World Enough and Time: Visitors

Bill Hagen
Contributing writer
It’s rain!

Hesitantly, I confess that I need to clean my gutters. Why hesitate? Because the data drones that scan everything in print will sell the first sentence to retailers who will flood my email—listed at the end of the column—with ads for gutter-cleaning hose attachments and screens that require new gutters to accommodate them. More extra rings on my landline that I won’t answer.

I keep the landline on the foolish assumption that the wind that blows down cell towers will spare telephone lines. Or maybe my cellphone will need a charge and with the electricity off, my special solar flashlights with their USB outputs won’t have enough power to do the job. And the car, which could do the job, is a flattened under a Sweet Gum tree.

Besides, my gutters don’t need new screens. I have screens that work, at least until the wind blows them off the gutter or the debris from my flat roof collects on the screens, allowing the water to cascade over. One of those new screens with small holes would not improve matters.

When I moved in, the gutters were large, specially made, and could collect all the water. That was a problem, since they were so heavy they worked loose from the woodwork. So I replaced them with regular gutters, willing to live with the cascades that come with intense downpours. Now, clogged screens have made every rain a cascade down the side of the house.

My visiting grandchildren were fascinated by the streams that came down the rear windows. They were fascinated by the rain itself. Apparently, the rains on the plains in Utah tend to fall late at night and are gone in the morning. My granddaughter, 8, took an umbrella and stood in the rain. The grandson, 5, more adventurous, ran around in the backyard until he was happily soaked.

The rains brought other houseguests. You may remember the hiking song, “The Ants Go Marching One by One,” to the tune of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.” In that song, “they all go marching down—to the earth—to get out—of the rain, boom, boom, boom.” But that’s not what happens in real life; their underground city is flooded. They seek higher ground. If you have a house with tiny seams and gaps, ants will find a way into your higher ground.

It would help if my cat would chew his nibblets over the bowl, but he prefers to masticate over the floor. Nibblet-bits fall to the floor. In the morning, groups of ants have arrived and surround each bit as if at an outdoor cafe. Except they are eating the tables.

While they were here, the granddaughter enjoyed vacuuming the ants to whatever heaven is set aside for them. And I applied spray to the outside seams and gaps. But then another rain, another cascade would wash the spray away and the ants would be back. In some cases, no rain was needed to have them back through the same entrances. I think they are developing immunities.

I can’t apply spray inside (the cat, again) so I vacuum them and the nibblet-bits. Within minutes they have re-established their traffic patterns across the kitchen floor. So I vacuum again, and go about doing other things. They come back, of course.

Every time I walk through the kitchen, I don’t look down. But I do find myself stepping over their favorite routes. They are winning.

Ants at their tables

When your grandchildren visit after over a year’s absence, you find yourself wondering what they have turned into. I mean they look fine during FaceTime visits, but what do they like? For a five-year-old and an eight-year-old do I need to hide lamps that tip? Should I board the cat elsewhere? Do I have the right foods? What do they eat?

I try to shop in my local grocery, from the kids' perspective.

Where are Spaghetti Os? Why doesn't the label state what the can contains in plain words?? Ohmygosh, there are varieties! Do they prefer plain, with franks, with sausage?? (Bought with franks.)

After looking in all the meat counters, where are the corn dogs? Why aren't they placed with the rest of the hot dogs?

I spot a woman with a boy-child, about 8, and ask her. She leads me to a separate fridge filled with different varieties of corn dogs. Her son, trailing behind, echoes her directions, with what seems to me an unnecessary edge—as if to say I really should know where such an essential food is located. She tells me to buy the all-beef corn dogs. Humbled, I do as I am told, and thank them.

Of course, peanut butter. Got home and it struck me that the kids may not like crunchy peanut butter. How can we respect a Grandpa, who doesn't even know....? Maybe if I can get them to sing the “I Like Peanut Butter” song.

And bread! An item I don't usually buy. Will they eat healthy 6 or 9-grain brown bread? Or is it Wonder White, all the way? After avoiding a peanut butter meltdown, Grandpa doesn't want to strike out in the bread department.

Grandpa does strike out in the jam department. A tear falls when my granddaughter discovers that Pa doesn’t have strawberry. Black raspberry won’t do.

But, at eight, my granddaughter knows how to approach an elderly cat. As long as her boisterous brother stays in the background.

Approaching the cat

Bill Hagen is a retired OBU professor. He lives in Shawnee with his cat. Contact him at