Maybe it’s a magpie nesting in the rain gutter above my second-story bedroom window, but it sounds more like an elk rubbing velvet from his antlers. I lie in bed and sort through what I know for sure.
Do I know the sound of velvet being rubbed? No. The sound of a magpie landing in its nest? No. Maybe I should slip out of bed and make sure it isn’t an undone latch, or a deer uprooting the yellow rose bush. But the sound comes again: a cascade of feathers brushing against a wall? The velvet of an elk?
Is it, in fact, the velvet season? I reach for my phone and google from beneath the quilts: When do elks velvet?
Google answers back: Why don’t woodpeckers get concussions?
Never mind, Google. I’ll text a midnight shout-out to my brother: Is it elk velvet time? I think I just heard an elk rubbing against the siding of my house.
Message sent, I fall back asleep.
And when morning comes my phone is flashing: You don’t even live in elk country.
This is the week I will make my mother’s meatloaf. Not so much for the hot meal, but to try a cold meatloaf sandwich and discover what I’ve been missing. Bread crumbs (not cracker crumbs), evaporated milk, green peppers and onions and Mom’s homemade barbeque sauce.
“How critical is it to use Worcestershire sauce?” I ask her on the phone, a bottle of A-1 sauce in my free hand.
“Oh, you can use that instead. Sure. Hey, did Fishing Guy ever get his spices back?”
“I dunno, Mom.” I open the lid to the A-1 sauce and sniff. It still smells the way it did last time I used it. Most ingredients in my house have expired. It’s not a bad idea to do the sniff and check. “Did I tell you about the sound that woke me in the middle of the night?”
“Because what you could do is run to Albertson’s. They have their spice packs on sale right now. Ten for ten dollars.”
“At first I thought it was a wing-beat, like a bird sliding off my house.”
“One of the packs comes with dry mustard. That would be good in his bean recipe.”
“Then I thought maybe elk rubbing velvet off.”
“You might want to check your potato bucket. Remember that time we were all playing Midnight Poker and I kept hearing sounds? You kids still don’t believe me, but the next day, I found all my potatoes had fallen out.”
After the last photo shoot, we gather around the laptop and page through the photos. Down in the living room, we have the PBS channel dialed in. The sound of someone teaching something soothes the three of us. Cooking cod, decorating on a budget, learning how to tie flies—it doesn’t matter. The orderly structure promises tomorrow’s calm.
Today: Trees, and the planting of. Our attention is diverted from the photos. We think of how it’s too late to plant an apple orchard when you calculate how many years until the first apple pie; of how we never did cut down the spruce tree in my yard, and now magpies have moved in and chased away the songs.
The three of us stand transfixed—the PBS tree man is digging a hole with just the right shovel. “Oh, he’s going to bury trees,” my daughter predicts. This from the one whose mother forgets she doesn’t live in elk country. From the grandmother who knows the sound of potatoes falling.
We turn back to the photos. The sky is wrong with one shot, and the shadows are wrong with the next. What the photos need is the cut and paste tool. Blend the two together. But we agree: No contrived photos.
We don’t borrow clouds, I remind them. Even though Ansel Adams did.
And speaking of borrow, they remember why they stopped by in the first place—to borrow a gift bag, box and tissue paper. All stored in a closet next to my bedroom door.
Down the hall, turn right, open the door and voila! the closet is a mess. Curly ribbon, thrice-used bows and seventy-eight sheets of gently-used, already-fluffed tissue had somehow spilled from the bags on the top shelf, taking a midnight fall.
Photo by my niece: Kelsey O’Keefe