A Giant Steel Claw; My Muslim Friends; A Sapsucker and a Salamander

Was startled last week when a giant mechanical claw reached out with an angry snatching motion, close by me, to clamp over a container of greenery and dumped its contents into its maw and crunched it up there. All true.

Of course, it was the robotic grabber of a big sanitation truck that picks up green waste; others come by for garbage and recyclables. Each one has a giant mechanical pincer– I’ve set cans out for them for years but never before had I seen the steel claw harvesting up close, ten feet away, nor seen how fiercely it grabbed the can. Maybe the operator did it that way to startle me for his own amusement. “Shoulda seen that one jump, Mort.”

I went to work in the sun on my steep hill of a back yard–a little shaken by the computerized mechanical fury of that grabbing arm. Painting a deck railing calmed me some and I heard the sound of our Afghani Muslim neighbors, going about their lives. The patriarch, a good-natured fellow, was working with his toddler grandchild nearby, singing to the pudgy little guy in Pashto, interposing English phrases now and then as the boy brought him things. “Oh, you bring me a pie, you are cook now! Yum, you are good cook!” The child’s Grandma was close by, on the phone to someone, speaking cheerily in Pashto. The language has a pleasant bubbling sound; I couldn’t understand her in any defined way, but I could tell by her rhythm and tone she was reassuring someone, telling a funny anecdote. After awhile it was time for Granddad’s prayers, and he never misses them, I hear him like clockwork, mid day, mid afternoon, sunset, later at night…a soothing sound, mysterious droning words resonating with respect, an even-tempered reverence…I feel good, hearing them; their talk, their prayers. The sounds of a kindly family, an inner life projected onto the outer world…

As I worked, I paused to watch a red-headed sapsucker tapping at a tree, working his way upward; some taps tentative probes, others more regular as he hit pay dirt, consuming sap and bugs along with them.

Yesterday I went to Orchard Supply where I chanced on an arboreal salamander hiding between two sacks of bark mulch. He was rusty-brown with white spots and bulgy black eyes. I was afraid for him there, so fished him out and cupped him in my hands and carried him through the store and out the front; I was uncomfortably aware that people were watching me walking out with something hidden cupped in my hands…I took him behind the store and released him through a bottom chain-link in the hurricane fence. Slippery little dude darted into the large weed filled vacant lot. Some salamanders can be toxic to the touch and he was a trifle slimy so I hurried to wash my hands but I felt absurdly good about this insignificant rescue…

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