Badgers and Christmas

Christmas time. It’s that one time of year when everyone becomes a different person. They become the person they want to be all year-long but never quite pull it off. They’re full of good cheer and fellowship with love for family and friends, and even to their fellow-man however much they can’t stand them the rest of the year. A time of togetherness and gift giving and feeling good. All of their problems and sorrows, anger and frustrations, are swept away by the joyous feelings of the Christmas spirit. It is a time of peace.

Unless you’re a  badger.

Badgers don’t care about no stinking Christmas. They’re badgers. They may put up wreaths at the door of their sett and install those laser lights to light up the mound around their homes but that’s only because they think that Christmas is a good time to take advantage of those ground squirrels they favor, and play on their fondness for the Holiday season. Ground squirrels are notorious for loving Christmas. They dress up in little Christmas outfits, they give gifts of gaily wrapped tufts of grass to each other. They decorate their burrows with home made decorations. They hang mistletoe over every doorway. They make a slightly alcoholic beverage that resembles eggnog and get hammered. They sing ground squirrel carols and go door to door wearing little scarfs and ear muffs with reindeer on them. They make a big deal about Christmas.

That’s why the badgers look forward to the Christmas season. They wait patiently for the ground squirrels to ring the front doorbell then invite the slightly inebriated rodents in for a hot toddy or two. Completely taken in by the Christmas spirits and a quart or two of those everclear infused eggnog drinks they love, and of course totally forgetting that they are the badgers primary food source, they enter into the badgers den.

We’d like to tell you that in the spirit of the holidays that they all sat down, both badgers and ground squirrels, and celebrated this time of peace and joy together but we’re talking about badgers here. Badgers don’t change their spots. Badgers don’t care about peace and joy. Behind those festive grins and hale and hearty expressions of brotherhood they’re still badgers. So they shut and locked the door behind the last tipsy ground squirrel and celebrated with the ground squirrels in their own typically badger way. Suffice it to say that the badgers larder was well stocked for the next few weeks.

When the badger above was asked about this unusual but unseemly behavior in a time of peace and understanding, he got a faraway look on his face and appeared to reach back into his memories and said “You know, that was a good Christmas. We invited the rest of the family over for a big meal. We ate until we were stuffed, watched It’s A Wonderful Life on the box and the cubs played with the bones. We all felt thankful for the season. It was a good Christmas.”

May all your Christmas’s be good.

Pardon Our Turkey

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That was the cry I heard as I sat up in The Directors chair in my office on the seventh turret in the fourth tower, the only tower that allows me to see both the sunrise and the sunset, sometimes simultaneously if the light is right, surveying the vast holdings that is The Institute. It is Thanksgiving morning and visions of fat roasting turkeys rotating slowly on the spits in our cavernous kitchen deep beneath the main keep, listening for the small explosions as the drippings fall into the embers. The smell coming up the spiral staircase causes a ravenous hunger to form in the most gentle of souls, all of this and more occupy my thoughts.

The gentle but suspicious lowing of the oxen in the kitchens’ holding pen adding their voices to the background of the holiday symphony slowly warming up. They are being fed as much as they can eat so they are properly ready for the holiday meals. Christmas is just around the corner and we’ll need three of them. The cook has chosen Lisa, Cranalby, and Lamont,  one for each of the walk-in fireplaces or ovens, the hoists to lift them up onto the spits already in place, oiled and ready, the chains hanging low enough that the kitchen urchins can reach them to begin slowly turning them from carcass to steamship rounds, and briskets, and steaks and huge piles of unnamed but tasty gibbets, but that was Christmas, six weeks away, today is Turkey. Yes, big turkeys. Lots of white meat, and extra legs for those that like them.

But then, there was that call coming from way down below, “Pardon our turkeys, pardon our turkeys”, the chant rolling up the tower walls into my reveries until, that’s it, enough, I had to deal with it. Sliding down the 140′ brass pole that provided a quick exit to the ground level I was brought up short by all the interns I had sent out to gather the turkeys that I had paid good money for, see http://www.bigshotsnow.com/i-got-the-info-you-got-the-bread/, wailing and gnashing their teeth, the youngest crying like they’d never murdered a bunch of turkeys before, the oldest carrying not only their hatchets but torches too. Yelling miserably “Pardon our Turkeys, pardon our turkeys” over and over. It was heart-rending. I was torn by the angst I heard in their voices. I don’t think they could have been more affected if I had announced we were going to boil up a mess of puppies. The cute kind, like Golden Retrievers or something.

So with the thought of hatchets and torches, and in the interest of keeping my staff happy I made a snap decision. Waving my arms in the air to calm them and get them to lower those hatchets I made a command decision. “OK, Ok,” I said in my most commanding voice. “As your Director and the leader of The Institute, I hereby issue the following decision. All Turkey’s brought in for the purpose of being our Thanksgiving Dinner shall heretofore be Pardoned, set free to roam The Institute’s grounds and not be considered for their edible qualities until next year, when all bets are off.” Cheers immediately broke out with loud cries of “Huzzah, huzzah!” and “Yes, Oh thank you Director!”  and even a few gobbles from the turkeys awaiting their fate.

“Turn them loose, turn them all loose.” I magnanimously said “All but Lennie the Terrible up there on the ridge. He is a rogue and a scoundrel, Bring him to me. He is a known felon who has committed grievous crimes against The Institute and must stand trial for his misdeeds at once. Take him to the kitchen I will convene court in a few moments. As for dinner we’ll be serving Cajun Lasagna in the main cafeteria.” The shock of having Lennie put on trial began to dissipate as they thought about the Cajun Lasagna, one of the all time staff favorites. Thoughts ran across their faces like a Times Square billboard. Lennie was a bastard. Nobody liked him much anyway and we got all the rest of the Turkeys pardoned. Ok cool, was the general consensus of the crowd.

All of the interns and other staff member who participated in the uprising were soon hanging around the cafeteria, their nostrils pressed against any crack in the buildings log walls, smelling the incredible scent of Cajun Lasagna, being careful not to stick their tongues on the metal trim around the windows, waiting anxiously for the dinner bell to ring.

As for me, I had the unpleasant duty to proceed with the trial of Lennie the Terrible. He was found guilty of course, the evidence being overwhelming and the sentence was carried out post-haste. We never like to see one of our prized bird friends lost but justice must be served, and Lennie will be remembered fondly at each future Thanksgiving dinner, but most especially at this one.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our family and friends where ever they may be. You are in my thoughts and I love you all. A special thank you to all of our International readers out there. I know you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving but I know you have a lot to be thankful for and I want to tell you I appreciate your visits and support. There is a bunch of Aussies out there that I want to give a shout out to. Thanks, mates, and many other nationalities that have been recently visiting the blog. Last year we had visitors from 66 countries and this year we’re ahead of that total. I wish there was room to list you all, but it would be like the roll call at the United Nations. Thank you one and all. And come visit again soon.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

 

 

Imagine

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In an aquarium far, far away…………..

Sometimes you’re sitting in your favorite chair drinking low-grade Sterno, staring off into the distance and you’re suddenly transported to another place, in another time, where things are different yet slightly familiar, and you find yourself saying “That mayo smelled funny and that shrimp and cabbage roll has been in the fridge since Christmas.” and you check real quick to see if you still have a pulse.

You look around in the inky blackness for anything that resembles your normal life. Then you remember. Sterno, shrimp and cabbage, and you give a little sigh of relief because you know you paid the electric bill. This must be something else then.

Suddenly off in the distance you see light and colors and movement and you try to call out but there is no sound. When you think about it you’re kind of glad as you don’t know what it eats. As it gets closer and it’s form takes shape, it looks like something Edison and Carl Sagan would have invented if they’d done that acid everyone else in the lab was doing. It pulses and flexes its transparent outer shell, moving through space in a series of gentle motions that propel it forward much faster and farther than looks possible.

Where is it going ? Does it has a purpose? Are you destined to follow it through space for eternity? Does this post have an ending? When suddenly you hear a loud ringing and you realize it’s your phone. The blackness fades away and you pickup and it’s your buddy saying “hey, come on down I’ve got some left over Chinese take out we need to finish before it goes bad.” You answer “OK, sure, you got any Sterno?’ It’s good to be home.

 

Note: image is a Comb Jellyfish taken at an aquarium near you. I don’t know what the pink thing is up in the upper right corner. A Galaxy maybe.

 

Highway of Forgotten Crosses

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Somewhere south of Socorro they began to appear in profusion, these little roadside crosses. Like mushrooms on a moonlit night they suddenly pushed themselves up into view alongside the endless ribbon of blacktop. Some nestled in amongst the rabbit brush and mesquite, others standing starkly out on the weedless roadside. Some new and shiny, some a little worse for wear, and some of them so old and weather-beaten they barely looked like crosses. These were always the saddest.

No longer standing perfectly upright, but listing in whatever direction the cold New Mexico wind pushed them, they either fell over to lie on the ground, or were kept somewhat upright by the arm of the cross, looking as if they had stumbled and fallen and could barely support themselves, yet resisting the urge to just lie down and be done.

The newest of them had bright vivid plastic flowers in every hue of the rainbow, tied to the cross with twist-ties saved from bread wrappers or more elaborately using green garden tape to hold the larger bunches in place. Huge bouquets of them dwarfing the cross, resembling a small garden which had magically materialized out of the low desert where it couldn’t possibly have grown on its own. Ribbons and bows and extraordinarily beautiful rosaries draped over the crosses, placed there without a thought of their being taken, after all, who would steal from the dead, and if they did they must have needed the salvation far more than the deceased. Many times there would be a picture of a loved one held in an ornate frame or on a rare occurrence a favorite toy, but the one thing they all had in common was they stood there in mute testament to a fallen loved one.

Occasionally there would be an unopened can of beer sitting next to the cross. One doesn’t know what part alcohol played in the need for the cross to appear. For some it had to be the sole reason, for others perhaps it was simply a good memory of better times with friends and companions. It always felt odd seeing that can there. Was it more important to the deceased or the one leaving it?

The crosses themselves were often works of art, rivaling the best tombstones found in any cemetery. One notable one was fashioned out of what appeared to be mesquite wood by an obvious master craftsman. Carefully fitted together, polished to a piano finish and carved with the name “Missy” on it, it was as close to a shrine as you were going to find on that lonely stretch of road. There were fresh footprints around it and surprisingly very little dust on the flowers so it seemed that Missy had recently joined the many lonely inhabitants along the highway.

Ironically several dozen yards down the road from Missy’s cross was another one that was nearly invisible and easily overlooked. It had probably been fairly elaborate too but wasn’t anymore. It lay on its back having toppled over from the small cairn of rocks gathered to hold it upright. Perhaps by the wind or maybe by some errant animal stopping by to check it out. Javelina like to root around and stick their snouts in things. It could have easily pushed it over. If so, any tracks were long gone, the earth around the cross scrubbed clean by the wind and rain and time. It had been carefully but plainly made of wood which had been turned grey by the weather. No sign of any name was visible and there weren’t any flowers or ribbons or rosaries, just the cross, slowly breaking down into the hard packed sand of the roadside. Whoever had taken the effort to erect it hadn’t visited in a very long time. Perhaps they had their own cross somewhere else.

Other crosses weren’t quite so elaborate. They were made of practically anything one could imagine. Bent wire with a plastic bow, simple wooden ones fashioned from two slats nailed together and a name written in black magic marker on it, one made of poured concrete that must have taken several people to stand it in place, a simple wooden plank with a name barely visible scratched onto the surface, while others were obviously purchased somewhere and then embellished later. Many of these were fancy molded plastic with intricate simulated carving and verses from the bible cast onto their surfaces. Pretty, but obviously not made to stand the test of time. Perhaps the mourners thought they would last long enough and chose beauty over substance. Regardless of the material they all had been lovingly handled by whoever selected them.

Sometimes there would be a stretch of highway where several dozen or more crosses would be spaced along the roadway at varying distances, while other times you could drive for miles without seeing one. But you always saw one, sometime. They were as much a part of the scenery as the eroded arroyos and the low purple mountains off in the distance.

It is  a strange feeling standing next to one of these crosses, out in the open, out of the safety of your own vehicle, the traffic speeding by at 75 miles an hour, the trucks roaring by in the tornados of their own making, the occasional horn being blown at you to signal that they see you. Strangers hurtling towards their destination with barely a glance at this roadside marker. When there is a lull in the traffic which is seldom, you can feel the silence. The wind brushes by without a sound and the beautiful low lying mountains off towards the horizon are shrouded in a mist that partially obscures them. You can stand very still and see if you feel any presence here, I don’t, but maybe you have to have a different connection with whoever was here.

It made one think about why the need to commemorate the exact spot where this person ceased to be was important. Was the soul of the departed somehow stuck in this place, tethered as it were to this spot where life ended and had to be visited a number of times before it was free to move on? Is that why so many of the crosses were slowly fading away? The person they memorialized with this shrine had finally made that transition and there was no need to continue their upkeep? Obviously these deceased had another resting place where their actual remains were interred, and that was their eternal resting place, yet this spot where one moment they were alive and the next moment they weren’t, is as important to the living as the place in a cemetery where the remains of the departed now rests forever.

I surely don’t have any answers. It’s just what you think about as you drive along this highway of fallen crosses. The scenery is very slow to change in this part of New Mexico, the colors stay the same, the horizon never moves, you’re caught in a kind of time loop where every mile seems exactly the same as the one before it and the only change you get is seeing the next cross along the road. What happened here? Who was this person? Why did they die? Who is the person, or the people, who cared so much for them that they travelled way out here to erect a memorial to them? Why did they stop coming to tend it? Was the one who is gone now, a good person or not? Although this question and its answer no longer matters, what was, was, and its done now. Yet the questions are still never-ending.

So the next time you’re in this part of the country, on this highway somewhere south of Socorro, watch for these small crosses along the roadside. They represent the end of someone’s life, and the love someone had for them. And regardless of who the person was, whether good or bad, important or not, young or old, they were once someone just like you and I, alive, vibrant, and ready to live our lives. May they rest in peace.

Since I thought about and developed this story as I drove the miles between where I am in my own life and my destination, I’ve gone over it a thousand times in my mind. In the descriptions above I’ve made it sound like the entire stretch of the highway was littered with untended markers and that isn’t the way it was. There were stretches where that seemed to be the case and that was what caused the story to generate in my mind, but mostly the memorials were well-tended and looked as if they were visited regularly. That made me think about the part where the remains of the deceased is in their final resting place. Do the visitors who tend these crosses visit both places equally? I have never seen someone actually tending one of these markers or I would stop and ask them that very question. Not out of morbid curiosity but to find out how that actually works. Do they feel that their love for the lost one is received stronger because they make their remembrances in two places?

As a counter-point I have added a few images of these markers where they are obviously well-tended, many of them are dated and show that the site has been cared for and honored, if that is the right word, for many years.

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Christmas time is celebrated with all the family whether they’re here in person or not. It’s difficult to get a feeling as to who might be remembered here. Was it a young person? Someone to whom Christmas was very important? Or is it simply a way the remaining family wants to include them in their festivities? The joyous celebration seen here is hard to see as anything but an expression of love and acceptance of their loss.

 

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As you can see there are several crosses in this spot. Were they all from the same accident? There are no answers only speculations. They are all remembered each in their own way.

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I was always noticing how the plots resembled the shapes of graves in these more elaborate installations. Perhaps there isn’t any other place where this person is memorialized so the more grave-like in appearance it is the more it fulfills the needs of those doing the remembering.

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This is the most permanent marker I saw on the trip. It is fashioned out of granite with a niche and statue inside a glass enclosure. The phrase on the right side of the monument begins, if I can trust my rusty Spanish “We know you have gone to join God, it is difficult to accept…..” and then I’m lost. Using translators off the net to help decipher the verse doesn’t help much as there is something stated there upon that granite marker that doesn’t easily translate. I can certainly surmise it expresses grief, longing and love so we’ll leave it at that.

With all due respect to the families and loved ones to whom these memorials belong, I hope that you have found peace with your loss, and know that there are those who do not know you but understand your love for these people who are no longer here but occupy such a huge space in your heart. Although it is unlikely you’ll ever know that these passerby’s recognize your loss, be comforted by the fact that they do. It gives one hope that if they ever have their own cross by the roadside, someone will pass by and recognize that you too, were once here, on this highway of forgotten crosses.

 

This Is Not A Drill !

ThisIsNotADrill0302Bull Moose   Grand Teton National Park                      click to enlarge

 

This is an emergency warning from your Calendar Watch Committee. This is not a drill!  Warning to follow after the tone. We repeat, this is not a drill.

After doing some extensive research on the calendar for this year we have just discovered that this is December! And you know what that means. Christmas! There are only 17 days until Christmas! 17 ! Holy EmptyBoxes. Yeah I said Holy EmptyBoxes. How did this happen?

Did any of you know it was already December? Like my Uncle Skid used to say, “Jeezum Plutz! you guys” He said that because my mom’s sister’s Aunt Pheeb wouldn’t let him swear in the house, but it meant exactly what you must be imagining right now. Somebody’s ass is in a sling for not spreading the word.

Well amidst all the OMG’s and the screaming somebody with a brain in their head finally said we gotta get the warning out, so here it is.

“Wake up people, for god’s sake, it’s December!”

We should have gotten the warning out that December was approaching way back in October, but if you remember there were other things going on at the time. I’m not pointing fingers but if those doorknobs in Washington had had their act together instead of trying to see who could write their name in the snow quickest, we’d a looked at the calendar and everyone wouldn’t be in such a tizzy now. That’s just one more thing they’re going to have to answer for when they get back home at election time. Boy O Boy, I wouldn’t want to be them.

Alright, let’s everybody calm down. Take a deep breath, pass that egg nog around, and let’s look at this. Okay, we got the warning out, that’ll save some of them. We’ll tell everyone about the internet that’ll help too. We’ll pass out the low limit credit cards so they can shop and (pass that egg nog over here again. What did you put in this?)  maybe we can make it through this thing. I’ll have some more of that egg nog please. Things are shaping up already. (Really what did you put in this, this is good.)

OK, anything else comes up we’ll let you know.

Update!: We just received this email from one of our concerned readers.

Dear BigShots Now blog. I just got your warning about it being December, and Christmas and all. Thank you! I don’t have room for a calendar in the back of my Camry where I’m living. Am I screwed ? Sincerely, Dateless.

Dear Dateless, No, you are not screwed. You still have 17 days to get it together, find a job, buy a house, get a tree, get married, have some kids and sell that Camry. Plenty of time. Merry Christmas!, Sincerely, BigShots Now blog.