The Spring Pigeon

Any time of year can be a time for new love,

but spring has a tradition of such and this little story follows in that tradition.

This story actually happened to me, I swear to god.

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The Spring Pigeon

         The first time Ellis had been in the sleepy little town of Palouse, other than to pass through, was during his later college years in Pullman. He had a good friend that lived there in a rather dilapidated house looking over the Palouse River. Ellis had just separated from his first wife, and was living in his painting studio during the day and under a large maple tree at night. He had tried living full time in his studio, but the campus police had run him out of there several nights in a row with some kind of story about it being against the rules to sleep in one's studio. He had decided, since spring had sprung and the weather was nice, that he would sleep on the lawn outside the studio. The police had a fit the first night or two, but they could find nothing written down anywhere that it violated any rules so they eased up and provided him with after dark surveillance that he always looked at as his own personal security system.
         At any rate, the little town of Palouse had come to his attention, largely because his friend Ray and his wife, had a house guest from San Diego that had just split the sheets with her husband. With rebounds abounding, they hit it off immediately. The first day began with Ellis in his studio struggling with a tricky solder joint on a complex piece of jewelry he was working on. His friend Ray and his guest Sherry walked into the studio about mid morning to invite him to have lunch with them in an hour or so. Ray introduced her as an old friend and almost sister, and said he had a meeting with the dean in five minutes and would it be okay for Sherry to hang out here for a half hour or so. Ellis agreed and Ray left for his appointment. Sherry began looking around at the clutter that makes a studio out of a normal room. His studio was an exceptionally full area with the walls hung full of pictures, tools for jewelry making and gardening, and clothes, and God only knows what else. There were several tables, and chests, and chairs, and a small cot, all piled high with his belongings recently lugged out of the old house where he had lived with his wife. Ellis watched her as she silently surveyed the contents of his room.
         She was a very pretty girl, barely five feet tall, with light brown hair that hung well below her waist. Her skin was well filled and tanned more than one might expect for this early in the spring, and she was sprinkled with a liberal serving of freckles. All in all, she struck Ellis as delicious from the very first. They made small talk about San Diego, wild life, and transcendental meditation while they waited for Ray to return. It turned out that she was quite struck by one of the recent Maharishi's that had become popular about that time, and she spent most of the next hour telling Ellis all about this new Messiah. Her voice flowed on like a river, holding him in suspension as she smoothed the layers of dust and confusion that had been lingering in his studio along with the shadows of his first wife. By the time Ray and his wife Karen walked in, Ellis was completely lost in a trance that held him focused on a single molecule about an inch in front of Sherry's mouth. This was the spot where her breath became sound, and he could see the words form out of vapor. His body had passed beyond his awareness, and he was left with only a spiritual presence. He returned, but only slowly, as Ray and Karen entered the room. Ellis' first real awareness of them returning was when he looked up and Karen was standing right in front of him looking as if she knew exactly where he had just been. He was about to ask her just that, when Ray asked if they were ready to eat something, and the spell was broken. Ellis grabbed his sketch book and a jacket, and they left the building.
         It was a warm day in early May. Everything was green and some early flowers dotted the campus gardens with bits of red and yellow. They all made a "B" line for Ray's VW bus that was parked in the loading zone in front of the studio. Ray flung open the side door revealing an area that resembled the inside of a dumpster, or a Laundromat, or a lumberyard, or all the above and more. Sherry and Ellis piled in without a word, and Ray shut the door. He and Karen jumped in the front and they headed for the little town of Palouse, some fifteen miles North of the University. Pullman itself was not a large town, and they were soon traveling in the open rolling hills that make up the bulk of the area in Eastern Washington they call "The Palouse".
         These beautiful wind blown hills raise high yield grain crops in what was once some of the richest soil in the country. The topsoil is now all but gone after only a hundred years of agricultural erosion that takes far more soil from the land than it can possibly give in grain. The high yields of today are the result of modern chemistry in the form of dry land hydroponics. Without the addition of chemicals this land would produce little more than mud and dust as it moves on to other locations. The road was like a gray ribbon that meandered through, and over, and around, the beautiful rolling green carpet that lay for miles in all directions. The only trees were clustered around the farmers' homes or left in draws too steep or wet to farm. The hills were smooth, and organic, and gentle, and they reminded Ellis of the story this new enticing young woman next to him had been telling earlier. The four of them glided quietly along the gray ribbon for a measureless time until from out of one of the larger draws appeared many trees and several hundred houses and other buildings. This was the town of Palouse sitting near the center of this area of the same name. Coming into town, they crossed the Palouse River, running a chocolate brown from the tons of topsoil it carries every spring further toward the ocean. They also crossed the main street that was loosely lined with nineteenth century brick structures in various stages of disrepair. These fine old buildings had begged for a loving hand for so long that they were hoarse, and stood mute, stained, and crumbling, but still giving warmth to possibly the last generation of thankless tenants.
         They headed North through town turning left and right and then left again. They crossed a bridge of some sort over something that was too far down to see from the bus and then they were there. Ray pulled into a narrow dirt driveway and stopped. They all piled out onto a rough lawn scattered with dandelions and in need of mowing. It was a small house with a front porch running the full width of the building. The paint had long since peeled and faded to where the bare gray wood was exposed to the elements. The roof was patched with tar paper and a large sheet of black plastic. They went into a bright room with large windows and pictures, by various artists, hung over every inch of the walls. The ceilings too were hung with mobiles, and carvings, and even torn scraps of colored paper. The place was so full of things to look at that Ellis' eyes jumped almost randomly, first left, then right, then up or down, or back and forth. Suddenly he felt Sherry's hands against the sides of his face, like blinders on a plow horse.
          "Does that help?" She asked smiling. "There's just too much to look at in here."
          Ellis looked at her with what must have been a confused look of disbelief with a dash of fear thrown in. 'How did she know what he was thinking?' She was standing in front of him with a soft smile that he could only liken to the smile Da Vince put on Mona. She took her hands from the sides of his face and placed the finger tips of one of them lightly against his lips, as if to hush him. It was comforting because he couldn't have spoken at the time anyway. Quite abruptly she turned and walked through the room they were standing in and vanished into a hallway. He stood there frozen for a few moments without any realization of sight. Slowly those things he had seen when he entered the room returned, and before he could move they began to over load his senses again. He thought of the blinders Sherry had given him moments before and that sensation of "too much" subsided. He stepped to the center of the room and turned a full circle or two just to take in as much of the place as he could. It was full all right, and quite wonderful. He went from the room into the same hallway that Sherry had gone and found it led to the kitchen, where Ray was stirring something in a pot on the stove, and Karen was laying out slices of bread on a large wooden table in the center of the room.
         This was another bright room, a bit smaller than the last, but it was easily as full of things to see. The door entered the room at a corner and looking straight ahead was a long counter with cupboards both above and below. There were brightly painted doors covering the lower cupboards, but the upper ones were open to inspection, and inspection they needed. This built in set of shelves housed a wide variety of items, ranging from garden tools, to dishes, to cans of paint, along with some food stuffs, and several cans of motor oil. The cluttered, ten or twelve foot counter turned the corner at the far wall and ran out some four feet to the left before ending at a tall narrow window that looked out into a side yard filled with many ornamental plants. Further to the left of the window was the sink and a short counter nailed up out of wood scraps that must have come from a packing crate. Right next to Ellis as he stood in the doorway was Ray at an electric stove. His shoulder length hair hung in bunches and gobs, in what we might today call dreadlocks, but in 1970 they just figured he hadn't combed it for a while. Ray was small to medium height, and very thin, but not skinny and he wore a thin blond beard.
         Karen's tall slim figure was still working on sandwiches in the middle of the room, and the tips of her nearly waist length hair danced in the peanut butter of one sandwich and the jam of another as she worked her way along the length of their lunch lined up on the wooden table. She stood a bit taller than Ray, but they looked as if they could have been siblings instead of spouses. Their thin straight hair was the same light caramel color and their sharp British features were pinched up out of the same freckled skin.
         Beyond Karen in the middle of the room was a cozy little breakfast nook, built like a bay window, protruding four or five feet out from the wall of the kitchen into the rambling gardens of the back yard. It was like a 1950's cafe booth with a green and gray speckled table top of some pre-Formica material and a band of chrome around the edge. It came complete with slick padded seats, one in red, and one in a green that matched the table. The three walls that made up this small alcove were filled with widows above the backs of the booth seats, and the warm brightness of the day flowed in on Sherry as she sat facing into the kitchen with her legs stretched out on the seat.
         Ray looked up and smiled as Ellis walked into the room. "Sit down," Ray said softly, "this will be ready before you know it. Hope you like clam chowder and peanut butter." Ellis wasn't sure that he had ever tried the combination, but he assured Ray that it sounded good, and he made his way around both Ray and Karen to the breakfast nook, and sat across from Sherry in the booth.
         The breakfast nook looked out over the many small garden plots separated by grass paths that filled the bulk of the back yard as it sloped down slightly from the house. Beyond this well-tended vegetable sanctuary was a short wooden fence separating it from the out back, as it were. Looking past the varied pickets of the fence, the land dropped off quickly into the wild natural breaks of the Palouse river.
          "You have to see the river." Sherry said as she swung her legs off the booth seat and sat up straight. Looking at Karen she asked "How long till it's ready"
          "As long as you like," Karen replied "this stuff will still be here when you come back."
          "Let me show you the river." Sherry said, sliding quickly out of the booth and heading toward a rear door behind where Ellis was sitting.
          "Go see the big chocolate snake." Karen chuckled as he followed her from the house.
         It was bright and Ellis squinted as he stood on the large flat stone that was the landing above the two steps that led down to the backyard. "Come on" she said taking his hand and pulling him off the stone and down the stairs. She led him through the gardens to a gate in the little picket fence that looked as if it had been assembled from recycled lumber of different widths and colors left over from the previous lives of the individual boards. Beyond this little fence, they left the manicured park atmosphere of Ray and Karen's hands, and entered another world that appeared as if it had never been touched by human longings. It was an area some hundred feet wide, running to the North, down over the hillside as it broke for the river. On either side of this virgin ground, were poorly kept pastures of grass, and alfalfa, and weeds. What few small trees and bushes that sprinkled these fields were stripped clean up to the height of where a cow or horse could reach and several had failed to return to life with the recent coming of spring. To the right, three or four horses had stomped the ground into a quagmire of mud and manure that had reduced the pasture to a holding pen for these largely ignored pets.
         This narrow strip of natural land they stood on was in direct contrast to the "man handled" properties all around it, and scattered randomly in loose clumps along the hillside were native bushes of Chokecherry and Honeysuckle, and further down, closer to the water was Redosier Dogwood, and Service berry, and many more Ellis couldn't identify. Filling the open spaces between the brushy cover of these shrubs, were several kinds of thin grasses mixed with a few scattered wild flowers that added spots of blue and yellow to the otherwise expanse of different greens that filled the view. As the ground broke off and headed for the river that lay below them, the soil thinned and basalt rocks protruded from the steepening slope. At the foot of the hill the ground leveled out into a large flat, some quarter of a mile across, and they could see nearly a mile to the North before the bends of the river led this shallow canyon out of sight. The chocolate snake, as Karen had called the river, lay twisting and writhing in this green flat expanse of pasture grass. First on one side of the valley and then the other, the river meandered back and forth across the flat at will, carrying with it tons of soil that had been stripped from the exposed and bleeding fields up stream.
         They walked down over the hill a ways to where a basalt outcropping had made a kind of natural bench for them to sit on and look at the river. Sherry sat with her hands folded in her lap, looked straight up the river and closed her eyes. Her breathing deepened and slowed as she drifted off to some new plain that left Ellis behind, still clinging to the stones and stanzas of some earthly tune. He sat quietly beside her listening to her soft breathing as she traveled to those distant places that he had only dreamed of. The white noise of the river rose up from the flat below and mingled with her breathing song, to become a new tone that crowded out everything else that lay jumbled in his mind. Like a ringing in his ears this sound filled him completely leaving no room for anything else, and his sight, and thoughts, and feelings slid smoothly out of his consciousness. Time stopped as he was drawn into a kind of union with this mysterious woman that had come into his life only a few hours before.
          Several pigeons flew overhead from the neighbor's dovecote to a near by grain elevator, and sparrows and robins chirped out lively mating songs from the trees and shrubs around them. All the smells of spring rose up out of the earth, surrounding them in a warm fresh blanket that Ellis tried to tuck tighter around himself as he sat motionless on the cool stone. The Sound of a crop duster roared up out of the valley in front of them, breaking the spell that had been cast on them by the wonderful combinations of spring, and time, and circumstance. The small plane rose nearly straight up from the valley, made a sharp turn and swooped back toward the ground with its engines screaming and leaving a cloud of some kind of herbicide hanging in the air as it disappeared again.
          "I love spring." She said, putting her hand on his. "It's as if everything has been saving up all winter, just to jump out all at once and surprise you with things and feelings you had forgotten about."
          As he looked at her, everything seemed to click. The time was right, even the breeze stopped for a moment and that very important first kiss seemed eminent. Their eyes met for a brief instant before they moved instinctively toward each other and their eye lids closed loosely. Just an inch or two before their lips touched, Ellis felt something warm and very wet hit him on his upper lip and slide directly into his slightly open mouth. He jerked a little and opened his eyes, just in time to glimpse a shadow pass over them. Looking up, he could see a pigeon making its way back to the neighbor's dovecote. When he turned back toward Sherry, with yes, pigeon shit dripping out of his mouth, there was nothing to do but laugh. First she looked confused, but when she saw his mouth, she smiled and shrugged her shoulders and reached up with her hand and wiped his mouth.
          "Wow!" She said "One of springs tasty little surprises."
          "Like chalk, it tastes like chalk." Ellis murmured, as he wiped his tongue on the back of his hand.
          She laughed and jumped up. "Let's go eat lunch." She called as she headed back toward the house.
          He rose and followed her, still trying to wipe the chalky taste out of his mouth. Needless to say, their first kiss was delayed. This delay, however, may have set a cheery stage for the beautiful week that followed, but at the end of about a week she returned to San Diego, leaving Ellis with a whole fist full of feelings, and considerably more inclined to believe in magic.
          He spent sometime after that looking into various Eastern religions related to Buddhism. He read books, joined discussions at the university, and even became part of a transcendental meditation group, and received his own mantra. Although he didn't practice these rituals and meditations for more than a year or so with any regularity, he has made good use of many of the things he learned during those times.

 

Copyright 2007. Ed Gnaedinger.