No flies on me!

“Dad would be proud!” These are the words I struggled to share regarding a facebook post I made of a photo K Mae took of me; I actually had to think twice before clicking “post”.  The photo portrayed me sitting on a rock enjoying a snack after a hike up the Hieroglyphics Trail in the Superstition Mountains deep inside Gold Canyon Arizona.  Well before noon, the temperature was rising quickly; it promised to be in the high 80s for the 4th day in a row. I was wearing a light tank top and my favorite LLBean shorts, sunblock and sunglasses. My Open Range hat was on backwards and I hadn’t even noticed. Inside my extremely comfortable Ariat hiking boots, I was wearing my favorite pair of red smart wool socks; the ones I wear in the depths of winter in Maine to be sure my feet will stay warm. On this day, I wanted the most absorbent pair and the ones that would protect my feet from blistering.

My day pack still slung over my shoulder, I had pulled out a piece of cheese and my handy dandy multi-tool purchased at the Skowhegan Maine Wal-Mart. It didn’t matter that the hinge’s spring that provided leverage for the pliers was faulty; it had so many other tools, it was worth keeping.  Nuttah was standing before me waiting patiently for me to share!

At the time, I was not thinking of dad; it was only after seeing the photo that his memory came to mind.  To say that we’d had a rocky relationship is an understatement. It reminded of the saying by the Don Juan character in the Carlos Castaneda series beginning with A Separate Reality “when you feel anger in response to what someone has said or done, it’s because they are important to you”.  Surely I’ve paraphrased but I know this is the gist.  Well dad was the kind of guy that really angered me; and at the same time I loved him deeply and unapologetically. Love never dies!

As I pondered the photo and my thought that he’d be proud, I was reminded of a time when I was extremely challenged by his presence in my life.  We’d been estranged for some time. It was early in my career as a community planner and my office was located across the street from a small grocery. I needed a couple things to start my day and so popped in before work. On my way out, I saw him!

Dad was going through many changes during this time of his life. I cannot pretend to know fully what was going on but I do know that he was living in a tent, by choice, on the waterfront land of a friend. He was remarried by then. Years before he’d experienced a stroke while in surgery. The purpose of the surgery was to replace a heart valve that had been damaged in his adolescence when he suffered from rheumatic fever. At that time of this fever, the doctors said he’d never walk again. After a year in a wheel chair, he proved them wrong. As damaged as his heart was, he was as strong physically and mentally as a bull! The stroke he experienced during the surgery wiped out much of his memory – it was as if his hard drive had crashed!

The day I saw him was also not long after he’d experienced a canoeing accident while wearing waders. It was only years later that he told me the story; somehow, he capsized and was quickly pulled to the bottom of the stream he was fishing by the weight of water filling his booted overalls. Without panicking, he had the wherewithal to remove them while holding his breath under the water and eventually swam up to the surface.  In telling me this story, I saw a glint of his realization that he had cheated death, again! But then, this was a guy who used to swim across the Kennebec River before the environmental cleanup laws were in effect, just so he could get to work. Aside from industrial toxins and debris of all kinds, the river was heavily used by the logging industry at that time. No doubt he was a strong and confident swimmer!

On this summer day, as I was making my way to my office across the street, dad had parked at the far end of the lot and was walking toward the entrance directly in my path.  He was wearing a cowboy hat, a cut off gray sweatshirt with bare arms, long johns over which were a pair of cut off chinos, his work boots and his wool socks.  I don’t remember that he ever wore sunglasses.  We stopped in one another’s paths and said “hello”.  In a state of utter embarrassment, I asked him where he was going.  He naturally said “To the store!”  I replied “like this?” He said “What’s wrong with this?” while looking himself over!  I just shook my head thinking he was one of the strangest people I knew.  His thought was probably something like “no flies on me!”  He knew he had earned his right to be his own person and to not worry about what other people thought! At the time, I simply could not fathom his expression of what it was like to be this free! It took me another 30 years or so to take in that lesson.

So the photo was a reminder….that I am his daughter and that I am at my best when I don’t care about what other people think because in truth what I think others think is really only a reflection of what I think about myself  when I’m too wrapped up in myself to see that! Ha!

Just days before, Nuttah and I had found a dead California quail at the roadside.  Was this coincidence or message?  If everything  I see is a reflection of what is going through my mind, then surely the dead quail had something to say to me. When I looked up the symbolic meaning of quail, I learned that its main message is about family.  Quails are odd little birds; they have this cute little black tassel protruding from their foreheads. It reminds me of the men’s popular hair style from the 50s; bangs combed back with tips allowed to fall forward  (part of the DA, I think).  Except for the beautiful markings on their heads, the backs, wings and tails of these little birds are a dull grey; nothing to show off until you see their breasts.  It’s those feathers – the ones that cover their hearts that show a gorgeous sienna brown edged with white and black with a white stripe down the center. A gorgeous breast plate that says “I protect my beautiful heart!”  Oh, the connections just keep on coming!

I don’t know of another bird with such a feathery head extension. Google suggests that its purpose is to attract a suitable mate (similar to haircuts in a way).  I agree, and I also think it may be used to collect information like an antennae, similar to what is said about hair. Haven’t we all felt our ‘hairs standing on end’ at times where we feel excited, fearful or joyful?

These little birds can fly but prefer to walk quickly or run.  Because they are on foot, they can be readily taken by 4-legged or 4-wheeled predators – the latter may have been the reason we found it.  But that does not deter them; they continue this preference for walking and running before flying.  I guess you could say, they don’t care what others think; they live their lives their way! No flies on them!