The Middle Ages: I’m basking in the sideways winter light, but with an eye toward spring

The winter sun comes in sideways, showing every speck of dust and the crud coating the patio windows. So what.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

We seem in a funk — post-holidays, post-football — peeking out the window to see whether spring is coming. You can almost imagine the summer scents: sunscreen, sausage on the grill, live bait, baseball. Yet not quite.

Even California finally got a dose of cold, and now rain, and some wet late-winter snow — heavy, high-grade Sierra butter.

The winter sun is still low, and the shards of light come in sideways on the starboard side, showing every speck of dust and the crud coating the patio windows. So what. A little dirt never hurt any house.

It’s the dog hair I loathe, and the dogs, both of which joined our household under dubious circumstances. No one came to the inspector general — me — and asked: “Hey, can we raise this beagle? Can we adopt this wolf?”


No. The 300-pound beagle and the wolf (White Fang) just moved in one day, leaving me to feed them at 3 a.m., or let them out at sunup. Obviously, we need a new inspector general. This current one is seriously underperforming.

The dog and wolf are like a veteran politician who can identify all the skeptics in the room, then gradually win them over. The animals feed off my disinterest. They wait by the front door for me, their eager faces in the window. If there’s anything I’m a sucker for — and there really are a million things — it’s the welcoming face of a dog or wolf who loves you no matter what.

I now write them both off on my taxes, and the IRS has yet to question it. I think the feds understand the burden I’m under.

The other day, I was digging in the yard. Sometimes, I just go out there with an ax and a shovel and start swinging for the fences. At one point, the holes and trenches made it look as if I were installing a sprinkler system, so I did.

All these mounds of dirt puzzle the neighbors, as does the length of time I spend accomplishing so little. The wise guys — and my neighbors are mostly wise guys roll down their car windows when they pass.

“How’s it going?” they yell.

“You say that,” I say, “as if it could possibly be going well.

“Well, is it?”

(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times )

It is a splendid mess she creates. I told my daughter the other day that, with this one dish, she had re-invented breakfast.

When you own a home, one thing leads to another. First, I scraped off the old sod, most of it the color of urine, in hopes of installing a new front yard the gophers could be proud of. Then the ancient sprinkler system went sfffffttttttt. It apparently dated to the Bronze Age.

The dogs were very impressed and quick to pitch in. The wolf, who has more digging power than the Corps of Engineers, accomplished the most. She backhoed the one section of PVC that I had finished, to create a cool hole in which she could lounge. Wolves seem to crave permafrost and isolation.

This is one of the joys of keeping an undomesticated wolf. White Fang sits there proudly in her muddy nest, watching me work the land. She smiles as I bloody-knuckle the old sprinkler valve, hoping to avoid undermining our suburb’s entire water system. That takes time … the bleeding, the cussing. It’s good to have some company.

From inside, the wolf and I can smell toast burning. My family consistently burns toast because everyone sets the dial to something different, then forgets to turn it back. The house smells of angry yeast.

Or of a dryer about to catch fire.

We are mostly a civil family, yet world wars can erupt over whether someone forgot to transfer wet clothes from the washer to the dryer, or who took the last paper towel and didn’t replace the roll.

It’s 10 steps away, the new roll, so I can sort of understand.

From the yard, I can hear the screaming, as they work together to resolve these important issues.

I can also smell the toast. Our honey-haired daughter Rapunzel, who might shed even more than the wolf, does this thing with toast, where she smears garlic-avocado spread that she buys at the farmers’ market, then plops aboard a slice of tomato and a peppery fried egg. Maybe some pesto, whatever pesto is.

It is a splendid mess she creates. I told her the other day that, with this one dish, she had re-invented breakfast, a meal that — much like her old man — hadn’t much changed since the Milky Way was born.

She seemed pleased by that. Millennials know how to take a compliment. They accept it with grace and a smile, and the underlying knowledge that they somehow really deserve it.

“Thanks, dude,” she cooed.

I asked her: “Ever eat a breakfast, but your mind was elsewhere, and when you were done, you didn’t remember eating your breakfast at all?”

“So, you want two breakfasts?” she asks.

Sure, dude.

Twitter: @erskinetimes