a few short miles from the Odd Fellows' Lodge at the corners of Petersen and McKernan in downtown Muskrat Flats, seemed to escape the devastation as it never lost power. Very quickly long lines formed as residents from the neighboring communities which had lost power, such as Dana, Enfield, Prescott and Greenwich flocked to gas stations, banks and supermarkets in the Triangle. This grittier section of town gets its name from the three sets of railroad tracks which essentially surround the neighborhood, leaving you in the situation - no matter where you stood within the Triangle, you were on the wrong side of the tracks.
It was business as usual within the Triangle, probably a little better as the working girls who were doing what they had to do to keep the ball rolling had a somewhat captive audience as the streets of neighborhood were paralyzed, congested with prospective clients.
At the Odd Fellows Lodge, Moe Eckstein and Sid Bartelby sat at their table in the candlelight, warmed by a fire roaring nearby in the stone hearth. They were kvetching about the slow response time of the utility companies. Although the rustic room was warm and illuminated, there was something missing, that being the tantalizing aroma of freshly brewed coffee co-mingled with the sweet fragrant enticement of Iva's blueberry muffins. This situation would be quickly rectified as the young bucks in the kitchen were setting up a mobile kitchen outdoors underneath a 20'x20' tent. By four o'clock, the Odd Fellows were offering freshly brewed coffee, some bread, a steaming bowl of chicken soup and sweets to anyone who wandered in looking for refuge.
Moe marveled at what was going on in the community. He said to Sid.
"Did you see the intersection at the other end of McKernan and Tamalpais?"
"Are you kidding me? I avoid that intersection like the plague. It is always a mess."
"No kidding, right?" Moe agreed. "I went through it today because I was rerouted by a fallen tree. With no traffic lights at all, that intersection was smooth sailing. I got through in a minute, everybody was cooperating with each other, actually being courteous. Go figure."
Gomer sat with His father and Sid, fiddling as he always did with his iPhone. He barely had one bar which quickly disappeared and gave way to the words "No Service." He groaned to himself and looked up. The flickering of the candle projected a pretty good shadow as the light passed by the stuffed jack-a-lope. Gomer chuckled to himself at the cartoon like quality of the scene, the shadow appropriately looking very much like something you hoped you might NOT see on Halloween.
He was trying to get in touch with Miranda, who had left him three messages. She was worried having seen news reports of the devastation in the area. Things were going good with them. Gomer was at peace with her, and he was very much in love. He had told Miranda what had happened between him and Sveltie after they had left the club and headed toward the Hotel at the Farm Museum last month.
Miranda was a little disappointed when the subject had come up. Gomer bared his soul to her. He told her how he and Sveltie had flirted, He told her about the decision to go off together. He told her about how he and Sveltie held onto to each other, crying, agreeing that they had no right to fix a feeling with a feeling. They had no right to seek each other for comfort. What they had was in the past and it didn't work then for a reason, why would it or could it work now?
Gomer had freed himself somehow by doing the mature thing and not succumbing to taking the easy way out. And he didn't hesitate. He called Miranda right away, moments after he and Sveltie parted ways. All was good. Right now his concern was getting cell service so he could let Miranda know he was okay. He opened his phone and had three bars!! he immediately fired off a lengthy text message. Moments after he sent the message, another iPhone chimed in a three story Victorian house somewhere in the Mission district in the City by the Bay. Miranda smiled and exhaled a sigh of relief.
Across town Sveltie and Jeff assessed the damage at the Farm Museum. They had lost many trees. Between the tornado, the microburst, the hurricane and now this, the skyline of the Farm museum had been radically changed in the Summer and Fall of 2011.
All of the grapes had already been harvested and were safely being stored for wine production. As ravaged as the tree line surrounding the museum had been, only some of the vines had been damaged, and it was minimal.
The early winter storm did impact the business at the Museum as they anticipated a large turn out for the last weekend of the Corn Maze. Although ultimately the winter storm was responsible for people staying away from the Farm Museum for the weekend, earlier in the week, a decision had been made to close the corn maze because of a slight safety issue which had arisen.
It seems that at the end of the day last Sunday, Jeff had sneaked into the corn maze to "relieve himself" as he liked to call it. This means he hid in the corn maze where he promptly downed a half pint of vodka. After he emptied the bottle, He lit a joint. He exhaled after having taken a few puffs, and he heard something rustling in the corn. He quickly extinguished the joint. He walked forward thinking some kids decided to use the corn maze for a similar purpose as he had intended. The rustling got closer. Jeff froze as a mama bear and two of her cubs emerged from the corn. She stopped and looked at the motionless man mere yards in front of her. With a slight grunt she turned around and ran with her two cubs closely following.
The next morning, it was out to the maze to investigate to see if the bears were still around, and they were.
On the outskirts of the maze, the Museum workers had set up a compost area which had included the recent addition of a number of sugar pumpkins and bruised apples. Nearby, Jeff spotted the two cubs cavorting as the mama was feasting on a honey comb which she removed from one of the nearby bee hives, a perk available to the mama bear as a local bee keeper had set up numerous hives there. She just toppled it over and sat there gnawing on the wax and licking up its encased nectar oblivious to the bees swarming around. They had practically set up a smorgasbord for the bears.
There was a group of people who joined Jeff that morning. Everyone wanted to see the bruin family. Sveltie was there as was her assistant, Gina and her fiancee Kurt from the Smithy Shop. Also along for the ride were Sid, Moe, Gomer and Coley Blackstone, who held Chubby firmly in his arms as to not put him in harm's way by allowing him to roam freely in such close proximity to the bears.
After the decision was made, the employees of the Farm Museum went back to work and the Board of directors went back to the Odd Fellows Hall.
Shortly after Moe, Sid, Gomer and Coley settled in the Snow began to fall. It began to fall in large odd shaped flakes, quickly covering the still green autumn lawns and roads with a layer of white. What was previously thought to be a small dusting of snow was quickly acknowledged to be a freakish early season storm by the local weather forecasters. They began to urge viewers to prepare for a wallop as they began to describe what was happening as Nor'easter.
After his time at the Odd Fellows hall, Coley went to the music store where he had recently secured a job as a teacher. Although he hadn't any students as of yet, he felt compelled to hang around the store for a few hours, talking music with the other teachers, however the conversation kept returning to the weather. As nightfall rapidly approached, he finally decided that it was time to head back home to his neighborhood in Triple Creek. He exited the shop and urged,
"Comon, Chubby!" Chubby grabbed his plastic banana, squeaking away as he excitedly followed Coley to the car.
The ride back to Triple Creek was treacherous. The roads out of Muskrat Flats leading to the creek were already a twisting semi navigable trail through densely wooded residential area. The snow was coming down with driving force and the wind began to whip up. He drove at a slow and cautious pace, his tires occasionally feeling like they were losing their traction. Chubby was on the front seat his front paws on the dash board. As Coley scolded him telling him to get in the back seat, he heard the first of what would be many loud cracks as tree branches and trunks began to give way to the combination of the weight of the snow and the ferocity of the wind. It was now dark as he passed houses which had their elaborate Halloween displays now obscured and heavily laden with snow as the bright oranges, greens and yellows shone through the snow fall.
There was another another loud snapping sound followed by a sharp crack. He swerved the slow moving car as another branch gave way taking some power lines down with it. The neighborhood went dark.
Coley's mind began to get away from him. He had that feeling he used to get when he would play alone in the basement of his Grandmother's house, convinced someone was watching him. He slowly dodged a few more felled branches as he crept closer to his neighborhood. Chubby had maneuvered his way back into the front seat. Coley turned a bend, the final hill he had to go down before he could take a right hand turn and pull into his neighborhood.
All the while he kept hearing the loud cracks coming out of the woods as if some unseen monsters were causing devastation as the Wood sprites retreated in fear. He thought he saw demons in the shadows cast by his headlights. Car tail lights at the end of a log driveway looked like red menacing eyeballs staring him down. Chubby, illuminated by the dashboard even looked like his canine teeth had sprouted into fangs while he snarled at the mayhem occurring outside the vehicle. Coley was doing a great job of freaking himself out.
Earlier in the week, someone had slung a large skeleton over one of the branches overhanging Triple Creek Road. The skeleton was about five feet tall, secured to the tree by a noose around its neck. Coley had seen this skeleton numerous times, thinking it was a neat decoration. He wondered how and when someone had taken the time to get it up there. It hung from a branch about 20 feet in the air.
Tonight however he was more focused on the road and getting home safely. He had forgotten about the skeleton. His paranoid thoughts, thoughts of Ghouls, Goblins and Orcs waiting in the shadows prepared to viciously garott him and feast on his quivering flesh as he gasped struggling for that one last breath, whisked him away to a place he did not want to be. He began to talk himself down. None of that shit is real. This is just a crazy storm. No one is coming to get you. He reached over and mussed up Chubby's hair as Chubby looked at him with normal sized canine teeth in his mouth.
Coley heard another loud crack. Coley saw the branch before them begin to fall and quickly applied the brakes safely sliding to a stop.
Fortunately for him and Chubby the branch ahead of them was still attached to the tree. What Coley failed to anticipate was the the falling branch would launch the forgotten skeleton hanging from the branch into the air. He shrieked as the skeleton landed right across the windshield. Coley was screaming! Chubby was barking and the skeleton was peering into the car smiling with the noose still around his neck. The road wasn't blocked, so Coley floored the gas pedal. The tires whined slipping on the slicked road. As quickly as it had fallen across the windshield, the skeleton was whisked up and over the car as they made their getaway.
Moments later, he was in his driveway, furiously panting. He turned off the car and he and Chubby raced into the house and locked the door.
Yes, another fine holiday has come and gone. The cast of characters in Muskrat Flats is shaken but not stirred. But for Coley Blackstone after the snow began to melt and the clean up had been done, the thoughts of a warmer destination with less threatening weather crossed his mind, just to get away for a week or so. If that were my criteria, I don't think I would pick San Francisco as he did. He called Gomer and asked him if he wanted to accompany him as he prepared to be ...
Running Hard out of Muskrat Flats.