Or the bird gets it

by Lorin Michel Friday, April 18, 2014 9:48 PM

I am not a violent person and I’m not a fan of guns. I have been to a shooting range and have to admit that it helped me to understand the lure and the power. Roy took me years ago when we were both still at Sebastian. He has a 22 and he taught me how to fire it. I have very fond memories of that afternoon at the gun range in the Valley.

Arizona is a big gun state and they like to tout their OK Corral heritage and many though not all believe everyone has the right to carry a 9mm on their hip. I disagree with this, and not just because in Tombstone, where the infamous shootout at the OK Corral happened, guns weren’t permitted. Cowboys had to check their weapons when they entered the town. I wonder sometimes if politicians ever actually know what they’re talking about.

We don’t have guns and don’t want them. Though I was giving a shotgun serious consideration throughout the night and early morning. Here’s why: birds.

Don’t get me wrong. I love birds. I think they’re beautiful creatures. I love to watch them dart about and soar through the clouds. We have a hawk that seems to live at the property. Every time we’re there, we see him floating above, occasionally giving a nearly imperceptible flap of his wings to keep himself moving. He’s majestic as he searches for something to kill. It’s fascinating to watch.

We have doves that sit on the edge of the chimney and coo coo coo. Because the flue is open, it can sound like they’re literally sitting on the grate in the great room. More than once, I’ve gone to make sure that one didn’t accidentally fall through. I’ve often wondered how I would react to seeing a bird sitting in the fireplace. Luckily that hasn’t happened yet. But I still check.

Occasionally there are groups of tiny birds that gather on the grass beneath the trees in the back yard. They hunt and peck and do bird things like chirp. It’s harmless and mostly quiet. It doesn’t bother me at all because it usually happens sometime around mid-morning.

It’s the ones that sit on the branches of the tree right outside the bedroom window and screech when it’s still dark that cause the bother. Screech may be an unfair word I realize. They’re chirping or singing or welcoming the day, but they do it incredibly selfishly. Don’t they realize that not all creatures are awake at 4:12 am nor do we want to be? Don’t they understand that it’s rude?

Of course, not as rude as the weenie on the sport bike who has taken to ripping up and down Campbell between 3 and 4 every morning. He winds that engine up so it’s screaming, begging to be shifted. Finally he does. And then winds it up again to the point of exploding. He did it the night before last and last.

I wanted to shoot him. Metaphorically, of course. I think.

Then came the bird outside the window, followed by the trash truck banging the dumpsters down on the pavement, followed by more birds followed by me thinking about John Malkovich.

In the relatively horrible but sort of guilty pleasure Nicholas Cage flick, Con Air, John Malkovich plays a real baddie. Nicholas Cage plays a good guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and went to prison. He’s on his way home to a daughter he’s never seen and he bought a stuffed rabbit in the prison gift shop to give to her. Let me pause here for a minute just to say: who knew that prisons had gift shops?

For reasons unrealistic, these hardcore cons are being transferred via airplane to somewhere, they hi-jack the plane, and try to escape. Luckily Mr. Cage is a good bad-guy. John Malkovich isn’t. He gets a hold of the stuffed rabbit, holds a gun to its head and says “don’t move or the bunny gets it.”

Replace bunny with bird and you understand why I was thinking of, and ultimately celebrating the exquisite strangeness and exquisitely strange Mr. Malkovich at approximately 4:14 this morning. 

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live out loud

The air feels alive

by Lorin Michel Thursday, February 27, 2014 11:45 PM

A storm approaches slowly. The air is crisp though warm, puffy clouds float amongst the blue of the sky. In the distance, darker, more ominous clouds are gathering. They say it’s Armageddon. I suspect they’re wrong. There will be weather but there is supposed to be weather this time of year. Since we haven’t had any of late, it’s much bigger news that it might otherwise be.

I love when the air feels alive. I actually heard somebody say that the other day and it rang so true. The wind blows. There is an electrical charge that pulsates throughout, like static electricity. Touch something and it snaps and sparks. The air flicks.

The wind swirls and gushes, teases the trees and the flowers, ruffles the hair. Birds flaps and fly, and soar, chasing each other up and down and around before coming to a screeching halt atop the building. You can hear the sound of their wings as the pulse through the air.

Butterflies hover and alight. Moths do the same. Small flying insects cruise about, looking for access to the light, the house. The wind helps them as well.

Sunlight streams through the upper windows of the house, the windows up near the ceiling some 16 feet up. Maybe even higher. They cut across the wall, horizontal glass that’s been UV coated so as to hopefully curb some of the fading that inevitably occurs because of the sun. Below, dust particles dance in each stream. I am forever amazed at how much is actually inside the air, things we can’t see until we can.


I am dust particles in sunlight, I am the round sun.
Say I am You, by the 13th century poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi

I used to joke to those back east that I didn’t trust air I couldn’t see. They thought it was hysterical, given that I lived in Los Angeles and LA had long been known for its smog problem. When I was in college and visited California for the first time, I spent a day or two in Los Angeles. I remember driving up from San Diego thinking that the air must be so dense with emissions tat you couldn’t see anything. A really dirty fog bank.

It was nothing like that of course. The sky was blue. Yes, there was a bit of smog but it hardly affected the views or visibility. I saw an article today about China and their horrendous smog problem. There was a picture of a man walking his golden retriever. Both were wearing surgical masks to block out some of the bad air. All around them was smog, making visibility only about 16 feet or so. Scary stuff. The air in China is alive in a completely different way; not a good way.

Clouds are rolling in over the desert, filling the air. Those that were fluffy and white seem to have left for drier prairies. These clouds are heavy, a brownish gray, ready for rain. The air is getting thicker even as the winds pick up. A storm is coming and it will be glorious.

It will drench the earth, cleanse the soul. It will be difficult while it’s happening, but once it’s over the air will be clearer, cleaner; crisper. Reborn like tomorrow.

The Japanese writer Haruki Murakami wrote: “And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

Another metaphor for life, much like the air being alive. A living, breathing entity that surrounds us, keeps us true, it can spark with furry and dissipate in the wind. And then, it can dance in the shafts of the sun. That’s what life is all about.

It's 2:42 am and there's something in the backyard

by Lorin Michel Thursday, November 14, 2013 9:42 PM

It started with Cooper pushing open the door to his kennel, which we no longer latch. I heard him but expected him to do what he usually does which is come over to my side of the bed and place his head on the mattress next to me. Pet me, mom. I would then dutifully pet before getting out of bed, pulling his padded rug from his kennel and putting it on the floor next to me so he can curl up and sleep, which he does promptly. It didn’t happen that way.

Instead, he proceeded to stand under the window, ears perked, staring up and out, a low growl and a quiet woof emitting about every 10 seconds. It was the kind of woof that said I hear something, I’m not sure yet if we need to be concerned but we might want to check it out. Growl. I’ll let you know. Woof.

Being a relatively smart woman, I looked at the clock – 2:42 – got out of bed and went to the window. That’s when I heard it. A crunching of the leaves. It had been very windy here over the past two nights, pushing dry, dead, crunchable leaves up against the house, but last night was still. Only the occasional hum of a car on the road disturbed the quiet. Far off, howling coyotes fought over food, or something.

I put my head up close to the window, making sure I was actually hearing something. There it was again, crunching. Someone or something was walking beneath the bedroom window. I took a step back. Crap. What was it? Who was it?

Occasionally I experience a touch of paranoia. It doesn’t happen often, but for some reason, sometimes at night, when the windows are open and the night is quiet and I’m awake, I’m sure I’m going to see someone in the backyard. This is not rational, I realize. But there it is. I’ll lie snug under the covers, my eyes trained on the window, waiting for the shape of something non-existent to appear. This is ridiculous for several reasons, one of which is that if there was in fact someone there, Cooper would be sure to alert me. He’s good at that. Growl. Woof.

I stood there, shivering. It was in the low 50s, not cold, but cool. Crunch crunch. I decided it wasn’t a person, though it did occur to me that a head could pop up in the window at any time. The coyotes had stopped screeching. Maybe one was in the backyard. Maybe it was a mountain lion. Perhaps it was just one of the cats I had heard recently, fighting in the middle of the night. Not taking my eyes from the window, I took a step back and touched Kevin’s arm. I put my mouth down close to his ear and whispered there’s something in the backyard.  What? There’s something in the backyard. He got up and joined me at the window.

Cooper, his work done, turned and went back into his kennel. He spun around twice, the tin floor crunching beneath the pad, and laid down. He was snoring within minutes. This made me believe that whatever was out there was probably not dangerous. Either that or he figured we were bigger with more resources, so he felt safe putting us in charge.

Kevin and I stood there, hunched over, peering through the open blinds as if being hunched would somehow make our vantage point better. There it is, he whispered. Where? In the backyard, there by the tree. Is it a cat? No. I don’t think so. Well it’s not a coyote or a mountain lion. It’s just sort of stalking its way along. I think it’s a skunk. A skunk? I’ll go check. No. You can’t go check. If it’s a skunk and you startle it it’ll spray. I won’t startle it. What are you going to do? I’m just going into the living room. Relax. I won’t startle it.

Soon the light came on. All that did was obscure the skunk from my view at the window. It didn’t startle; it didn’t spray. It just continued to make its way along the wall, crunching. We went back to bed, listening. Soon it was under the window again. Cooper stirred but didn’t growl or woof. And then it was gone, having squeezed under the side fence in search of another adventure.

I looked at the clock. It was exactly 3. There was no longer anything crunching, nothing to worry about, but we stayed awake for a while, listening and talking, and laughing about Kevin, Lorin and Cooper’s big adventure with something in the backyard. 

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live out loud

In praise of being quiet

by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 12, 2012 1:16 AM

I know I’m prone to running around shouting or at least writing live it out loud, celebrate something. It’s a mantra I believe deeply in; hence this page. But I’ve also come to truly value and celebrate the quiet. It usually only occurs once a day, before the birds awake and the sun raises its sleepy head in the east. Around 4 am. Most people aren’t up at this hour. Most sane people anyway, but if you are, or ever have been, you know what I’m talking about.

This morning I was up about 3:45. It was hot but that wasn’t the only reason I was awake. In fact, I’m not sure if had anything to do with it at all. More likely it was the spinning of my brain.  This happens to me often when I’m supposed to be sleeping. I wake up for whatever reason, and rather than be able to laze around and drift back to sleep, my brain thinks: Hmmm. We have lots to do! Let’s get up and start the day! There’s that chapter you need to finish! And that proposal to send to Kim! And did you do your invoicing? You didn’t call Shawn this week. Are you ready for the meeting tomorrow? What are you going to do about your VPN connection problem? What are you going to do? Where are you going to go? What’s going on in there?! Let’s get up!!!!!!! Let’s go!!!!

That’s Lorin’s brain at 3:45.

This doesn’t happen every time I wake up in the middle of the night. As my husband is fond of saying, he’s never met anyone who can fall back to sleep as quickly as I can. Evidently I can wake up and ask him a question and then as soon as he answers, I’m back to breathing… deeply… steadily… sleepingly. I, of course, would like to know how many people he’s been around when they’re falling back to sleep, but that’s fodder for another blog. He is not a good faller-back-to-sleeper. He is, however, much better at going to sleep when we first go to bed.

Regardless, this morning, I was awake and he was not. And as I lay there, listening to my brain rattling and spinning and trying desperately to get it to shut the hell up, it occurred to me that I was missing out on something very important. The quiet of the very early morning.

It’s almost haunting how quiet the world can get sometimes, but haunting in a beautiful, mystical way. The air seems to nearly sizzle; there is just the slightest hint of a snap. It’s something that I’ve never heard during a regular noise-filled day, even when it’s relatively quiet. But when the world is otherwise asleep, there are no crying children to be heard, no barking dogs slicing through the silence, no birds chirping, nor airplanes high above, it’s there. You hardly even need to listen for it. Sometimes it gets to be so loud it seems like an actual sound, but it is only the quiet blanketing the night.

I rarely hear the quiet like that during the day. I’m not sure I ever have. Even in the quietest time of the daylight hours, there is always something that fills the air. A cooing dove, the breeze in the trees, the distant hum of an air conditioning unit or tires on a road. It’s never simply still and quiet.

But at 3:45 am this morning, after I told my brain to settle itself down, it was both. And it was lovely, and thoughtful, and very reassuring. Even in the heat, which had certainly abated over the night, a strange feeling washed over me. I’m not sure but I think it was peace. Soon I felt the strangely soft vibration as my body, and more importantly, my brain, slowed down. The air of relaxation began to wrap around me and I could feel the sleep coming.

It was 4:20. And just as I drifted off, my husband sighed. I heard the first calls of the birds. The day was coming but for just a few more hours, I could hold it at bay. I could bask in the quiet and celebrate it in space between my dreams.

Why do birds suddenly appear… and start singing at 4:12 am?

by Lorin Michel Thursday, June 14, 2012 1:06 AM

After two long days of driving, filming and driving again, I was pretty tired last night. The filming was great, the driving not bad; just long. I logged about 400 miles in the last two days. R2 is tired as well, though I have to say I have progressed from liking it to heavily liking it. Still not ready to declare undying love; the loss of R1 is still too raw. But R2 is quite astonishing. The navigation system is flawless, the Bluetooth is seamless, the stereo rocks. The truck drives like it’s on air. I had read a customer review prior to us buying it that said it was like driving on a cloud. I dismissed it at the time; thought it was stupid. But the last two days, that comment kept coming back to me. It’s light as air. And the gas mileage isn’t as horrible as it was on R1. While it’s not going to win me any awards with the Green Party, it does get an impressive 22.7 MPG on the freeway. For a 6000 pound car, that’s not bad.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Tired.

I didn’t do much last night when I got home other than my blog post. Priorities, you know. We had dinner. I had a glass of wine. Then lounged back on the couch, stretched out and watched some mindless TV, so mindless I don’t even remember what was on. Sometimes that’s the best kind of TV. We went to bed at 11ish. I was asleep a minute later. I slept soundly; I slept well, considering I had a bit of a scratch in my throat and my nose was threatening to stuff. When I get run down, it always goes to my throat. It always has.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Sleeping.

Me, howling at 4:12

Until 4:12. Then I was wide awake. At first I didn’t know why. I hadn’t had a bad dream. Kevin hadn’t had a bad dream. I wasn’t hot or cold. There hadn’t been an earthquake. No one hit the Honda parked in front of the house. Oh. Wait. That was H1, Justin’s first Honda that was minding its own business, under a car cover, one night in November several years ago. Suddenly, there was a loud crash, followed shortly thereafter by a knock at the door. It was about 2:15 am. A kid who had been at a party down the street had looked away from the road temporarily as he adjusted his radio. As he was an inexperienced driver, him looking away from the road caused the car to veer in the direction he was looking. Too bad he wasn’t looking at the poor unsuspecting car parked in front of the house. He hit it. Totaled it. Our neighbor, who was up waiting for her daughter to get home, saw the whole thing. She stopped the kid; wouldn’t let him leave. She’s the one who knocked on the door. H1 was subsequently replaced with H2. Same model, same year, same color.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Awake.

There I was, wondering what had awakened me when I was so obviously still in need of sleep because the first thing I did upon waking up was to yawn. Never a good sign. I glanced at the clock. That’s how I knew it was 4:12. I looked at Kevin’s side of the bed. He was still sound asleep so whatever it was had not been irritating enough to wake him. And then I heard it. The shrill chirping of the birds. Which was, incidentally, the first title of The Silence of the Lambs. Can’t imagine why it didn’t catch on.

These damned birds, the ones I love to watch as they flit through the trees and hop about the yard and patio during the day, were destroying my peace. They were singing at the top of their little bird lungs, not caring a bit about the havoc they were wreaking on my little mind, in my still night-time world. It wasn’t even close to dawn, and their voices, high trills, echoed through the trees, off of the patio cover and the ground, and in through the open window of our bedroom.

Singing, chirping, screaming. And all I could think of was ‘why?’ I understand the concept of getting up with the birds, but most birds wait until there’s at least a hint of light painting the sky in the east. It’s about respect. But these little feather-drenched irritants were ready to take on the day when the day was barely four hours old. In other words, premature. In more words, rude.

This is when birds are supposed to chirp. Our birds do not obey this rule.

Evidently, they consider their incessant chirping to be communication. It’s almost always the males doing the chirping. They do it to attract a female and to announce their territory. Why a bird is trolling for a date at 4:12 is beyond me, but whatever. The earlier they start the earlier their opportunity to ensure that all other birds – and people sleeping in their nice little beds unsuspectingly – know that they’re alive. This is not something I needed to know. According to some bird experts, they may also do it because it’s the quietest part of the day, which takes us back to my rude comment. Just because it’s the quietest part of the day doesn’t mean that they get to destroy it. Even though they did. It’s the quietest part of the day because it’s supposed to be. A little tidbit they’ve conveniently overlooked. Probably because they also possess bird brains.

All of which leads me to the answer to my initial question. Why do birds suddenly appear and start singing at 4:12 am?

Because they can.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Tired.

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