All Before 9 AM

A few mornings ago, I got out of bed and found this on the kitchen table:

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There was no reason to doubt its legitimacy. I recognized Martin’s handwriting and he was up before me.

Plus, no one has time to pull a prank at that hour.

I surveyed the box — he could’ve weighed down the lid with a bowl or a plate — but the top appeared to be undisturbed….

So I shoved it aside and started packing lunches.

A short while later, the kids emerged. They gobbled down their cereal and carried the box outdoors.

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I later learned that Martin discovered the corn snake while mucking stalls. The creature was coiled around the pitchfork handle, attempting an ascent to a bird’s nest.

As punishment, Martin decided that the snake should spend time with the kids. So he placed it where it wouldn’t be missed.

After being stuffed in a shoebox, the snake was less than thrilled to be poked and prodded on the deck.

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When Cayden tried to detain him, the snake bit his hand.

So we released the reptile on his own recognizance, and he vanished into the pumpkin patch.

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After that we piled into the car, but pulled over within a few miles to watch Pigpen’s odometer hit the 250,000 mark. We shouted out the open windows. I photographed the event.

Hadley thought we should celebrate with ice cream.

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From there, it was off to camp.

But not before The Boy shed his braces at the orthodontist’s office.

And all before 9 AM.

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Serial Shredder

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The riding lawnmower and I do NOT get along.

Whenever I’m paired with it, something gets broken, knocked loose, bent or shredded. This problematic relationship dates back years ago, to its maiden voyage with me: I mowed over a metal jump cup and bent the blade.

Since then, the casualties have been less costly  — tennis balls, kids’ toys, ornamental plants and a few garden hoses. Still, Martin never asks me to cut the grass.

And he’s mystified by my inability to start the mower, despite several tutorials. I guess he figures that ineptitude hobbles my usage.

(And starting it is one reason why I hate the thing. In my defense, the icons are inane. The choke symbol — two hash marks and a diagonal line? It’s meaningless. Equally baffling is the tortoise and hare symbol for the throttle. I never know which lever should be where, and typically the engine fires but doesn’t catch.)

But on Monday, I had a stroke of luck. Martin was bush-hogging with the tractor, creeping along and stopping frequently to scrape seed heads from the radiator or to clear his lungs of the carbon monoxide, billowing from the broken exhaust.

I felt sorry for him, so I shoved the key into the mower’s ignition, toggled the levers this way and that and — for once — the thing growled to life. Success!

I commenced mowing, tracing the fence line, so Martin could witness my good deed. He was nearly done bush-hogging and soon could chill out.

I made one more pass then took a path around the boxwoods. Almost immediately, the engine shrieked and ground to a stop with a violent shudder. I sat on the silent machine as a plume reeking of burnt rubber rose around me. In the distance, the tractor was still chugging along.

I hiked into the field and flagged Martin down.

“So there I was, minding my own business, cutting the grass when suddenly, the hose by the magnolia tree flung itself in front of the mower!” I said, waving my arms for emphasis.

“Another hose?” he asked before surveying the crime scene. “Jesus, Jo! You got the hammock in there, too?”

It’s true, both yard items teamed up in this brutal attack.

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After that, Martin didn’t say much. He rolled around on the ground, stuck his arm beneath the mower, grumbled a lot and finally freed the blades from the tangle of rubber and rope.

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Promising to be more careful, I took off cutting grass before he could say much else.

I was on high-alert for toys near the jungle gym, and that’s why it took a minute to realize that the mower was rearing up on its hind wheels. Perplexed, I pushed the steering levers forward and the mower really popped a wheelie. So I quickly yanked it backwards and it came down, hitting the ground with a bang.

Somehow, I’d snagged the mowing deck on the two-seater swing on the jungle gym.

I quickly glanced around to make sure that Martin was on the tractor, out of sight.

He was standing right behind me, mouth agape.

What could I do?

I peeled out there, taking refuge behind the boxwoods.

I still hate that damn mower, but at least it moves fast.

To Kill a Mockingbird

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In the summer months, birds chatter and chirp all day long and mostly, it’s pleasant background music. White sound.

I hardly notice our barn swallows twittering as they commune on the telephone line. (Though they kick up a clamor when a crow swoops into the barn or a cat slinks by.)

And I don’t mind the bird-brained cardinal who head-butts the hallway window for hours at a time. (The kids call him “Crazy Bird.”)

They’re all fine. It’s the mockingbird that I despise.

Because he never shuts up.

You might believe that a mockingbird sounds nice — trilling through his repertoire of tunes.

And it’s ok… in small doses. But our bird sounds off nonstop, nearly 24 hours a day. With my sleep issues, I’ll often wake to hear his shrill songs. His choice perches are the trees that flank the house. He’s raucous at sunrise, midday when the sun is high, and all through the night.

It borders on noise pollution and some mornings I can’t stop myself from yelling, “Shut Up!” as I cross the yard. He doesn’t miss a beat.

“He sounds like he’s imitating different car alarms,” Martin said one evening, as the bird blared from our magnolia tree.

Apparently, this behavior — unfettered singing all night and day — is normal for unmated males. Females also sing, but they are quieter and less vocal.

Mockingbirds also are intelligent, territorial species. One study found that they can recognize and remember individual people whom they perceive are a threat. They can identify a face in a crowd. (I sure as hell couldn’t tell two mockingbirds apart.)

As for their vocalizations, one website notes that they can imitate more than 30 bird songs in succession, but they also branch out to copy cats, dogs, frogs, squirrels, squeaky brakes, and yes… car alarms.

Apparently fruit is a dietary stable and in those rare moments when our bird isn’t belting out his greatest hits, he’s stuffing his beak with our black raspberries.

Once a male mockingbird finds a mate, his simmers down a bit. I wish this guy would hook up already.

Or take song requests… maybe, “The Sound of Silence.”

The latest update: I sat on this material for 7 to 10 days before publishing it, and since then, our mockingbird has found a girl. He’s now just another bird around the barnyard, and is most vocal when he perches on the telephone line and scolds the cats as they saunter near his nest.