Lacking sufficient population to gather patriotic crowds for the Fourth of July, our little town instead gathered patriotic clouds, which provided a light show with a bang; as is usual for this neck of the woods. This is a landscape which serves as an atmospheric battleground; hot air pockets puddle in the nooks and crannies of mountains whilst cold air streams in from Canada and whenever the twain shall meet, look out. While July frequently brings massive hail, ferocious microbursts (tornado-like excitement), brief and debilitating downpours and even the occasional plague of locusts, my favorite weather event is the thunder-snow-storm. There’s something about the way lightening illuminates a flurry that is spellbinding. It’s not unheard of to get snow in July here, but not this week. This week it’s hot.
So this Fourth the obligatory sandals and hula shirts were dug out of closets for the obligatory gatherings around the barbie, where talk of M-80s, sparklers, bottle-rockets, smoke bombs and all things pyrotechnical ensued. Our lack of population density and consequently sparse law enforcement makes Neihart a popular place to gather the relatives and set off fireworks. And I mean that in all of its possible entendres. In my experience, any time a certain critical density of relatives is reached, there will be a natural eruption of verbal Catherine Wheels, Roman Candles and select words to be vigorously ignored in subsequent gatherings for the sake of the children. That, my friends, is why I keep a scrupulous buffer of at least 2,500 miles between myself and my family. I wander instead from barbie to barbie, sampling each family’s pasta salad and homemade pickles, eavesdropping and taking notes.
Mark Twain, I understand, was a big note-taker at picnics and parades, which supposedly inspired such a memorable, semi-biographical and familiar a character as Huck Finn. And the subject of Mark twain actually came up during this exhausting election season – nay, its not a “season” its an electoral epoch which is playing out, in an eyebrow-raising sort of way, here in the great state of Montany-ay-yay. Barack Obama visited Butte for the Fourth, and I hear that he quoted Mr. Twain as saying that patriotism means loving one’s country and also questioning it’s government (I heard that on the radio, and tried to find the exact quote when I got home, but couldn’t. Either Obama, the reporter, Twain or I got it wrong: par for the course. What Twain did say is “Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off guard and give you an opportunity to commit more.” I always take the advice of those who are more sardonic than I am.). I understand that McCain retorted to Obama’s claim on the great Mr. Twain by saying: ’ I knew Mark Twain. I was friends with Mark Twain, and you, sir, are no Mark Twain.’ The gloves, it seems, are off.
And since I’m meandering recklessly from whatever my topic was supposed to be, let me just note here that it seems unfair that a person can be “sardonic”, but cannot practice “sardony”, while an equally witty person can both be “ironic” and practice “irony”. Its just as unfair that you can be “ruthless”, but you can’t be “ruth” unless you are Ruth with a capitol R, you can’t be “gruntled”, while you can be “disgruntled”, and you can be as “feckless” as you please, but the minute you attempt to be “feckful”, you’ll be facing the judge in Word Court. It just isn’t fair.
In any case McCain might have a claim to some really old friendships, but so do I. This week has seen the eruption of two friends from my deep, dark, distant past into currency. First it was Jeff, with whom I and a group of classmates spent innumerable hours in remote, trackless Himalayan wildernessess back in the early 80s. He finally got around to digitizing the slides he took back then and posted them on the internet here: http://gallery.mac.com/jeffjolin#100071 What I remember most was the night that all of us were stuck in a tent in the snow somewhere far, far away, and all we had to do was listen to Jeff – an avid birder – read out bird descriptions to us whilst the blizzard raged and the Yetis approached outside, sly and inexorable. He read to us about bobwhites or grey-cheeked thrushes warbling “two-whee, two-whee, two-whit”, and reported on their sexual habits and mores. It was riveting. Or, at least, more comforting than the forlorn howl of the icy Himalayan wind and the surreptitious steps of a snow lion. I also remember the time I twisted my ankle on the trail and tore a ligament. I hobbled tearfully ahead until I got to the teahouse where Jeff was waiting for me, with his providential first aid kit bursting with painkillers. The best painkiller of all was when he asked the blushing young proprietress for two boiled eggs in his fractured Nepali, and didn’t get it when she burst into uncontrollable mirth because he had just asked to have his balls boiled. I didn’t tell him. I wanted more of those pills.
My other unexpected and treasured visit was from my friend Kyle, who not only personifies my idea of a strong, earnest, sweet, determined and happy young woman, but one who values me (rightly) as a wizened auntie with wisdom to bestow and an un-saturable shoulder to cry on. Not that she was crying. She just knows it’s there, all absorbent and forgetful. She might be the only person on Earth who knows that. I was so glad to see her that even though she disturbed my most prized and cosseted ritual – my bath – I leapt right out of the steamy embrace of My Tubby, My Tubby and wrapped her in a heedlessly squishy hug. She hugged back.