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Essentially Ashland

Lance Pugh

Tip-top tarp

I spend most evenings conjuring up new sauces and marinades as I grill away outside, just off the kitchen pass-through window. It’s wonderful to be able to pass condiments through the window to within a step of the outdoor grill. It also allows me to feel like part of the party when guests are over for some “Q” and a few laughs.

I have discovered, though, that one of the hottest places on earth is on my patio where spice, food and fire sear a sweet, savory serenade, which only a nose can hear. During the summer some sort of atmospheric convergence conspires to focus the sun’s rays on exactly this spot. Every time I venture out there during the day I feel like an ant trying to dodge the magnifying glass of some big, freckle-faced kid who enjoys deploying the death ray whenever he can.

In an effort to keep freckle boy out of my face, I bought a green tarp and attached it from the eaves to the hot tub railing, providing much needed shade during the heat of the day. The sun’s prying eyes cannot penetrate the covering, even when Ole Mr. Sol uses reading glasses. It also keeps the rays from flooding directly into the kitchen and neutralizing the air conditioning.

I am sure you all realize that certain objects can influence meteorological events. If you have ever spent four hours polishing your car, you can count on rain or a bird dropping within minutes. Whenever I bring the Sunday paper out to the hot tub deck, I know that the moment I dash inside for a warm-up of coffee a gust of wind or even a dust devil will blast by, causing the side-yard to become instantly decorated with the many sections of the San Francisco Chronicle. The funnies, not to be outdone, always land inside the hot tub and within a few seconds, congeal into a colorful, yet unreadable, pile of pulp.

I used to marvel at the power of the wind while sailing. Perhaps it is just me, but whenever I went out on the water I spent most of my time leaning overboard to keep the boat from tipping over. I could coax a gale out of a zephyr just by pulling out my handkerchief. Only when back at the dock, which I approached like a water-skier, did the howling winds wind down to a gentle breeze.

Well, what is a tarp but a frustrated sail? It knows naught of the spray of brine and the howling roar of heavy seas. It yearns for a mast and a master to navigate it through the waters of adventure. Being stuck at home is antithecal to the peripatetic nature of an unfurled sheet. I did not blame the tarp for what soon was to transpire.

I left the house to run a few errands and, when I got back, viewed the wrath of a tarp scorned, deserted and left adrift in a sea of impossibilities. A whirlwind had visited the patio, straining, then breaking the bonds that I had so carefully tied. Eyehooks, grommets and lashings had been reduced to flotsam in the hot tub while a once taut tarp flew like a banner from the black walnut tree as two squirrels, squealing with delight, went nuts over their new fluttering flag.

I was admiring the handiwork of the wind when my wife, Annette, arrived home and inspected the detritus of my efforts to be shady. When she enquired as to the nature of the mess, my only reply was terse and considered.

“A gust took the wind out of my sails,” I breezed, while struggling to tug the tarp from the clutches of the puffy-cheeked, furry-tailed yeomen.

Lance was last seen sailing in his side yard, threatening to keel haul the editor of his upcoming book, “Essentially Ashland … The Missing Years,” for finding more typos than barnacles on a frigate.