Andes Mint #27: Chapter One

Once, somewhere in this world, not long ago and not far from where you are reading this, it was the middle of the night on a quiet block in a city of canyons. Everyone who lived in the tall brick apartment buildings that lined either side of the street was asleep. Sleeping children. Sleeping grownups. Sleeping cats and dogs and birds and mice.

There in the middle of the night on that quiet city block, everything was dark except for the street lamps on either end. The lamps shined down from their tall poles and made pools of light that illuminated a few squares of sidewalk before the dark closed in again. In a few hours, when the sun began to rise on the far side of the river at the edge of the city, the street lamps would switch off. The sky would lighten. Everyone who was sleeping would begin to stir.

For now, the honking of cars and the revving of motorcycles and the beep beep beep of reversing trucks were absent. Had you been standing there, you might have assumed that nothing was happening, nothing except sleep and silence.

But that wasn’t true.

At the far end of the block, in front of a triple-locked and shuttered storefront door, a small dog lay sleeping. This dog was familiar to the inhabitants of the block, although no one knew his name. Everyone who had noticed him trotting along the sidewalk, day in and day out, assumed that he lived with someone in an apartment. Or that he belonged to a shopkeeper and lived in the shopkeeper’s store. Or that he was a restaurant kitchen dog who went home with a busboy or a sous-chef and a bag of scraps at the end of each long night.

They were all wrong.

The truth was that the small dog had no home. If he belonged to anything, he belonged to the block itself. He hadn’t been there long. No one knew exactly how old he was, but if you looked at him carefully you would have seen that he was young. A puppy, maybe.

The street lamp shined down on the orange letters written in swirly script on the whitewashed stone above the door.

Sanjeev’s Store.

As he slept, the small dog nosed and scrabbled and sighed and panted. Maybe something was chasing him in his dream. Maybe he was trying to hide from someone. Maybe he was too hungry to sleep well. The door to Sanjeev’s Store was locked, and in his sleep, the dog pushed himself tight up against the door, so that if it opened suddenly, he would roll right inside.

Had you been standing there that night, on that block of sleepers and dreamers not far from where you are reading this, you might not have known that anything was unusual about the block. But it wasn’t an ordinary place. The tops of the two tallest brick buildings were often draped in clouds, so that their inhabitants looked out on soft whiteness instead of clear air. Sound around the cloud dwellers was muffled. Telephones didn’t work in those apartments, and neither did televisions or radios or computers or anything else that most other people took for granted.

There was something else unusual about the block, a dark and hidden something, but it would take two children –Miranda and Bernard– to figure that out.

No, it wasn’t an ordinary place at all.

Maybe that’s why, even if someone had noticed the small dog huddled against Sanjeev’s Store in the middle of that one night, he wouldn’t have thought twice about him. No one was there, though. No one noticed when a lone car stuttered around the corner and then came rocketing down the street. The car’s lights were off. Its engine revved and its brakes squealed as the driver, peering through the windshield, tried to avoid the street lamp looming up next to the store.

The driver never saw the small dog, confused and terrified by the sudden noise, leap up and skitter away from the door. The radio in the car was too loud for the driver to hear the crunch as the dog was flung into the air. As he ricocheted off the fender. As he collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk. All the driver knew was that somehow he had managed to miss the street lamp, and that made him happy. So he stomped down on the gas pedal and careened on down the empty street, swung left through the red light and was gone.

Poem of the Week, by Mary Oliver

Excerpt from Work
– Mary Oliver


All day I have been pining for the past.
That’s when the big dog, Luke, breathed at my side.
Then she dashed away then she returned
in and out of the swales, in and out of the creeks,
her dark eyes snapping.
Then she broke, slowly,
in the rising arc of a fever.

And now she’s nothing
except for mornings when I take a handful of words
and throw them into the air
so that she dashes up again out of the darkness,

like this–

this is the world.

For more information on Mary Oliver, please click here:

One new thing a day: 8 July 2012

Today’s my birthday, and I made a birthday vow to do something I’ve never done before every day for a month, starting today.

This something-never-done doesn’t have to be huge, like climbing Machu Picchu. It can be tiny, like trying an old-school cocktail that you’ve never had before. Such as this one, below.

This drink is called a Sidecar, and trust me, it’s extremely tasty. Not too sweet, even though it looks like it might be. Served in a martini glass, which is my favorite kind of drink glass. Kind of like a brandy gimlet, so if you’re a fan of vodka gimlets, take heed.

The something-never-done-before can be as simple as taking a right turn where you’ve never taken a right turn before, on a walk you do nearly every day, an hour+ walk so familiar to you that you literally know every single tree.

But take an unexpected right turn –something you probably wouldn’t have done if you hadn’t been on the lookout for something you’d never done before– and look where you end up:

Where you end up is a path through the woods that skirts the years-long familiar path you take with your dog, but which feels 20 degrees cooler and like an entirely new world, one running parallel to the world you walk in every day.

So many never-before-done things, right here in your own neighborhood. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Poem of the Week, by Lisel Mueller

What the Dog Perhaps Hears
– Lisel Mueller

If an inaudible whistle
blown between our lips
can send him home to us,
then silence is perhaps
the sound of spiders breathing
and roots mining the earth;
it may be asparagus heaving,
headfirst, into the light
and the long brown sound
of cracked cups, when it happens.
We would like to ask the dog
if there is a continuous whir
because the child in the house
keeps growing, if the snake
really stretches full length
without a click and the sun
breaks through clouds without
a decibel of effort,
whether in autumn, when the trees
dry up their wells, there isn’t a shudder
too high for us to hear.

What is it like up there
above the shut-off level
of our simple ears?
For us there was no birth cry,
the newborn bird is suddenly here,
the egg broken, the nest alive,
and we heard nothing when the world changed.

For more information on Lisel Mueller, please click here:


From the land of enchantment

ball-of-twine-5Do you have a few minutes? If so, click here and read the first story.

Why aren’t there more stories like this anymore? So beautiful.

If, at first glance, that particular story looks too long for you, scroll down and read something shorter. I highly recommend “Some Things I Say to My Dog” and “Lost Ghost in the City of Light,” but I highly recommend many entries in this particular blog.

It’s enchanting.


All creatures great and small

petey-christmas-2007They wanted to have their dogs blessed, so they went to the blessing of the animals. It was a cold day in early October, and the sun shone down on the beasts and their humans gathered at the foot of the wide stone steps of the cathedral.

Their dogs, one silky brown and black and tan and white and one curly black, were on leashes, one blue and one red. The silky one leaped from the car, knowing something special was up, and pulled ahead, busy with first one bush, then another, drunk on the unfamiliar air of the cathedral neighborhood.  Black curls trotted quietly at the heels of his human.

Priests flung open the doors to the huge cathedral and welcomed the animals in. All manner of dogs entered at the sides of their people, jumping onto the pews or hiding underneath. Cats in carriers or baby slings entered also.

They chose seats halfway down the long expanse of marble floor and arching ceiling. She looked up and wondered how the long chandeliers, shedding their soft light, had been hung.

Was it possible that a ladder existed long enough to reach that high? No, it was not possible. Was it possible that an unseen catwalk skirted the entire perimeter of the domed ceiling? She had climbed the Duomo in Firenze; such things were possible.

But here, in Minneapolis? Was there an invisible world contained between the gilded frescoed ceiling of this heavenly dome and the crisp October air above?

Down in the majestic cavern of the cathedral, dogs and their people were listening to the words of the priest, reading from the book of Genesis. The choir sang hymns, old and new, about the beauty of all creatures, great and small.

At the far end of the pew was a short, plump woman in a bright blue nylon jacket,  with a small clear plastic box next to her, the sort of cheap clear plastic box that a small girl would keep her beads and barrettes in. Inside the box was a shell and a tiny box.

The short plump woman was birdlike, glancing back and forth, chattering to all those sitting near her, gesturing excitedly at the small plastic box with the shell and the tiny box.

What was the small woman saying? What could be in that box?

The small woman was one of those people – you know the kind of person – instinctively you sense them, how they live their lives on the borderland, the margins. You might picture them in junior high,  eating lunch to the side, alone at a table.

Now the priests were beginning their walk down the long marble aisles between pews, swinging the incense and shaking holy water over the animals.

Next to her the black curly dog rested  his head on her lap. The silky one sat straight up in the pew, alert, gazing in all directions, following the progress of the priests.

Down at the end of the pew, a tiny sand-colored claw reached out from under the shell in the clear plastic box and as quickly retracted itself. The small woman turned to see her gazing curiously.

“They’re hermit crabs!” she said. “They’re hermit crabs!”

They were hermit crabs. Tiny crabs, huddled under a foreign shell and a tiny box. Hermit crabs carried to the cathedral in the arms of the small plump woman so that they could be blessed.

The priest came near, and the small woman held her plastic box up high. The priest sprinkled holy water on the hermit crabs and smiled at the small woman, who was now crying.

Holy water was sprinkled on the black curly dog, and on the silky dog.

On down the aisles went the priests, and all the animals in the cathedral were blessed. High above, the ropes that held the chandeliers were straight and steady, anchoring light.

On his way back to the altar the priest stopped at the end of the pew and sprinkled extra holy water on the hermit crabs. The small woman shook her head in gratitude and hugged the clear plastic box.

Blessed are those who endure in peace.

October garden

end-of-season-zinnias.jpgOh, my garden, must I say goodbye to you? This is the time of year when I begin my countdown to December 21, when we will have made it through the darkest days of the year, and the sun will begin adding minutes to the day. I’m one of those who knows to the second how much more light we get from one day to the next. A lifelong northerner who hates cold and loathes the darkness of winter, the days from January through March are days of endurance, days of gritted teeth, days of so many layers of clothes that no one, including me, knows what I really look like. (Could I survive in Alaska, at least in the winter? Obviously not.)

So a garden is a thing of beauty to me. Flowers. Vegetables. I moved into this house a year and a half ago and have been digging ever since. Minneapolis is a horizontal city, which means, for better and for worse, that it’s primarily a city of single-family homes, each with a front and back yard. Small (in my case very) and urban, but still, room to dig.

My friend Oreo helped me build a raised vegetable bed in the backyard. 6×12. Measure it out in your mind or in your living room, and you’ll see that a 6×12 bed is not big. You’d be surprised how much you can grow in that little space though. Here’s what grew in mine this summer: a myriad tomatoes (from heirloom to cherry to Big Boys), eggplant, green beans; red lettuce, green lettuce, spinach, arugula, green peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, catmint, chives, carrots, beets, something that I thought was zucchini (which I love and can’t ever get enough of – take that, anti-zucchini people) but that turned out to be some sort of pumpkin-like squash, and four kinds of basil. (Good Lord, typing out this list, I sit here wondering if it’s even possible to cram that many vegetables into a 6×12′ bed, but honest to God I swear it is.)

And then there were, and still are, the flowers. I dug up my boulevard last year, after we moved in, and planted a whole ton of perennials, and though a few neighbors predicted that the salt from the road de-icer would kill them all, survive and thrive they did. This summer my neighbor Kathie dug hers up too, and now we gaze happily upon our flowering boulevards.

I planted a strawberry patch by the side of the house, which I didn’t water much. And I travel a lot, so I doubly didn’t water it much. And every day I was home I made a mental note to water the strawberries, but I didn’t. This is because I am a loser, but still, the strawberries are still alive, if berry-free, and ditto for the raspberry canes and the Seedless Concord Grapes.

I dug up a big portion of the backyard and planted it with tiny half-dead perennials that I bought for $.15 each at a church rummage sale. The tiny half-dead perennials were not labeled, so I didn’t know what the hell I was planting, other than that they were perennials. Within hours after planting, they sprang to life and grew wildly despite dogs peeing on them, dogs pooping on them, dogs playing tag throughout them, and the aforementioned at-most-haphazard (although more frequently than the berries, thank God) watering.

What did the tiny half-dead perennials turn out to be? They turned out to be echinacea, rudbeckia, daisies, and a couple of other things that because of my ignorance shall remain nameless. But pretty. Nameless but pretty.

In my mania I dug up another long patch by the nearly sun-free back of the house and strewed the newly-dug soil with zinnia seeds (the giant kind, which are by far my favorites) and, behind the zinnia seeds, Shasta Daisy seeds. These seeds were from eight-year-old packets, and it was my personal experiment to see if they would sprout at all, since they had been through rain, abandonment in winter garages, and multiple moves. But sprout they did, and here is a picture of those giant zinnias, here at the end of their season of gorgeousness. Behind them also sprouted the Shasta Daisies, but because of the near-total lack of sun, they are very small. But there are very many of them, and it’s my secret plan to transplant them all next year to various other places on the boulevard and around the house.

Yes, that is my secret plan. And now I begin the forward look to December 21, when the sun will once again begin to outlast the darkness.