JULY (The Dumpster)

Mistletoe in JulyA one-lane ally behind stores with junky back-lots... the rear entrances of a bicycle shop, a photography shop, a computer sales office, a beauty salon, a restaurant specializing in Mexican food...  Behind the Mexican-food restaurant a large green dumpster filled with trash...

In mid summer, with Persimmon and Hollyhock almost grown and needing very little attention, Mistletoe finds herself filled with the urge to explore. Roaming the alleyway between Peace Hill Park and the backsides of stores facing West End Avenue, our squirrel sees things completely new to her. And this big dumpster behind the Mexican food restaurant is as interesting as any discovery could be.

Maybe Mistletoe's thinking goes like this: If the small, green trash-can beneath the Black Walnut tree on Peace Hill is such fun, then surely this huge, green dumpster behind the Mexican-food restaurant can be even more fun! In less than half a minute, Mistletoe finds herself treading atop the biggest, most fascinating mound of paper, bottles and tin cans she's ever seen.

Soon our squirrel is tunneling through a fantastic mountain of crazy-smelling trash. And what odors and tastes! She licks an empty olive-oil can until not a drop of oil is left. She nibbles a green and puckered chili pepper until her lips and tongue tingle with burning. Sniffing an empty tequila bottle, she shakes her head with disgust. Finding a half-eaten tortilla, she devours the whole thing, and then goes on to find scraps of tamales, tacos, chorizos, and chicharrones...

Then, outside the dumpster, there comes a grinding and a certain kind of roaring, ending with the entire garbage container heaving from a hard jolt. Caught in darkness deep inside the garbage, Mistletoe frantically begins digging upwards, but for some reason "upwards" seems to be changing direction!

The whole dumpster vibrates and creaks and turns onto its side... Crazy with fear, Mistletoe discovers herself and the garbage around her avalanching to one side. Pickle jars, empty taco-shell boxes, and empty hot-sauce bottles tumble over and over, and Mistletoe tumbles with them, and everything cascades like rushing water in a waterfall! Abruptly everything crashes into a heap, pressure and more pressure comes from the side, and there's no way for a squirrel to understand that now she and the garbage have been emptied into a garbage truck.

For a while there's silence, but before long there comes another soul-shaking grinding and even more pressure. Most terrifying, however, is that the most penetrating of all the odors around here is the stench of the garbage truck's rusty metal sides. It's the same stink she smelled that day in March when she became entangled in the horrible metal slinky... ! More than any odor, to Mistletoe, this smell of rust means danger and pain!

Several times the rumbling returns, more pressure is felt, and then finally there comes a different, very long rumbling, that to Mistletoe seems never to end. When it does end, it's only moments before once again Mistletoe's whole world begins tilting, and once again she and everything around her avalanche outward and downward. Suddenly blinding sunlight mingles with cascading napkins, bottles, cans, cardboard boxes, and our squirrel a single speck within the storm.

Tumbling, Mistletoe tries to run in mid air. The first instant her paws strike something solid, her strange-looking tail sticks straight up, and she trips, slides, scrambles, and flees, in whatever direction her head is pointing, never once looking behind her.

At last she can run no further. She sees a dead tree, climbs it and looks around.

The city's garbage dump is a vast hole in the ground. No living thing is visible anywhere, except that in one corner of the pit a human on a bulldozer nudges dirt over a huge mound of trash. The sun is bright and the heat is unbearable. No wind. A horrible stench. Mistletoe perches in her dead tree looking and looking, but nothing... nothing... looks or smells at all familiar.

When at last our squirrel feels brave enough to descend to the ground, she heads away from the clattering bulldozer. At the dump's edge she scrambles up a steep earthen embankment with weeds growing at its top. Hesitatingly she enters the weeds and quickly becomes disoriented in the large abandoned lot. For over two hours she wanders aimlessly through tall grass and ragweed, circling without knowing it; when finally she emerges from her jungle, she finds herself next to a highway.

It's a very busy highway, a limited-access four-laner, with an endless stream of coming and going cars. On Peace Hill Mistletoe has learned not to cross such roads so now she runs along the highway's grassy shoulder, the weedy field on one side and the traffic on the other. The cars pass frightfully near, but Mistletoe cannot stop for she is suddrunning.

Noise from the passing cars, heat of the late afternoon, the endless, weedy highway shoulder, discarded bottles, cans... on and on and on our squirrel travels, until at dusk she finds a bridge. It's a concrete bridge beneath which are angles and corners where a squirrel can hide.

******

At dawn the next morning Mistletoe sees that the bridge crosses a large river. Not far away lies a farmhouse, a barn, and a large fenced-in pasture in which cattle lazily graze, and beyond the pasture, a woods.

Mistletoe bounds toward the big pasture. Sliding through the wire fence surrounding the pasture and embarking upon the sea of grass, Mistletoe finds the grass heavy with dew; now the dew's wetness and coldness send shivers through Mistletoe's body -- shivers that mingle with other shivers caused by our squirrel's growing anxiety. Anxiety, yes, for in this land Mistletoe is an intruder, and it's natural for any squirrel to feel uneasy when trespassing onto unknown territory.

Five minutes of bounding through the wet grass brings Mistletoe to the woods on the pasture's far side. She pauses to gaze at the woods, for she suddenly finds within herself conflicting feelings. What dangerous thing might await her now there in the woods? Yet, being in an open field like this also is dangerous...

Compared to the widely spaced park-trees on Peace Hill, these trees grow so closely together that they make a dark green wall. Here greens are so dark, and shadows are so deep...

Our squirrel moves into the woods. In her mind now there are no thoughts of the past and none for the future. Her only thought is to climb a tree.

Continue to AUGUST