Al Batt is an American writer whose columns and short pieces appear in a whole batch of publications. I know him from his pieces in Bird Watcher’s Digest. He is my favourite writer on things natural. His stream of consciousness pieces and fun, stimulating, tangental and sometimes as mad as a rabbit. I love them and love the man.
Below is a piece he sent me because I had written a tribute in the form of a pastiche which was going to appear in a magazine but was pulled as the editor didn’t think there was ‘room for two ‘stream of consciousness pieces’… some people take themselves too seriously!
Under his piece is my tribute…
An episode with a pepper
I recall the day I learned of the treachery of things disguised as food.
I was in Anzalduas County Park, nestled along the Rio Grande River near Mission, Texas. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was having a nice time looking at birds in the park. I had seen a clay-colored robin, a vermillion flycatcher, a northern beardless-tyrannulet and a gray hawk. I was scanning the trees with my binoculars, searching for a tropical parula. The park was filled with people cooking and eating. The sun was shining and kids were playing. I was looking through my binoculars into the leaves of a giant tree, when I first heard the voice.
“What are you looking at?”
I turned to the questioner, a man, and told him that I was looking for a bird.
“Yeah?” he acknowledged. “I suppose that I’m getting to the age where I should start watching birds.”
“Everyone should watch birds,” I replied. “So of course, you should be watching birds. How old are you?”
He told me. Surprisingly, we were the same age.
“What day is your birthday?” I asked.
“March 16,” he said.
“March 16? That’s my birthday!” I said. Talk about your coincidences.
The next thing I knew, we were getting out our driver’s licenses and showing them to one another. It was true. We were born on exactly the same day, with him about an hour older than me.
“It’s a sign,” he said. “Come on, you’re coming over here and eat with my family.”
I took him up on his offer. A man has to respect his elders, even if they are so by only an hour. Besides, it fit into the three keys to happiness that my grandmother told me about. She said that if I do these three things, I have a good chance for a happy life. The three keys are: Never miss a chance to put your feet up. Never miss an opportunity to go to the bathroom. Never pass up any free food. Grandma was right. Grandmas usually are.
I walked across the park to a picnic table where I was introduced to his family. My new friend, an electrician, had a wife and a 10-year-old daughter. They were charming and gracious hosts. I ate fried bread and beefsteak. The food was great. Then my host offered me a concoction made from peppers.
“What is this?” I asked, capturing a bit of pepper on my spoon. Peppers worry me. I grew up in a family where ketchup was considered a hot seasoning. We used only used three spices – salt, pepper and ketchup. Even mustard was too exotic for us. We thought peppers came in three forms – hot, hotter and call the ambulance. My favorite song is, “There Ain’t No Burrito Mild Enough.”
“It’s a habanero,” he said with a smile.
“It’s going to be hot, isn’t it?” I asked.
“No,” he said with another smile. Men lie about such things. “Eat it. It’s good for you. It will put hair on your chest.”
I have hair on my chest. I asked the same question of his wife. Women tell the truth about such things.
“It is very hot,” she said. She gave me a sympathetic look. Perking up, she added, “It will certainly curl the hair you have on your chest.”
That was all I needed to hear to decline the offer. I wasn’t going to eat the peppered dish offered me, but then I noticed the 10-year-old daughter looking at me. She was sizing me up. My manhood was at stake.
There was only one thing I could do.
I took a tiny spoonful and tossed it into my mouth.
I heard bacon sizzling.
How can I describe the sensation? It wasn’t food. It was a toxic waste spill. It was lip remover in a bowl. It was as painful as stepping barefooted on a Lego in the middle of the night. My mouth was on fire. It was as if I were eating a dish of red-hot needles. I quickly realized that I had just consumed a lifetime supply of the pepper.
I had no milk to put out the dancing flames. Only dairy products can put out my mouth fires. It burned my lip and my tongue. It burned all the way to my stomach. I walked through five states before the fire went out. It was the ultimate diet dish, but in just a couple of weeks, I was hungry again. But I had eaten the habanero pepper soup of death and lived to tell the story.
My new friend called the concoction a double-burner. It burned going in and coming out.
I have discovered that time does heal all wounds. There are days now when my digestive system barely smolders.
(C) Al Batt 2002
Here is my pastiche…
I knew it was March because the hares were going mad. They were haring across the fields. Three hares chased each other, stopped and thought about it and then chased each other back the other way. I knew it would stop when one decided not to be chaste any more. Their antics were not as pointless as they seemed.
I know about pointless, I’m a birdwatcher. An acquaintance, unable to get his head around the why of birding asked if I took photos of the birds I chased. He was a golfer, I asked him if he took photos of a little white ball going down a hole… now he got it, …birders are mad.
I went into the bird hide. There is room in there for a dozen birders or one person talking loudly. Luckily it was his day off. I looked over the scrape. It’s called a scrape as the birds are scraped together to make ends meet. Today the scraping must have been from the bottom of the barrel as it was very quiet. The wind whistled through the viewing slots and a few teal whistled while they worked up an appetite. A lone curlew was poking his nose in where it did concern him. One egret was hunting fish by himself, he had no egrets.
Sparrows scattered from the willows when a merlin flew through so low it had to hop up each time it encountered a tall weed. Magic! But that’s what you’d expect from Merlin. I went back to the car to join Hawkeye. She likes company when we are birding, …her own. I told her the birding was very quiet so far, she told me to keep it that way.
It was trying to be Spring, but no one had told the Winter breeze still visiting from Siberia. It still kept trying, buds threatened to burst, blossom on a cherry was wondering where the bees were. A solitary bee had set his alarm too early and made a bee-line for the blossom.
Some birds had been queuing all night and got worms. I recall my grandmother used to ask me if I had worms when I squirmed on her lap. Anyone would have squirmed if granny had ever brushed their hair, no wonder my dad was bald. Dad was a policeman and a fisherman. When he was on nightshift he would collect worms from people’s lawns using his flashlight. He kept the worms in a tin, no one knew as he kept it under his hat. Thrushes who queued all night resented my dad getting to the worms first.
Cows wandered the marshes. The fields were scattered with molehills and cow pats. Very occasionally three or four cow pats walked a short way so I could tell they were grey partridge. They knew spring was around the corner as they cuddled in a lovey-dovey covey.
It wasn’t that early but the larks were up. I listened intently to their song, it said summer had started the long journey north.
A buzzard circled high above. Rabbits didn’t notice, the buzzard had his eye on them. Rabbits aren’t that bright, if they were they would stop eating their own droppings and think about a decent breakfast instead, I know I was, so was the buzzard. Some rabbits had bright eyes from watching Watership Down, they scattered to their warren at the shadow of a passing crow. For some reason, I wondered if I would see a white rabbit disappear down a hole, I was birding in wonderland.
I’d love to go birding with Al Batt but no-one has offered to cover the air fare. We birders have deep pockets, but they are full of bird seed and snacks. Mine are full of rye in case there are a couple of dozen hungry blackbirds about.
You probably think I’ve gone All Batty, Y the L not.
© Bo Beolens 2017