This morning at 6:17am I arrived at our local bit of nature, Kirby Park, in beautiful downtown Kingston, PA.
Kirby Park has been in existence since 1824, when a wealthy local merchant died and willed the estate property to the City of Wilkes-Barre. Oddly enough, although the park actually resides in the City of Kingston, it belongs to the City of Wilkes-Barre.
Go figure. Maybe it was a political gesture, or a parting shot at his rotten relatives.
Anyway, I arrived just as the sun was beginning to peek through the towering old trees, with their spreading branches that provide relief from the broiling sun and windbreaks against the winter torrents. I approached the old gazebo, an open structure of approximately 1,000 square feet, with its Victorian flourishes and gingerbread trim. The cement pad it rested on was cool beneath my thin Chinese slippers, reflecting the 44-degree Fahrenheit chill.
Now the gazebo fronts on Kirby Park’s wonderful little lake / pond (depending on where you grew up, it might be one or the other, or neither), and this cool morning saw a rolling mist beginning at one end of the pond and parading like a ghost across the water’s surface.
The blood-red slanting rays of the just-wakening sun played with the mist, creating shimmering illusions. I saw ancient figures in the mist, beckoning me to join them in eternity. I saw the Universe and everything within it reflected in those spectral sheets of moisture.
As my mind wandered briefly, the pond’s resident duck population tuned up their voices. Starting off with what appeared to be duck scales (“quack quack quack QUACK quack quack quack”), they quickly advanced to arpeggios and basso profundo mutterings, all led by the two baby ducks and their castrato voicings. Two Canadian geese flew in for the morning concert, adding their horns to the assembled amphibian orchestra.
The chill air caused my breath to smoke, as the wildlife serenaded me with their morning songs and the breathtaking rising sun played hide-and-seek with the ghostly moving mist.
I was ready to practice my Taijiquan movements.
My eyes half-closed to better focus upon my inner energy and spirit, anticipating my coming union with the Tao, with Nature itself, with the Cosmic One, I assumed my starting position, standing lightly in a well-balanced stance, my posture erect yet relaxed. My qi, or internal energy, circulated lightly through my body, and I could feel its electric-like impulses as they raced through my meridians, the central nervous system of the qi.
The ducks and the geese stilled their cacophony, and even the squirrels paused in their treetop chases, to see what my first movement would be. The Universe lie poised upon a fulcrum, a center-point of Being and Non-Being, of Yin and Yang. What I did in the next moment would cause empires to rise or fall, tides to turn, and would ultimately influence the very fabric of the space-time continuum itself…
As I began to move my center-point of mass 20% to the left, beginning the movement known as “Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail”, and concurrently activating, through mind-intent alone, the full flow of energy along my limbs, a voice came loud and clear…
“GET OVER HERE, SHITHEAD!!! NOW!!!” It was a loud, nasty, fear-inducing voice that echoed through the early fog…
The ducks screamed their surprise and flew wetly off into the crisp morning air, the squirrels fell over themselves seeking refuge among the massive oak trunks, and the geese protested the break in the morning’s tranquility with a multitude of honking oaths.
At my feet, a microscopic wiener dog wiggled and waggled around me, his butt shaking and his tongue flying in and out of his little dark-lipped mouth. He wore a tiny red collar around his tiny brown neck, and he seemed for the entire world to have just found his long-lost friend in me. As I bent to pet the friendly little critter, my ears picked up the melodious sound of…
“SHITHEAD!!! HEEL!!! NOW!!!”
By this point, I was beginning to wonder if I should heel, or if the invective directives were meant for my diminutive friend. The question was resolved when a man weighing in the neighborhood of 400 pounds (a neighborhood that’s quite popular in these parts) came rolling up the cement stairs into the gazebo, his bulging cheeks apple-red, sweat beaded on his brow, his portly frame heaving from what must have been a long and spirited chase, a raggedy red leash gripped in his large hairy paw.
I couldn’t help but involuntarily laugh as the Yin/Yang-type contrast of the tiny little dog and the huge mountain of a man struck me. Quivering and whining pathetically, Shithead (for by now I had determined through my superior intellect that the dog’s name was indeed thus) scampered behind my legs, peeking out between them with a look of fear and trepidation written on his smooth facial fur.
Mr. Big bent at the waist suddenly and poked a hammy fist between my legs, thinking to catch Mr. S by the scruff of the neck. I just stood there.
Mr. Big missed Mr. S the first time, so he thought he would circle around me and grab Mr. S by the hindquarters. No such luck. I still just stood there.
Finally, Mr. S took off from between my legs at a high rate of speed toward the ducks in the pond, yipping and yapping his fool little head off, probably hoping he could one day tell his grandchildren of his Braveheart-style feats of bravery and honor. Meanwhile, Mr. Big evidently had a bone to pick with me, because his next words were,
“WHY didn’t you GRAB him???”
“He isn’t mine to grab” I replied truthfully, if not very artfully.
“What the hell good are you, then?” he further interrogated me.
“No good at all, my friend”, I immediately replied. “Which still puts me above YOU”.
Now, this being Northeast Pennsylvania, home of the patented “Stunned-Cow Look”, that look of puzzlement and dismay that a person without a clue exhibits (and which type of person, you may have surmised, includes a greater part of our local population), I was not overly surprised by my verbal assailant’s long pause, a quizzical look coming over his rotund cherub’s face, the eyes narrowing at what he first perceived to be an insult, but then wasn’t quite sure…
He stood huffing and puffing on his two dainty little feet like a basketball balanced on a thimble, just waiting to be bowled over by my next verbal judo attack. This was shaping up to be a fun morning – now I knew how Bugs Bunny felt when he crossed swords with Elmer Fudd.
“Did you know that dachshunds are quite sensitive to loud noises and sudden movements? In fact, if you surprise them, they’ll defecate all over the floor wherever they are – it’s known as “Flugglehoffer’s Syndrome”” I informed my new-found friend. Now, this may or may not be true – I sincerely doubt it, since I had just then invented it – but it sounded good and probably seemed believable enough when spoken with an honest, open, and caring expression like mine.
My porcine little pal set about digesting this quasi-fact for a full minute. You could almost SEE the mental wheels chugging along in his Neanderthal brain, smoke coming out of his ears. I knew what he was thinking … that if he continued to yell at Mr. S and try surprise grabs at him, he’d soon find himself in a world of … well, let’s say it wouldn’t be a rose garden. He probably had a nice little apartment or house somewhere nearby, and the fear of having his little speck of heaven despoiled by his canine companion terrified him. Visions of endless hours on pooper-scooper patrol sprang into his light-gray matter, while his prehensile fingers clutched feebly at his sides. The possibility of every spare moment of his life being filled with bowel evacuations did not seem to please him.
“Daaaaaaamn … I didn’t know that, buddy. Thanks!” A hot and heavy mitt plopped gently on my shoulder for a moment, and then was gone.
He lumbered off after Mr.S, who now was cavorting on the far side of the pond with the squirrels and was probably unaware that his life had just become infinitely easier. Mr. Big’s gentle, loving murmurs of “Shithead … come here, sweetie!” rolled along with the morning mist, as the ducks and geese flapped and paddled to my side of the pond once again to watch me play my Taijiquan.
Whoever said tranquility doesn’t pay? Just ask Shithead – he’ll tell you.