Silhouette of cat in waning sunlight with building

Landscape with August

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series

Possibly, you’ve been wondering: Why do painters get to have all the fun? I mean, check out the Special Supplement to PleinAir Magazine. Its 2022 Event Calendar lists 42 outdoor painting excursions just from June through September. Forty-two.

And writers…? Well, I know there are conferences and whatnot, but my guess is that most of us aren’t at them. Mostly we’re mowing the grass again and inventing new swear words for dandelions. Or we’re looking out apartment windows, maybe thinking about getting some dinner, and there’s a river in our city if we’re lucky, or the memory of snow on the mountains.

But today, let’s pretend that I’m a plein air artist, and I’m sitting on the front steps while I type this. And for once there are some clouds and therefore sometimes passing shadows. And a few breezes are out breezing through the neighborhood wind chimes, including mine:

1. Landscape with Sherlock

If anyone wants to feel slighted, you should meet our cat. His name is Sherlock. You can come here and see he doesn’t like you, just know it by the way he sits at a distance and stares.

He does it to everyone, even squirrels—climb up the tree trunk, walk halfway up a branch, then sit and stare while the squirrel cranks the volume on his maniac yips! Is there a record for this? Is anyone writing it down? Because this squirrel’s been at it for 46 minutes and it’s pretty high-pitched, not enough so only bats can hear but close, at least neighbors with that frequency, and probably an idiot neighbor you can’t stand, the kind who owns a motorcycle, those ones with the amplified engines, like the dude is battling a 90-foot lion instead of next to you at a stoplight; plus, traffic is stopped for a bagpipe demolition between the Screaming School playground and a chainsaw store… that kind of squirrel. For 47 minutes now.

And that’s when I think I see Sherlock turn to me and wink.


2. Landscape with Watson

Watson likes to catch grasshoppers. He’s a cat. He’s pretty good at it. Either that, or he’s practicing pouncing; I can’t always tell.

Right now he’s sitting on my other cat’s grave, facing the headstone like he’s reading it. And right now I’m picturing Gruden when he was still young: like a crouching crossbow dart across the lawn, then onto an inch-wide fence, then leaping the next-door driveway onto their roof to beat up another cat I didn’t know was there, then back again after—from roof, to fence, to yard—with his tail held high, half Champion, half Autopilot Gymnast. As if gravity is just an option. Like he’s casual about it.

He’s been dead now for 14 months, but my heart doesn’t care; sometimes it still cracks open…

Watson’s name is Watson, I know, but there are days when I mess up anyway. If I pet him and say, “Hi, Gruden,” he doesn’t seem to mind.



Rob CarneyRob Carney’s first collection of creative nonfiction, Accidental Gardens, is out now from Stormbird Press, and his new book of poems, Call and Response, is available from Black Lawrence Press. Previous books include Facts and Figures, The Last Tiger is Somewhere, The Book of Sharksand 88 Maps.

Read an interview with Rob Carney appearing in “The Ocean is Full of Questions.”
Read Rob Carney’s Letter to America in Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy, published by and Trinity University Press.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to an interview on Montana Public Radio about The Book of Sharks.

Header photo by Berkan Küçükgül, courtesy Pixabay. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.