by Jeff Wells
So I pulled into the church parking lot at 6:50 delighted to see a fire burning bright in Claire’s fire pit, but a little disappointed to see the grounds ablaze with light and buzzing with a bunch of Twelve-steppers waiting for an AA meeting to start. I put it out of my mind and started looking for the convergence of Jupiter and Saturn which was supposed to be quite a sight in the southwestern sky. (Alas, I was too late. I’ll look tonight.)
Bundled up we got down to business shortly after seven o’clock. Nothing tightly choreographed, rather loosely began talking about the shortest day of the year and the longer days to come. The prospect of newness (and saying good riddance to the old) led into comments of gratitude for Biden’s inauguration in thirty days and what a trying time it’s been with Trump.
Claire read an internet posting about the ancient practices of honoring the Winter Solstice by many cultures by a Nick Polizzi, founder of The Sacred Science, a website and blog dedicated to explorations of alternative healing modalities and indigenous healing traditions. The reading stressed the importance of staying in touch with the seasons of the natural world and of our deepest selves. Kim passed out snippets about “the light” which we read in turn and mulled over. Patti read Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things.” I was particularly touched by the phrase “the Grace of the Earth” which led me on a brief but wonderful brain revel.
By now the AA meeting was breaking up. (We broke everybody’s anonymity.) A woman stopped by the fire and asked if we’d seen the Jupiter-Saturn conjunction. (She and Claire had spoken of it earlier.) I said I hadn’t but I’d try tomorrow. She went on and on, then began expounding how it was supposed to look like a cross “…with the other planets forming the cross piece…” I smiled politely and dismissed her as wacked out: trying to shoehorn an astronomical phenomenon into her Christmas story mythology. She said ‘Merry Christmas’ and we made our goodbyes.
Shortly a small pick-up pulled into the parking lot. A hirsute guy approached the fire and said, “Something’s been hit in the road. I’m going to see if I can identify it and [put it on social media] to see if anyone can identify it.” We thanked him for his public service and respect for animals.
The star-gazing woman returned in ‘bomber jacket’ and volunteered that the 8 inch patch on the left lapel honored the ‘lost squadron’ of P-38 airplanes that ran out of gas and had to ditch on an ice floe in WW II. The seven pilots were rescued, thankfully. She went on, “they found the airplanes perfectly preserved in 250 feet of water and used [some kind of crazy tool] to bore a three foot hole in the ice and pulled the airplanes up piece by piece.” After considerable details, she said, The planes were taken to [someplace in] Kentucky where the real Colonel’s Kentucky Fried Chicken was founded. Colonel Sanders is an imposter from some other town.” That led to some stories about fried chicken (a meal enjoyed by Japanese on Christmas Day). We heard more about the P-38’s, then she continued, “…my father got this bomber jacket, but it’s mine now. I have the receipt…”
We broke out the marshmallows and offered her one, but she said she had to get going.
John, animal lover in the pickup, returned with a corpse he laid on the grass blessedly removed from the fire pit. “Maybe you guys can identify this, sorta looks like a cat.” Kim and I went over and immediately saw it was an otter. (We knew of Pinellas otters from Sterling’s numerous encounters with otters while painting in Bear Creek near Yoko’s old house.) John came over to the fire pit with a “what am I supposed to do” air about him. I offered him a mushroom (Freudian slip that was testimony to an evening that was getting curiouser and curiouser). Kim offered to get him a shovel so he could bury the creature (three feet deep so no dog or other animal will be tempted to dig it up). They went off to plant the otter near – but not in – the Memorial Garden.
He came back a few minutes later and announced he was going to bury the beast at his home. He left the shovel by the garage door.
Ruth had come by this point and was enjoying the drama.
I was into some serious marshmallow roasting. We took the ringed screen off the fire pit to more easily access the primo coals for marshmallow roasting. I was putting them away two at a time. We agreed: Who needs chocolate and graham crackers?! I knew I was deep into my sugar addiction and would continue to cook that tasty confection until they were gone. I asked Kim’s opinion. She subtly said, “You’ve probably had enough.” Ya think!!!
We sat and marveled at the evening’s chain of events. It all seemed unreal. We couldn’t believe it. We glowed, reflecting about it, as the embers glowed less and less. We agreed that was quite enough for one evening. Claire doused the fire and we packed up. It was only 8:50 but it seemed much later.