Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, July 24, 2016

A half pint of raspberries sits on the kitchen counter.

These are the tiny variety, handpicked by someone who cares a lot, maybe someone deep in blissful connection to nature as the midsummer sun beats down, a heat interrupted only by the occasional thunderhead lumbering across the sky, laying its blue shadow down.

The purchase price of this basket is far too little ($3) at a local farmer’s market. Rather than that berry-on-steroids look of today, this sampling has a soft, dusty appearance, as if modestly hiding the fullness of its color. Are these wild, actually? Who knows.

(Poured onto the counter for inspection, one particular berry rolls off to the left, toward the potted fern on the kitchen island, succeeding — almost! — in hiding itself under the shade of a frond. After coming to a complete stop, it moves another inch, on its own, and bumps ever so gently into a coffee mug.  A micro sigh is released.)

MCW (moving closer in, seeing one of the berry’s hairs move slightly): Hello?

(The raspberry, emitting a tiny blur of sounds, then rolls back the length of a single drupelet — the nodes that comprise the whole drupe.)

MCW (looking around for husband in vicinity): I realize this is the magical part of July, but seriously. Are you for real?

RB: I’m real. Geez. (The voice is a pipsqueak’s. Not a cartoon character’s, or even an animated anything’s, but a lovely, sweet, squeaky sort of drawling voice the loudness of, say, a baby bumblebee.) Flesh and juice. Oh, and 6 percent fiber by total weight. Which is very high.

MCW: By the grace of summer magic, I am speaking with a raspberry. My favorite fruit.

RB (waving all her hairs, acknowledging compliment): Well. Except for plums, though, right?

MCW (blushing deeply): I mean, I like plums so very much. But …

RB (interrupting): I admire their color, firmness and versatility, as well. (RB rolls a single drupelet again, toward the human in checked pajamas, who is scanning the counter for reading glasses.) But we are a bit more sensuous, you know? Plums hold it all in; you don’t get that feeling with us.

MCW: So much more sensuous! I mean plums are, when you bite into them. Anyway. Sorry I lied. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. And now, seeing you like this, I mean you easily might be my favorite fruit of all time. Even given the little I know of your personality. Your voice alone …

RB: I’m a Leo. Most of us wild raspberries are, in this part of the world. Born in late July or August. So there’s a little ego and pride there, as well as a fixation with our “manes.” (RB makes her hairs stand up).

MCW: You are adorable. Can you do the hair trick again? And do all of you speak?

RB (waves hairs): Goodness, no. We’re born mute. Aside for the sounds we make when we grow, which are not audible to humans. And the sound we make when we either fall to the ground or into a container. Sounds made by mouths eating us don’t count. Me (she topples into a cavity-down headstand), I arrived with a passion for languages. English will probably be the only one I learn, though, since my ripespan is really only two to three weeks.

MCW: Your ripespan. (MCW nods slowly.) What a concept.

RB: Right?

MCW: What is it for humans, I wonder.

RB: Most of you would say youth. But youth is not ripeness, now, is it?

MCW: It’s just so obvious for fruit. You ripen, then fall.

RB: At the height of our glory. As sweet as we can get. (RB slowly rolls toward the human hand on the counter, then bumps into it, like the softest, gentlest raspberry breeze.) So sweet it makes even animals swoon.

MCW: Animals … swoon?

RB: In private they do. (RB presses her hairs into the human flesh.) And you can, too, emceedubs.

MCW: You know my name? And you want me to eat you, now? The first fruit friend I’ve ever had?

RB: You have given Rubus idaeus— raspberries are from the rose family —the first voice they’ve had since, oh, I don’t know. Findhorn? Camelot? Atlantis?

MCW: Wait. Are you saying …

RB (giggling a drupelet completely off): I’m playing with you. But, see, I’m falling apart in ripeness. Pick me up and lay me down on your tongue. It’s my time.

(On the human tongue, the raspberry becomes quiet and utterly submissive. The human bears down, feeling the drupelets give, bursting in flavor; and, for a moment — a brief transcendent moment — summer’s own ripeness, a mysterious mix of heat and sugar, implodes in glory.)


Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, June 28, 2015

In a blue suit so bright a shard of sky might have fallen to earth and then bounced off the ground into flight, a bluebird, chasing a bicycle down a bikepath, swoops from fence post to fence post as a June day trumpets its particular glory.

Suddenly, the bicycle stops and the rider, a woman in a hat, faces the bird. Though it is just about to take flight, the featured creature, as if its feet were stuck to the post, reconsiders.

MCW: [speaking low] You know, I feel like you’ve been following me. For years, in fact. But. Maybe you do this with every bicycle.

BBird: [in a voice too cute for words, especially English ones] Nope. You’re the only one I follow. [trills]

MCW: I knew it! [dismounts] Since my mother died, right? In 2001? I always felt she’d slipped right into a bird body just to keep her eye on me.

BBird: Jeannine? [micro-sighs] She did watch over you after she died, but only briefly. Remember when that psychic told you she was hanging out in your clothes closet because of how confused she was about her place in the afterlife? Well, she actually was. You wore dresses back then and that sweet perfume: she was in the dresses.

MCW: Wow. [checks bikepath for onlookers] I loved that perfume. Acqua di Parma, Iris. She was in the dresses?

BBird: [ignoring her] And PS: bluebirds don’t live that long. You’ve got humans saying the oldest bluebird lived eight years but it was actually 10 and a half. Another simple little thrush hell bent on fulfilling the mission of monitoring some impossible person’s happiness. Even with all the hospice birds doing their best to lead him out, he just wouldn’t go. Heart kept beating 600 times a minute even with a cool piece of moss laid out on its —

MCW: Wait — bluebird hospice?

BBird: Little blue angels of mercy. Anyway. We all get assignments — missions is what they’re actually called. And I got you — whom your father used to call “the little black cloud” back when you were in high school. Remember?

MCW: A chip off the old big cloud. [putting kickstand down on bike] Nah, I was miserable in high school, it’s true. What kind of mission?

BBird: Are you serious? We’re bluebirds! Who else do you think monitors happiness, day by day, human by human.

MCW: I thought bluebirds brought the happiness.

BBird: No, we’re monitors. Correct taxonomy: “Bluebird of Happiness Monitoring,” but somewhere along the line it got shortened. Not that we’re not a joyful lot: it’s actually built right into our flight pattern and color. Divine genius, you know, building joy right into a bird.

MCW: So, like: you’d be the one to ask about how humans are doing. Right now, for instance, on the planet.

BBird: Where bluebirds reside. Other creatures monitor other places. And of course there are different schools of thought on what makes the happy life. Most bluebirds are Socratics. We believe wisdom, courage, moderation and justice create the capacity for happiness in humans. Personally, I’d throw in joy and the ability to groove to a tune, but otherwise, yeah.

MCW: Wisdom and justice? Yikes. Not sure I want an assessment. Hey, you know those animated bluebirds in the original Cinderella? The ones who —

BBird: Cheer her up and hang ribbons on her dress and such? They’re in Snow White, as well; but in Cinderella, they’re wearing ugly brown hobo shoes and headscarves. Like we’re from the old country or something. Frowsy. But what about them?

MCW: Oh forget it. I mean I’ve got the real thing, right here before my very eyes, speaking to me in an accent of undetermined origin. Sort of Boston meets British. Anyway, after my years of monitoring, what happens?

BBird: Well. [hops to handlebars]. I pass on. But not before having filed the report.

MCW: [horrified] The report? Like a permanent part of the record?

BBird: [laughing hysterically] You should see the look on your face! [shaking wings] Stop, it, Alexis!

MCW: I’m confused. Who is Alexis?

BBird: I’m Alexis. And I shouldn’t be poking fun. Against the rules. Anyway, you’ve got about three years to go on my watch. And I suggest —

MCW: That I take wisdom and justice more seriously?

BBird: Nope. Are you kidding me? I suggest you realize happiness is built into your wings as well. Your shoulder blades, actually. And that you get out there and jiggle them around.  [spreads wings, flies off, swooping] [tweeting over wing] And another thing —

MCW: [shielding eyes from brilliant blue] What???

BBird: Have a bluebird day!

Testing the grape

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, March 22, 2015

MCW: [starts to cross herself then, forgetting how, stops] Bless me, father. It’s been oh, I don’t know, a couple of years, maybe, since my last confession.

Father: That sounds a bit casual, my child. Not in the least bit urgent. At any rate, here you are. You’re back, after some undetermined number of years to check in. Confess something or other. [sniffs] Go on.

MCW: [drops head a bit] Sorry. I guess I’m compensating: I’m a little nervous —

Father: If a penitent is not in the least bit nervous, something is awry. Presumably you are confessing sins to God, through a priest. And assuming you actually believe you were in the wrong and not just perfunctorily mouthing words of regret, a little discomfort is to be expected. Go on. Start with the venial sins, if that helps. Lord’s name in vain, mean to my husband, that sort of thing. Kiping grapes in the grocery store.

MCW: Wait. That counts? The kiping?

Father: Why wouldn’t it? It’s stealing, isn’t it?

MCW: That’s just to test the grape. Otherwise the store is stealing from me.  File under caveat emptor.

Father: [cranks sliding door back a bit more to fully reveal the screen and his shadow] Testing the grape. I see. I’m having a notion that this might be the title of a little sermon next Sunday. Sort of a cross between an-eye-for-an-eye and all’s fair in love, war and rationalization. You ever read The Ethicist column in the NYT? It’s good.

MCW: I don’t.

Father: Maybe you should! But let’s move on: What are you here to confess, my child?

MCW: Wait, now, I’m thinking of things I always thought were okay and here they might not be. And that ignorance is probably no excuse.

Father: Maybe we should just move straightaway to the main event.

MCW: [silence. shuffling] No, no, let me warm up. So, I’ve probably done my fair share of one or two deadly sins. Can I get a blanket absolution on those at the end or do you need an itemization?

Father: Being a generalist doesn’t work in the sacrament of confession.  “For all my thoughts that were somewhat lustful, in, oh, maybe the last few years, I am heartily sorry.” See what I mean?

MCW: [pauses] Okay. [pauses again]. So: what is the church’s stance on hypocrisy? In terms of sin categories and such. Because I have it and it is feeling — yukky to me.

Father: Hypocrisy. Yukky. Yes. We don’t like it much here in the RCC. Two things come to mind: Judge not lest you be judged. And, you shall not bear false witness — which is actually one of the TC’s.

MCW: Right.

Father: But I’d have to hear the specifics.

MCW: [lowering voice even further] Several years back I wrote a little essay they actually had to censor.

Father: Good start. Go on.

MCW: I mean, there have been a couple, but this one, which happened to be on the subject of not using blinkers in town, was pulled. It was angry. Didn’t really sound like me.

Father: [leaning forward] Wrath is not only a sin but a deadly —

MCW: [interrupting] I know, I know! It just got to me, the lack of using a turn signal. Like everywhere you looked, all the time, [raising voice] even people turning left would just kind of slow the big-ass car down and —

Father: Moderare te! This is a confessional — we don’t commit sins within the walls, we receive the sacrament. We watch our language. Now I remember you. You confessed to having a pop music addiction a couple of years back.

MCW:  I don’t call it an addiction anymore. I call it a longevity choice. Keeps me young.

Father: File under “testing the grape.”

MCW: [ignoring him] Anyway, Father, I have found myself not using a turn signal lately. Which feels like more of a sin than the hypocrisy part. I can’t exactly confess to that, though — but that hypocrisy part. Ew.

Father: Shame that you judged all the non-blinkers since you are one of them yourself. You, who had cast the first essay.

MCW: Which was never published! Yes. Somehow it’s feels like —

Father: Karma? What you deserve? I will say this to you. Not blinking is bad behavior on every level! Drives me crazy, too. But we are not our brother’s keeper, or our sister’s, are we?

MCW: [hangs head] No. I’m sorry for not using a turn signal! Sorry I ever wrote that stupid essay.

Father: Here is your penance, child. Three Hail Marys. Seven Our Fathers. Meditate on your anger and judgment. Get a breathing practice going. Drink more water. Sit up straighter. And use your turn signal. Every. Single. Time. You turn. Even into parking spaces and garages…

MCW: That’s all penance?? Wow.

Father: I took it up a notch, just for you. [sliding the little door shut] Thanks for this Sunday’s sermon idea. Peace out.

Doers: Black-headed grosbeak

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, March 23, 2014

A male grosbeak, still famished from its northbound migratory flight, sits perched in the 40-degree March sun. A cold wind gusts, and the medium-sized bird, gripping and tipping on its aspen branch, bursts into eight seconds of song-line. Then looks over.

MCW: [recognizing the very bird] It’s you! I was trying to get your attention at brunch the other day, and I didn’t think I had. You were busy eating sunflower seeds. Like, non-stop.

Grosbeak: [closes eyes] I LOVE those things. “Hungry” does not begin to do justice to my depletion after MG.

MCW: Migration?

GB: Yes. Anyway. The only thing I might like more is that nut mix you used to buy, back in the day.

MCW: Oh! You were at my house???

GB: Yes. Back in the day.

MCW: The nut mix is bit pricey. But if you liked it that much, maybe I could—

GB: I thought you were going to burn a hole through my left wing with that stare, though. I presume you have some questions for me — things maybe not even a hummingbird would know? [trills another 8-second round]

MCW: Oh, you read that interview? [blushes] You’re quite beautiful to behold, you know that? Cinnamon is the term I believe they use. And it fits.

GB: Sure, it fits. I guesssssss. But so would a lot of other more interesting color names. Roasted chestnut, for instance. Or frosted pumpkin. Or cinna-melon. Moroccan spice, colonial brick, fiery opal, dusty paintbrush, russet musings, sweet bourbon, brown brambles, antique rust. I could go on and on. “Cinnamon,” however, is all we ever get—

MCW: Oh. I guess I wasn’t thinking—

GB: [interrupting] And “black and white with a duo-toned beak.” And sings a “drunken robin’s” song. I mean, how would you like to be given one paragraph and always the same one? Oh, and we travel in grosses. How clever and mnemonic. Get it? And we’re one of just a few species that can eat — what? For the Daily Double.

MCW: Monarch butterflies.

GB: Ding, ding, ding. Because…

MCW: They’re poisonous and you all can somehow process the toxins.

GB: Correct! [simulating a yawn] It’s not just humans who are snowflakes, you know. So why not treat me like an individual instead of a representative? Ask me the interview questions everybody else on the planet gets.

MCW: Like, what do you like most about yourself and least? Who’s your favorite superhero? What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? What keeps you awake at night?

GB: Yeah, exactly. First off, I’d say, color me flaxen, because I’ve always loved that word and I think it describes my outlook. Favorite food is actually beetles, warmed by the sun at mid-day. Favorite beverage: raindrops in an unfurling leaf.

MCW: [flipping open reporter’s notebook] Go on.

GB: Favorite color, the bright blue of the sky. I always think that’s what powers my wings, the color blue. Favorite superhero, Mighty Mouse, don’t ask me why. Favorite place in town, well you know the exact birdfeeder because you were sitting right there when I showed up.

MCW: Its owner said you were the first grosbeak of the year. True statement?

GB: Could be. There were a few of us. I’m always one of the first. Color me competitive. Color me driven. [giggles] Color me hungrier than average. Color me sometimes a bit too loquacious. I’m really not allowed to say what keeps me awake at night.

MCW: [looks up] Oh?

GB: You’re not supposed to think of birds as worriers. We’re supposed to represent lightness and music and mystery. And poetry. Bird-land, you know — it’s quite exotic to those who cannot fly.

MCW: It is that.

GB: But, literally. We carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. That’s all I’ll say. You didn’t hear that here, or from me. For all you know, birds have always been and will always be carefree and blithe. Even though our real job is to uplift humans and lord knows it’s not always easy. I will not say another word on that. [clears throat] Favorite song: “Let it Go” from Frozen. [whistles two bars] Favorite human thing: toss-up between balloons and umbrellas. Love. Them. Delightful inventions. Favorite water feature: dripping outdoor faucets. Favorite creature comfort: pine needles on a chill night.

MCW: Favorite thing about yourself?

GB: My ability to trill and think about other things at the same time. It’s like a Bach fugue! I know of no others boasting of this.

MCW: [laughs] Least favorite?

GB: My big fat beak. It gets me into a lot of trouble. [cracks seed, spits shell] But you didn’t hear that from me, though, right? Because you still think of me as a representative of—

MCW: Lightheartedness, music, and poetry. In Moroccan spice and black and white.

GB: [taking off] Bird-land salutes you! From the depths of its lighthearted heart-y heart heart! You know what I mean?

MCW: Yes, I do. Now, indeed I do.