Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Adventures of a Short-Hop Time Traveler

I know I've mentioned before that the idea of time travel has some appeal for me. And while it would probably be more exciting to make the kind of quantum leap from century to century that's been celebrated by authors like Jules Vern and Jack Finney, settling for short hops through the time/space continuum can be interesting, too.
Like a few weeks ago, when we traveled from our beach digs in North Carolina to northern Florida, then back up to Illinois. That down-and-up journey offered an on-the-fly look at just about every phase of spring, as we watched the just-blooming Carolina season transform into the full-out balmy breath of Florida springtime, then undid it all by heading straight north. It seemed to us that Illinois spring was about a month behind the Carolina seasonal change, so we watched things get gradually greener and prettier until we turned back the calendar again with a jarring northbound trek to son Colin's home in Moorhead, Minnesota, just across the Red River from Fargo. The season quickly rolled backwards , as springtide colors faded fast, replaced by snow-filled ditches and crunchy-slushy icecaps on what seemed like just about every one of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes. In the Fargo-Moorhead region, the first robins of spring are overshadowed by the area's own sign of the season--the raging Red pouring over its banks and threatening the man-made earthen dykes and sandbag piles with its icy torrent. We walked the downtown riverfront, where streets, sidewalks and stairways mysteriously disappeared into the cresting deluge like some kind of a watery sight gag.
"This is how we know it's spring," said Colin as a helicopter whirred overhead. "Sandbags and the National Guard."
We put the season back into fast forward as we headed south on Monday. Again, we saw the first dabs of color start to appear, with forsythia, daffodils and early tulips in evidence along the way until we arrived back home, where a warm weekend had pushed the magnolias into bloom and the grass had begun the shift from the soft hue of the early season to the rich, growing green of full-blown spring.
By my best reckoning, we've now seen spring appear--and re-appear--no less than five times this season, with every viewing a wonderful affirmation of this glorious season of hope and renewal. Soon, we'll be heading back to North Carolina, where I hope our four-door time machine will introduce us to yet another season.
It's called summer.
Speaking of spring things, my spouse was rushing out the door the other morning, a bit late for a meeting. She had only been gone a minute or two when the phone rang.
"Your squirrel is looking for you," she said.
Yes, Salty, the self-tamed squirrel, who was one of the first Galva residents to greet me when we returned, had tried to tackle her on her way out the door and was now waiting impatiently for yours truly.
It must have been a tough winter in Wiley Park, as his intake has been nothing short of spectacular. It took a handful of potato chips, a slice of bread and a bright red apple to satisfy him before he let me go back to my work. The thing is, this whole man-squirrel symbiotic relationship has been all his idea. But now that it's established, I'm a little concerned about what the bushy-tailed little eating machine will do without me when we're in the North Carolina phase of our bi-coastal living scheme. Maybe he'll have to learn to forage and gather like the rest of the squirrels. Or perhaps Shannon, our neighborhood cat whisperer, will agree to toss Salty a snack when she comes by to offer bad-cat Max a bit of food and companionship.
Or maybe I'll just leave him a few bucks so he can go downtown and buy his own.
Speaking of the things I think about when I'm gone, there were, I admit, a few things on my mind the first time we stayed away from home for a couple of months. I fretted about the very infrastructure of our home, wondering if the boiler was still boiling and the hot water heater heating.
I worried about the left-behind cat, despite that fact that he was getting a full measure of company and food every day.
And then there was my beloved 1994 Isuzu Trooper.
I figure it's not that crazy to have an up-close-and-personal relationship with a vehicle that has safely carted you around for nearly a quarter of a million miles. There are friends, co-workers and family members, even, who seem to think I should move up to something a little spiffier. Something a little more fuel-efficient. And something with doors that actually work.
I've written before about the daily encounters I've had with the driver's side door of the rusty, trusty Trooper. I've told you all about the precise slamming techniques and the well-engineered application of bungee cords required to prevent me--the driver--from being hurled out of that unpredictable portal and into the path of oncoming traffic.
Well, it's gotten worst.
It happened during the Christmas holidays while both of our sons and their families were home for a visit. They were on their way downtown for dinner and a spot of holiday revelry with a few friends. Knowing that snow was forecast for later that evening, I made a request.
"Can you guys pull my car into the driveway when you get home?" I asked, wanting to get it out of the way if the plows came through before morning.
"No problem, dad," they said in the same "we-hear-you-but-we're-not-really-listening" tone that used to occasionally make me want to send them to military school or one of those scared straight boot camps in their younger days.
I'm not sure how I really feel about the whole "nature versus nurture" debate, but I do think there are some things that should be understood intuitively by our children, as part of the inherited bloodline.
Not so much.
Instead of applying just the right amount of patient leverage, gentle force and engineering genius needed to open and close the door, they jerked it open and slammed it shut with a total disregard for the delicate balance that my careful ministrations had kept intact over the past couple of years.
The door hasn't been the same since.
I've tried new techniques and even more bungee cords and straps, but nothing seems to make the door want to do even the basics, like stay shut and keep a reasonable amount of wind and water at bay. I've even gone so far as to consider buying a new (old) one, searching out replacements via a series of websites connected to the vast network of junkyards in this great nation of ours.
I was running through a list of candidates, paying the most attention to price and shipping charges.
"Do you think the color of the door matters that much?" I asked my spouse.
Now, I think it's a blessing to be able to make people happy, but I confess that her peals of laughter began to get on my nerves a bit after the first ten minutes or so. I haven't really been able to wash the rusty, trusty, dusty vehicle in several years on account of that pesky leaking door problem, so color--or appearance of any kind--has, I guess, become immaterial.
I never did get around to taking the plunge and buying that new (old) door, and we're heading south soon, so I'll just do my best to clamp it shut with a renewed combination of cords, nylon rope and, perhaps, a little duct tape for good measure.
I know both the car and its interesting engineering challenges will be waiting for me when I return.
In the meantime, if you should happen upon a driver's-side door for a 1994 Isuzu Trooper, feel free to drop it by.
Any color will do.

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