Guest Columnist

Fly south, but the north has small advantages

Not long after my neighbor and I finished moving the snow from my lane another neighbor from up the road came rumbling down on his John Deere to see if he could help. He shut down the diesel, I leaned on a front wheel and we talked, and talked, and talked, of all manner of things, ending with politics and him smiling and saying, “If you elect a clown, expect a circus.” All I could do was smile along with him.

After my neighbor turned for home I did my best with some loose snow to sculpt a crude homage to my white cat Portia. She’s an old cat these days, about my age actually, though I’m not convinced anyone really understands cat years versus human years. All I know is that the future is as short as the past has been long.

Portia has been a faithful, trusting companion for a very long time, coming to me as a week-old, one-pound survivor of an attack in a neighbor’s barn, a short skirmish in which her siblings were eaten. Coyotes probably. She survived because her mother grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and carried her up to the haymow, away from the bloodbath below.

Barn swallows have been gathering in a shrub out in front of my house and it’s not right. Beautiful birds, blue backs and wings, and cinnamon breasts. They are supposed to be enjoying themselves in warm South or Central America this time of year. I wish they’d go south. No one will stop them at the border. Maybe it’s global warming. I don’t know. “Gone away is the blue bird” no longer applies here. So it goes.

I hate going in to town, but I had to last week, sharing a hospital waiting room with a young mother and her two children, a preschooler and a kindergartner. You know them. The world is full of these kids; very cute, approaching adorable. We got on well, the children and I, lots of laughter. Mom was glued to a cellular phone. Then the preschooler said to me, “We have an older brother. He’s eleven. He hits us.”

There it is, a showstopper. The real world speaks up and I don’t know what to do. There is no moral high ground here, no way to respond. Besides, it’s none of my business. With a big smile, the last thing I say to the two children before my name is called is this, “If your brother hits you, give me a call.” The kindergartner says. “OK.” So now I’ve given a child false hope. I am such an idiot.

The snow has begun to melt. A number of healthy-looking deer have been hanging around the house, digging down to the grass in the backyard. Weather people tell me another storm is coming, but I don’t care. My contemporaries who spend the winter in Florida and Arizona think they’re living the good life. They’re wrong. They never encounter children.

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• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.

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