"Bohemian Avenue," a true story
The stones continued to roll around in the storm drain that brought the water from the
top of the mountain. The branches of the redwood trees crashed onto the cabin roof. It
had been like that for days, as the rain poured and the Russian River rose, as high as the
street below the cabin. The water that poured out of the storm drain made the house look
like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Waters. The water rolled down a drainage path and
poured over the cliff below, and still the rain fell steadily and the river rose.
It had been that way for much of the winter. The rain fell. The skies were dark. The
cabin was cold. There was a wood stove, but since that was messy, an electric heater was
used to heat the cabin. She had never experienced a winter like this before, having just
moved to California. Back in Maryland, it might rain for an hour or so and then clear up.
Here in Northern California, it rained for days. It was dark, and the lights had to be
turned on all day long. Under the redwoods in the middle of summer, the lights had to be
put on during a sunny day to read a book inside. Once the electricity was off for a day,
and she could not tell when night fell, night from day, as the same blackness stretched
across the valley.
Meanwhile, the river rose, five inches in one day, due to the rainfall. He had gone to look
at it, standing on the bridge, over which the water almost lapped. She was satisfied just to
be in a sturdy house, while the rocks rolled and the branches rumbled.
It was New Year’s Eve. Christmas had been quiet. A trip planned to Maryland had been
cancelled due to bad weather. He had kept track of the weather on the computer. As an
experienced pilot, he said he would not take a plane into the weather conditions forecast.
He called the airport and could not get through. So, they just decided to forego the
planned visit home for the Holidays.
Christmas was simple —no tree. The cabin was too small for one. Only Christmas cards
and a few ornaments brought brightness to the cabin. There was one special candle
burning--a gift, along with another gift of Celtic music from a beloved friend.
There was a bottle of the local champagne--a bottle of Brut Korbel from the winery within
a stone's throw and two flutes. She watched the clock. Ten o’clock became ten-thirty; ten-
thirty became eleven o’clock; eleven o’clock became eleven-thirty. The candle burned; the
music played on. Eleven-thirty became twelve o’clock, at which time a mighty thundering
She opened the door. At the time, there was a slight drizzle. She reached out her foot out
onto the redwood deck, and the rain lightly pelted her toes, but the deck was warm. She
stepped out and saw the fireworks.
She ran into the house, found him, put her arm through his and led him outside. He too
was barefoot, having just been lying down until it was time for the popping of the cork.
He did not know there would be fireworks. It was their first year out on the River. They
had only been there a little over half a year. Although he had lived there before, he had
never lived on the River before.
The explosions continued. She pulled him to the corner of the forty-foot deck where their
plants were all lined up, enjoying the rain. Up in the sky, visible through the redwood
branches, they could see a show of lights from the exploding fireworks. These were huge
and silvery like mammoth chrysanthemums. One after another, they came quickly
through the redwoods. One and then another huge chrysanthemum firecracker reached
out its arms into yet another, flashing and flaring amid the redwood branches.
“Go and get the bottle of champagne!” she called out.
He did, but he forgot the flutes. Shrugging and grinning, he pulled the cork till it popped.
The champagne bubbled over the snout of the bottle and fell on their bare feet.
“Here,” he said, “You can drink out of the bottle,” he added. He held the bottle up to her
lips and she took a sip. Then he brought the bottle back to his and took a large gulp.
The fireworks, all in silver, painted the sky. One after another they came, as if those who
set them off were trying to make a statement: We will survive this flood. Look how we
can celebrate the New Year! We will blot out this rain with our profusion of lovely
One after another, one more beautiful than the previous, they came. He and she drank
their champagne and watched. The rain drizzled softly onto their toes as they sipped their
champagne. The New Year was with them.
"Midnight Express," a true story
The snow kept emptying itself from heaven in drifts. Looking out the window she could
see it whirl. It was the reason why she had come to spend the night with her parents.
From her home it would take her half an hour to an hour to make it to the Turnpike.
From their place, it would take her less than fifteen minutes. Then she had what might be
a two -hour drive into the distant university where she was an adjunct professor. She
would be leaving early in any case.
She was in what was the old house--the sun porch, the area where Grand Dad looked down
on the world below through his many windows, watching the slow stream of traffic in the
former coal town village. Basically, it was from there that he talked with his God. He had
led an independent but good life. When his beloved Church broke apart into three, he
gave up and ceased going to Church. He had said, shepherd that he once was, “God is in
the fields.” Once when a man questioned that, Grand Dad began reciting a poignant
passage from the Bible that he knew by heart until the man crept away.
And he had shown his love of mankind during the Depression by taking in anyone who
came to his door, giving them shelter and food and everything they needed. The house was
crowded and so were the outlying shacks on his large property. Everyone contributed in
some way—helping maintain the garden, cooking the meals, painting the house, building
more shacks, caring for the vineyard, etc. It was hard work. His wife, who was left almost
alone with a few women and her daughter and unadopted daughter after the mother died,
was put into a mental hospital for some time from the strain. It was a hard life but there
was joy in it, too.
She loved her Grand Dad and missed him greatly. When he died at her age of sixteen, she
felt her world had fallen apart. It was at that time that her Father started to redo the
house. The downstairs was torn apart and steel beams and concrete laid because of the
mining tunnels and the chance for cave ins. The downstairs was gotten all ready for Grand
Ma and the upstairs was his to do with as he wished. He tore the beloved sun porch down
and made it and Grand Dad’s and Grand Ma’s bedrooms into a great living room without
walls by suspending the outer walls somehow by the attic. So there was just one large
room perhaps 20 feet by 40 feet. It was at that end by the many new windows that he had
installed that she sat watching the snow come down.
Then she closed the light and there was nothing but darkness. She thought how cold it
would have been this time of year back in the Depression and thought of the men who
would be forced with a full house to sleep in the shacks. There was one, she recalled the
story, who did not make it. He died from tuberculosis and was laid out on ice in his coffin
in the old living room downstairs, as was the custom at that time, and then he was buried.
She thought about recent things, too, her time spent at the university, her boyfriend there,
the tremendous drives in to get to the university. It was the only place where she had been
accepted for a nearly full-time job, the only kind of job given adjuncts. At least it was a
step in the right direction. There was her home, too, that she had bought with her former
husband, and remodeled herself—tearing out walls, putting up new ones, laying ceramic
floors and counters, putting up a new roof over the kitchen where the rain had been
leaking onto her freshly-painted walls, all the things she had done for the house. And now
she was thinking it might be time to really leave for a new teaching job.
The bell rang eleven times. She would have to get to sleep to get up at six and start the
trek through all that snow. She tossed and turned under the blankets on the couch. She
could not go to sleep, and besides she heard that coughing, that nagging coughing. She
wondered about her father that he could be coughing like that. He had not seemed ill
during supper time or afterwards watching TV that night. There it was again that hacking
She, unable to sleep, stayed awake thinking of many things. There were childhood
memories of raking leaves and burning them with Grand Dad, playing in the garden as
witches making concoctions and getting red pepper in her eyes, waiting out an amazing
thunder and lightning storm one summer under the large downstairs porch with her Grand
Dad and Grand Ma. It seemed to go on for an hour or longer. It was so thrilling and
frightening for a ten year old. How the rain poured onto the concrete floor. Now the
snow was fluffily falling and covering the ground.
There was something else she remembered her next younger sister telling her. Once she
had seen a man in a black coat walking ahead of her downstairs who, when he turned
around and saw her, vanished. The same thing had been confirmed on another occasion by
the youngest of the sisters—a man in a black coat who vanished when he was seen. Both
these girls had seen the man. But she had never seen him. It was curious.
Her mind wandered through current events and past events until she heard the twelve bells
and then shortly thereafter her wanderings settled in sleep, but throughout the night she
kept hearing the heavy, miserable coughing and she wondered how her Dad had gotten so
sick to be coughing like that. Heavy, ongoing coughing awoke her at points through her
dreams and she hoped her father was OK.
“It’s time to get up,” Mother said as she came by in her housecoat. Mother seemed to get
up automatically at 6:00 for as long as she could recall. “I’m making you some eggs and
bacon and toast,” she added. “That will help you get going on a day like this.”
She looked out the window where she had been sleeping. There was a pile of snow on the
ground. She hoped she could back out all right from the garage and get onto the street
which had been plowed.
They went to the kitchen table where Mother poured her coffee. “Is Daddy OK?” she
“Why do you ask that?”
“I heard him coughing all night. Coughing loudly and painfully. I was really worried.”
“I lay beside him all night and he did not cough at all,” Mother replied.
Well then who was it? Suddenly she thought of the man in the black coat walking near the
shed where he might have died. The man who died of tuberculosis. The one who lay on
ice in the living room downstairs.
"Skyward Bound," a true story
It was silent and motionless on a mound of icy snow. She was walking along the avenue
with a heavy sack of books, as usual, over her shoulder, when she saw it. All that moved
was its eye as it looked at her, as though it were calling out for some kind of rescue. Its
white and silver feathers were motionless.
It must have been hurt, she told herself, and paused. No one else on the busy avenue
seemed to notice it. She set down her sack and took off her long bright shawl and
approached the bird. It seemed to twitter as she came near but otherwise it seemed as
though it were a frozen block. Gently she wrapped it in rounds and rounds of her seven
foot scarf and put it under one arm and the sack of books over her other and walked on.
The linguistics class which she was headed for had already started when she arrived. She
sat near the door, holding the bundle on her lap. No one seemed to notice her bird. The
professor continued to speak about speech being a human activity. She, being close to
animals, raised her hands and asked about chimpanzees who had learned sign language,
even made up new words using sign language. The professor said that speech requires a
concept of time and animals have no concept of time. She raised her hand again as the
bird started to wiggle its head in its drapings. She asked about dogs who were seized and
returned home again. Did they not have a concept of time to be able to return home? He
brushed her off and went on with his diatribe. She sat there patiently listening but being
more preoccupied with the pigeon. What was she going to do about the pigeon?
Out of class, back at her office space, she brought a box and put the pigeon still wrapped
in the scarf inside. She called the Humane Society, the Audubon Society, the Aviary, every
place she could think of which would be able to take care of a potentially injured bird, but
no one came through. One of her colleagues offered her a ride back to her place with it.
She got the box and her bag of books and took the bird home.
She was not allowed to have pets, but there was already two cats, one dog, two finches, and
an aquarium of angelfish. Now there was a pigeon. She unwrapped the bird and put it in a
woven laundry basket with a lid and walked to the nearby store to buy some bird seed after
giving it a small bowl of water.
Day after day, she raised the lid and checked on the condition of the bird as she read her
linguistic books or typed her stories. At first there was little if any movement. Then there
was occasionally a flutter, and eventually the bird could move around. She did not know if
it had hurt a wing and would not be able to fly again. To try it out she eventually took it
into the bathroom with door shut and watched as it flew around and then landed on the
shower bar. It was ready, she thought. She caught it after several attempts and put it in
the basket waiting till morning so it would have no trouble seeing where it would be going.
The next morning was a fine one, with the sky bright and no hint of snow. It had all
melted in the week before. She brought the basket down from the second floor apartment
out on the landing above the steps and took off the lid. At first the bird did not seem to
know what to do. Then she reached in and picked it out of the basket and tossed it up in
the air. Immediately, it extended its wings and was flying. It soared directly up and then
made one great circle in the sky, then another and another. Then it was gone.
"Freedom," a true story
It was a normal spring and the cows were bearing their progeny without concern. Each
cow had been artificially inseminated or mated by the clean-up bull, a monstrous beast
mounting the cows in the serene autumn days. Now it was spring and the birth of the
calves was uneventful as expected except for the birth of a calf and a free martin or twin as
they are called. Which one would be the free martin, the smaller or less promising of the
calves? This calf would be either put on another cow which lost her calf, bottle feed till it
was old enough to survive on its own, or sold for veal. Her husband had decided on the
latter, but his wife was outraged at the thought of turning a beautiful calf into prime beef
especially at its early age.
She begged and begged to be able to raise the free martin by bottle feeding it and finally
although a hard-willed man, set in his ways, he succumbed to her. She did not know why
or how, since he almost never went her way and she felt herself generally to be a servant of
his will. However one evening, he showed up with a bottle of milk fresh from a nearby
dairy. He showed her how to bottle feed the little thing, and she undertook to keep it alive
to be able to enjoy some kind of youth and adulthood, maybe to be judged suitable to be
kept in the herd by the end of fall, when so many, as he put it, were sent off to “McDonald’
On the hay, she fed and caressed the baby calf which she called Freedom. The calf looked
up at her with her soft brown eyes. It was as though she realized how her life had been
saved. It was as though she appreciated all the care that was taken to keep her alive. She
gratefully drank her milk until it was all gone. The woman petted her tenderly, calling her
by her name, Freedom. It was just as though the calf realized her name and the importance
of it. She regarded the woman with an understanding in her eyes as though she realized
the important decision made to keep her alive.
The time progressed and with it, week by week, Freedom grew and developed. Before
much longer she was able to be set free in the herd to manage for herself, feeding herself
on the field grass and the hay in large bales which he moved out to them in the fields and
the square bales of hay and alfalfa which he loosened from their orange cords and threw
down from the concrete walkway into the barnyard.
She always looked for Freedom who had a distinctive circle on her brown Hereford head.
She called to her and Freedom would always look up with recognition and a shine, it
seemed, in her eyes. The woman was hoping that she would turn out to be considered fit
to join the herd, to not be sent off to the meat market by the end of fall. However as it
turned out, her husband had made arrangements to sell her to a family who was interested
in a farm-raised cow for beef.
She was distraught by the thought that all the care, attention, and love which she had
shown this animal would be lost, that Freedom in effect would not be free. It was on a
weekend that the family came with a trailer and took their beef. She talked with the
couple. They seemed like very nice people, the kind of people who would not cut up
Freedom into meat. However that was, after all, what they bought her for--to provide a
wholesome source of meat since they knew that her husband did not give the cows any
chemicals to spur growth. To her mind, Freedom was about to be turned into steaks and
hamburgers and there was nothing she could do to prevent that.
It so happened that she was cooking lunch one day when she got a call. It was from the
woman who had bought Freedom. She spoke very admirably of the cow and said how she
seemed so very gentle as though she had had considerable human contact. The woman
told her that Freedom had been raised as a free martin and had been bottle fed by her and
cared for by her. The owner told her that she could sense this was the case. Freedom was
so gentle, so wonderful, that the family could not go along with their original plan. As it
turned out, they had decided to keep Freedom out on their extensive pasture. Freedom
was in fact free; she had become their pet.