The Great Outback

My friend Luis Villegas—“the fine arts handyman”—came out of his semi-retirement and built a deck for our backyard. We’re getting ready for Johnny Byrd’s wedding to Ailbhe Cormack and at the family party the night before we need a stage from which to declare our love. Lee’s been wanting some sort of boardwalk contraption for a long time, but the wedding pushed the ball downhill. Of course our deck had to be different. It had to be shaped like a piece of pie sitting into the corner of our backyard. A square deck is not what we wanted. Luis was hesitant. He’d had a heart attack and he couldn’t do any heavy lifting. Not to worry, I told him. I’d help, I’d hire our friend Gabriel Espinoza. So Luis thought about it some, drew up the design and did the job, along with Gabriel and me, and it’s miraculous. He even curved two 2”x6”x16’ boards to fit the pie around the outside of its edges. A true mystery. Luis kept mumbling about the Steinway curve. I will tell you sometime how he did it.

I’m so happy with our deck that in the early mornings I drag all my cushions outside do my meditation. The sun is rising, the neighborhood is waking up, the air is cool, and I can see the mountains when I look to the west. And, because the deck levitates above the earth on concrete blocks, the ants don’t come climbing up my legs. Life is good. So a few mornings ago I crossed my legs and sat down on my zafu. The full moon was falling in the dawn sky behind the mountains.  I bowed, straightened my back, head pushing the sky aloft, and sat there in my goofy half-lotus. My breath settled into my diaphragm. Time passed like it always does. Ernie our big black cat nudged me. I keep a wide spot on my zabuton reserved for Ernie. I patted him some and he curled up beside me. This is his morning pleasure. I returned to my sitting. A little breeze.

Then I heard some scuffling off to the side. I didn’t pay attention for a few minutes but after a while I had no choice. Clovis, the young grey tabby cat from next door, had caught himself a bird. A yellow-rumped warbler. Poor thing. Clovis is quick and he likes to perch in the trees when he hunts. We think he carries some Siamese blood in him. Clovis had broken one of the bird’s wings and had the bird in its jaws and was shaking it furiously. Then he plopped it down in the grass and watched it for a while. The bird lay there panting in desperation. Then he flapped wildly his wings and try to drag himself away from his tormenter. His exertions made Clovis wonderfully happy. He pounced on the bird and shook him and pranced around. It was his show for Ernie and me. Ernie simply watched, not moving, with that unattached curiosity and grace that cats possess. I tried to do the same. But of course my mind quickly contorted into a mild ethical turmoil. What should I do? The bird was suffering terribly. It would soon die. I thought maybe I should grab rescue the bird from Clovis’ teeth and kill it quickly. I’ve done this before with wounded birds on the road. Slammed it against the pavement or crushed its head with my foot. Not fun. But quick and to the point. But I didn’t do that. I was just sitting there--correct posture, hands lightly clasped in the cosmic mudra, my breath going in and out--in Clovis’ and Ernie’s territory. This is what they do day and night--hunt and kill birds and eat them. No lesson I could teach Clovis, no bird's life I could save. I was their witness and in a way that was a privilege. I didn’t make any decision. Instead, I went back to my sitting. The intermittent scuffling sound grew faint and disappeared. Fifteen minutes later the alarm bell rang. I looked up. Clovis was no longer there. Only a few feathers remained. Clovis had devoured the bird completely.


Glenn Buttkus said...

Thanks for sharing this experience,
for it makes several subtle statements
about how to live in harmony with
chaos; which you certainly do there
so close to Juarez.

Ed Baker said...

he most likely scarfed it...

I am now 70 and have built over the years have built maybe about 20 decks

that curved pressure-treated 2 x 6 has some fine grain and a knot to be .... celebrated

did your friend also build the fire box also a beauty.

would like to see a down view of how the deck snuggles-up to the fire place

nice beard, too

Bobby Byrd said...

Ed, been busy here. Too busy. More about Luis here: http://whitepantiesanddeadfriends.blogspot.com/2008/12/luis-villegas-let-us-now-praise-famous.html

You'd like him. He's a great guy. He knows his materials and all the techniques. He didn't build the fire box. That was here when we got here. Probably 50 or so years old House is close to 100.

Ed Baker said...

thanks for the link to ...

and I really appreciate life art one (and seemingly seamless)

I'm a 'wood-buther' compared to him.
click each 'thing' in this thumb-nail


each piece "pops" out.... and each has
their own song to sing

but you gotta get real quiet to hear the notes !


one who is too busy gets little done... an old Indian saying that I just made up ...