Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Tree Guard's First Christmas: Part Three

THEN CAME THE BAG. The canvas sack was so massive that the man himself could’ve fit inside it, and indeed, I thought he might try when I saw him open its lip and bend over to look inside. I strained to see the man’s face. Finally, he turned. I saw red cherry cheeks and a white beard – the face of my enemy. Without hesitation, I raised the alarm.

Did I mention I can sing? Well, my song is a gift given me by the Creator in order to alert the household of intruders. Thankful for the training that taught me to sing on call, I began.

“Deck the halls with boughs of holly! Fa la la la la, la la la la!” I didn’t know what the words meant, but they served their purpose, if only for a moment. The intruder spun suddenly, bumping his head on the fireplace, then realized that I was only a penguin. He laughed at me, mockingly.

Can I describe how deeply he shamed me, then? My alarm was useless to alert anyone in the household. The corpulent thief crunched on the chicks’ colorful biscuits, drank their white liquid, and rummaged beneath the tree – right beneath my very watch post! Oh, the sacrilege! He mostly likely put some of the packages there into his bag. He tampered with the humans’ footwear that I assumed was hanging over the fireplace to dry, and crept about in a generally menacing way. My song continued all the while.
At the end of the night, though, I failed. The human slipped back through the chimney, the way he had come – what kind of foul creature has the power to ascend through such a portal?

Photo courtesy Angela Wyant/Getty Images
So, that was my first duty as a Tree Guard. I couldn’t do what needed to be done, and it still haunts me. What haunts me more, though, is that the bearded man is still at large. How many other homes will he enter while the Guards stand useless to help? How many more children will cringe and cry at the sight of this human’s picture?

The adult female human is taking down the Tree Guards today – I saw her removing the long, rectangular barracks from storage – so I know my yearlong period of contemplation begins soon. Heed my story, human. Keep the details in mind, for I won’t be around to tell them again for a while. If you have any loyalty to your own species, find the man with the white beard and guard your nest from him. I wish you the best on your hunt, until I return.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Tree Guard's First Christmas: Part Two

I WAS PROUD WHEN the adult female human chose me off the metal precipice five weeks ago – it wasn’t until she stationed me in my first tree that I became nervous. I stood between a rather taciturn gold reindeer and a star, which couldn’t talk at all, so I felt both unsure and lonely. However, each evening when the adult female human reached behind the tree and made the small white lights come on, I puffed up with pride, knowing that I was helping to keep her nest safe.

Many people came in and out during those first few weeks of The Watch, including the human’s partner, two young chicks, and an assortment of other humans that the female greeted warmly when they entered the nest. To my relief, no one attempted to break in at night, especially not that bearded, red-suited adult male.

Unfortunately, my sense of security didn’t last long – in fact, I haven’t felt secure at all since midnight December 25. Early that evening, my humans made special preparations for a big celebration the next day. They shared a large dinner together, where the two chicks spoke excitedly about the presents they would receive in the morning. Then, the pair sat under the tree for a while, shaking each one of the boxes – sometimes, quite violently – that people had placed under the tree over the course of the last few weeks.

Lastly, they set out a large platter of colorful biscuits and a glass of thick, white liquid, presumably to consume in the morning. They immediately went to bed. It was an altogether odd evening, but I don’t pretend to understand everything that humans do.

The real terror began when the clock struck twelve. My Tree Guard senses were already heightened by the amount of excitement that day, but I never expected to witness what I did. Ashes began to sprinkle down from the fireplace across the room from me. I watched in horror as the grey flakes heralded the entrance of two large, black-booted feet, followed by a body of not insignificant size.

. . . to be continued.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Tree Guard's First Christmas: Part One

As the semester wound to a close, I had 860 words left to write for independent studies with Mel Odom. Fried by the more serious projects I was working on, and quite a bit stir-crazy due to being so close to the end of school, I concocted this over-the-top Christmas piece for my own . . . well, peace of mind!

So, without further ado, part one of A Tree Guard's First Christmas.

WHAT I'M ABOUT TO TELL YOU is very important. There’s a criminal on the loose, and everyone needs to be on the lookout for him.

You may think that because I’m a penguin, what I say doesn’t matter. Think about it this way, though – if you heard what penguins have to say about humans, you wouldn’t be so quick to judge the intelligence of other species. We’ve seen you do some pretty stupid things. Plus, it’s not like you can fly, either.

Anyway, my story begins in the North Pole, which is probably not where you think it is. My parents taught me that there are several breeds of penguins all over the earth, but ours is a particularly special one. Other breeds may be larger and more mobile than us, but they’ll never get to experience the majestic plastic nests built on the metal precipices in the North Pole – our homes.

North Pole penguins train to become Tree Guards when they reach adulthood. That’s what I am -- a Tree Guard. According to my mother, this sacred duty has been passed down for generations. The Watch, the annual, month-long guard duty in a human home, requires years of training, both physical and mental. We need the mental training for after The Watch ends, when the Tree Guards are consigned to dark barracks for a year to contemplate how they can do a better job of guarding the tree next time around.

The adult male human we are to guard against has his face plastered all over the North Pole during the season when penguins are chosen as Tree Guards. He is quite round and old, like most of the adult male humans I’ve seen, but he has a distinct white beard and red suit that causes a flurry of agitation in every young human who views his picture.

He’s a dangerous enemy, for certain. It’s not only my privilege to guard against him, though, it’s my destiny.

. . . to be continued.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Feeling Un-beautiful

We do not craft our own reality,
but usually, I feel we do.
If I feel one way,
That way it must be.
If I feel another,
The first is obsolete.
And all the while, the way it is
Is written in invisible ink
On the wall.

We do not craft our own reality,
but in the mind, I think we do.
If my eyes see one thing,
That alone will register in my brain.
If they see another,
The first one fades away.
And all the while, the way it is
Is written in invisible ink
On the wall.

We do not craft our own reality,
but in a way, I wish we did.
If I wanted one thing,
That I could call to being.
If I wanted another,
The first would cease to be.
And all the while, there would not be
Invisible ink on the wall
For me to ignore.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Men v. Women

Chris and I were listening to a piece of music he performed in the Clavinova Festival his senior year of high school. That year, he and his childhood best friend, Jamin, pretty much made a clean sweep of the awards. Our conversation went as follows:

"Jamin and I wrote this one together."

"Oh, cool. Is that the year that you..."


"Uh, I was going to say, 'took the cake.'" *pause* "That was such a guy answer."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Altoids Etiquette

Some awkward moments shouldn't really be awkward, but they are anyway. College is replete with settings for these amusing moments to occur.

In my home-away-from-home, otherwise known as Gaylord College, I settled down on a couch on the third floor, tucked away in a corner of the already-marginalized Professional Writing Alcoves. I ate lunch there. I took a nap. I did homework there, all without anyone breaking my solitude. Ah, sweet peace.

Photo courtesy of

After several hours, someone finally passed my way. It was a young man -- a fellow college student with dark, curly hair. He promptly planted himself in the couch next to me. I continued tapping away on Verk 4 (my laptop, for those of you who have forgotten), faithfully attacking a climactic scene in my novel and ignoring the visitor.

Suddenly, I heard garbled words that sounded something like, "All told?" I looked over to see the man's outstretched hand holding a small, red box, and realized that he had actually said,

I sure as heck wasn't going to turn down an Altoid! Gratefully, I took a little white candy and thanked the young man. Then, I turned back to my computer.

Then came the moment of uncertainty. I glanced up and opened my mouth as if to say something to my new Altoid-sharing friend, then closed it again and plastered my eyes to Verk 4's screen. To my dismay, I realized I had nothing more to type. Oh, dear. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to strike up a conversation after that nice gesture, or if I was simply meant to take the Altoid and move on, pretending that the exchange never happened. Was the Altoid a bribe? A symbol of beneficence? A deep, unspoken pact? I didn't know. I felt the sweat bead on my brow.

Photo courtesy of

My fingers hovered over the computer, itching for something to type as an escape from potential, profoundly shame-inducing faux pas. Quickly, I made a plan. I began to type furiously. It didn't matter what I was typing, as long as I had a good excuse to do something besides talk. My little digital soliloquy ended up looking a lot like this:

"I don't know what to do right now because I feel awkward so I'm going to type randomly. I can either keep doing this or pull out my cell phone and text, because that's also a socially-acceptable thing to do in someone else's presence to show that you're busy. I'm still sitting here, laughing at myself because I'm doing this, but seriously, this Altoid is causing me a lot of trouble! . . ."

A mere three minutes later, I had to leave the college anyway. With the piercingly minty taste of an Altoid on my tongue and a mixture of various *headdesk* feelings in my brain, I walked away to face the rest of the world and its odd, socially acceptable behavior.