Decorative chains, lucky charms, symbols in garbage pails

In the morning it looked like it had rained over night, and the mountains were socked in with clouds. I took a last walk to the river but there wasn’t much to see, and the dog wasn’t out. The dog was white, looked like a wolf the first time we saw it. But it had a decorative chain around its neck, implying it belonged to someone. The first night we got to the cabin it followed me down to the river—not in a cloying, begging way, but like it wanted company, like it was lonely. It had tipped ears and sad eyes, but looked healthy. I thought this dog could be my familiar, my ‘writer self,’ scrounging through garbage pails, pissing on shrubs.

In the night I imagined I was trying to cross a deep, gray river: the kind that’s running fast and you can’t tell how deep it goes. My dream narrator told me I hadn’t taken enough air when I went under and now I was going to drown. But I realized I was just thirsty, my lips were dry, so I took a drink of water and checked the time, 4 o’clock. We’d been at the cabin two nights and now it felt like we fit in. The leaning deck with its peeling paint, the sad woodpile picked over: rust-colored rainwater pooling in the wheelbarrow. Still, we were in the mountains and had managed to get away: just me and the kids for two nights, with no real plans.

We drove to the end of the mountain road, the parking lot turnaround surrounded by snow, snow in 10-foot walls along the winding road, ribbed, dirty looking, a 5 o’clock shadow of dirt and sand. And in the distance as far as you could see were just mountains, a patchwork of sun through broken clouds.

Lily was on her book and nervous about the drop-offs. Charlotte was in the back seat pale-looking and tired with bags under her eyes, on the edge of getting car sick. When we got to the parking lot I coaxed them out to just breathe in the air (5,000 feet!), but they refused, so I turned the car around and drove back down.

On the second day we started going stir-crazy in the cabin. It was small, which was OK, but there was only a handful of things to do. There was the walk down to the river, board games or cards…yard games outside, TV, the Kindle…possibly taking a shower, but you could only do that once a day.

I got Charlotte her family-sized Lucky Charms and she grazed on it like cattle feed. A couple of women next door were working on their cabin and had the power tools going well after dark. We played Stevie Nicks, Van Halen, AC/DC, and worse. And then we tried to agree on a movie but couldn’t, so Charlotte went off by herself to her room while Lily and I watched Indiana Jones, the first one. We made it until 11 and turned in.

When it was time to check out I got that familiar sadness at the end of a trip, not for the time but for what it represents. All those days had a number, like the Scrabble tiles we played, each with their own value.

The white dog barked at Charlotte when she tried to touch it—somehow I knew better and just nodded at him. We were like that too I guess, just passing through.

Categories: Memoir, parenting, travel, writing

Tags: , , , , , , ,

25 replies

  1. I was shocked when I read “AC/DC, and worse” until I realized it must have been Bon Scott era AC/DC, since there’s nothing better. 😉 What did Lily think of Raiders? My wife had never seen it, and I hadn’t seen it in forever, so we watched it not too long ago. Towards the end, I sensed her restlessness, and felt why she felt it. Even I started to feel a little bogged down right around the time Harrison Jones is pointing the bazooka-thingy at his French nemesis.


    • Blasphemies on top of blasphemies.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I like how you turned that AC/DC line around, that’s good. That wasn’t a good line. Too much ambiguity in it, with no payoff. Lily had seen Raiders before. I can see what you mean about the pacing, that’s funny. Wasn’t like that when I saw it, didn’t feel that way. But the other night prior, we watched Die Hard and that was a huge hit with both kids. Yes, rated “R,” but a much softer R than today’s R’s. Totally: lots of fake blood and some swearing, but the violence felt almost comic book like. Just some F-bombs and a quasi coke-scene. I took time to respond to this in the manner you might a handwritten letter to a friend. That’s what we’ve been reduced (or elevated) to, depending on your POV. — Bill

      Liked by 1 person

      • No sir, that was a fine line, and not ambiguous actually, very clear. Just wanted to stick up for my hard rockin’ home boys, and just goofing around in doing so. I love Indiana Ford, too. There’s a fine line between too slow and too fast, and all movies these days are too fast, in my mind. I’ll take Raiders over any of them. Die Hard was a bit too flippant with the blood and death in it’s time, i think, but relative to today’s fare I’m sure it would look like Howdy Doody time. Haven’t seen it since I saw it in the theater back when it came out. I always appreciate your handwritten letters delivered digitally. Keep em coming! I’ll try to limit my double blasphemies to singles.


  2. i understand the ‘familiar sadness’ at the end of a trip. no matter what’s happened, good or bad, it is a time that has passed and will never be replicated. i suppose one could say this about each day we are alive –

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “a 5 o’clock shadow of dirt and sand.” That’s nice.
    Do we build expectations up to much for these kind of things? I think any vacation is like that, no matter where you go.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, of course it’s expectations: same for holidays, innit? But there’s something there still I think (because I’m one to build up expectations so I need to justify myself). Somehow for me it’s a more acute awareness of time passing; I get the same thing when weekends are over. I don’t know, could just be me. Likely!


  4. “Scrounging through garbage pails, pissing on shrubs.” Yeah, that sounds like you. 😝

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Glad the dog didn’t turn out to be White Fang or something, tired of garbage pails and looking for fresh camper meat. That’s an interesting familiar for a writer to pick. I like this story, is “vignette” the right word? So I guess we’re looking for the Q and X tiles, the high-value ones, but we’re all going to get lots of A’s and E’s, just plunked down for routine days. One of my grandmothers is a Scrabble enthusiast, but when we visited last weekend, was assembling what looked like pretty random strings. But she could still explain a bit of what she was attempting, seeing letters that other people had used, and in her mind, incorporating them somehow into her own, even if they weren’t touching. Other days she’s still unbeatable.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. must be very fun.


  7. You’ve got those descriptive powers cranked up again. Now you’ve got me wondering, what sort of familiar would I have?


  8. I was going to say that I loved the Scrabble metaphor but now I’ve been giggling over the interchange between your and Robert P and can’t think of anything to say.

    Except, perhaps, an appreciation of the sadness of days thing. It was there in the previous post too, Dawn missing dinner connections, the diaspora of the nuclear.

    Warm wishes from an old dog with sad eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

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