The Quiet Feast/The Great Cycle

I felt the breeze…

I stumbled on a tree root when…

Finally, we reached the pond…

Concentrate.  Start over.

When I was a teacher I was often given the dubious privilege of  “lunch duty”.  A room, nearly the size of a gym, filled with 5th & 6th graders…or 9th & 10th graders, and a hand full of teachers produced a noise level that made it impossible to carry on a conversation or to even think about the hour before you.  Sometimes on days when I didn’t have duty, I would retreat to the faculty lunch room.  Even there, teachers talked about the students, the administration or their Valium prescription.  Still, no time to think.

As a last resort, I would take my tray to my empty home room and eat alone.  It occurred to me that I would appear antisocial…but at least I could think.

Once, perhaps a decade or so ago, I found a guidebook to monasteries, close to our home in Manhattan, that opened their doors to travelers…like a B & B with stained glass.  Mariam and I found one, run by the Episcopal church, on the western side of the Hudson River.  It was a large estate-like building that sat high above the river in the Hudson Highlands.  It happened that we booked our room on a “quiet” weekend.

No talking allowed.

During the meals, all I could hear was the clinking of forks and spoons on the china plates.  A whisper here and there…but otherwise, silence.

I could think.

A year ago, in October, along with our great friends, D’Arcy and Judy,  Mariam and I took a walk along the Silver Lake Bog trail.  The sky was azure.  The foliage was at a peak.  Brilliant reds, yellows, copper and scarlet leaves mixed with the green conifers.

I hung back and walked alone.  I stopped to listen.  The gently falling leaves sounded like a light rain.  I looked around me and realized that I had walked into a grand feast, a forested restaurant, a silent meal.

Nearly everything I looked at was in the process of dying…or already dead.  What was alive was consuming what was dead.  This was considered to be a fairly dry summer, but you would never have guessed that from that bog or our front yard.  My copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Mushrooms was used more than the previous decade.

It was like watching “The Walking Dead” with the roles reversed.  Of course I have lived a life-time of seeing this every autumn, but on that day, the Big Picture came into focus more clearly and gave me the urge to put all this into words.  I was a witness to the Great Cycle of Life.  I know it’s a cliché, but there it was, all around me.  The ground itself was covered by a blanket of moss and lichen that were feeding and consuming the organic material.  The dead logs, many cleared from the trail by a chainsaw, were helpless to resist the countless fungi, moss, bacteria and water that was breaking a once tall and stately beech or maple or oak into mere molecules.

And, all this was done in total silence and  would continue even under three feet of snow and ice and temperatures of -37 degrees.

In six months, a small spore, a seed, a dormant larvae of a black fly would begin to revive and then bloom and the green would return.

And, that fly would find out where I lived.

 

 

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Fathers and Coffee

One more cup of coffee before I go…

                               –Bob Dylan

[My photo]

This gray, almost monochromatic morning, I lounged in bed reading yesterday’s New York Times.  It’s something we did every weekend for years while we lived in Manhattan.  The fact that’s its Monday is a moot point.  When you’re retired, everyday is like a Sunday.  This may, however, be due to the fact that all the days seem to drift together and half the time I’m never totally sure what day it is.

But, to clear away any misgivings, I can state that it is Monday, November 6…and it’s gloomy outside, like a Tim Burton take on one of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

But, I digress.

I was sipping my coffee, once steaming and now, just below the stage of lukewarm.  It tastes just like it sounds, lukewarm coffee, barely potable.  The odd thing is that if I drop in two ice cubes and wait three minutes, it’s transformed into Iced Coffee!  And, it’ll be a cold day in Yuma before I’ll walk away from a Starbucks Cold Brew.

So, as I sipped the cooling mug, I began to recollect on things my father said to me when I was growing up in the 1950’s.  I’m sure he was not alone in using phrases like:

“If I wanted a fool to do this, I would have done it myself.”

“Put that in your pipe and smoke it.”

Post-war idioms.

I was strictly a tea drinker well into my teens.  It was mostly a camping thing.  I never had a Lipton before scurrying off to elementary school.  In fact, I was never really that big on caffeine ever, even now.  That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a mug of Irish Breakfast tea now and then.

I’m recalling an incident that occurred when I was about fifteen.  My family was sitting at a diner and the waitress asked about drinks.  I asked for my first cup of coffee.  My father looked aghast at me.  He shifted his position on the vinyl seat of the booth.  When the server left, he leaned over to me and actually said:

“You know, it’ll stunt your growth”.

It was a cliché that every parent used to threaten their kids about; coffee, tobacco and so many other vices.

I lay in bed and chuckled to myself.  How antiquated, how naive his threats seem to me now.  Then the smile left my face and I felt an overwhelming sadness wash over me.

I thought of my own son and how, because of a divorce, I did not take part in his life when he had his first coffee.  The sadness deepened.  I had missed so many of the years when I, as his father, should have been by his side.

My father’s remark came back to me with a new kind of understanding.  I really don’t believe he truly thought that my first cup of coffee was going to stunt my growth.  I think he was blindsided by my request.  And, most importantly, I think he was terrified.  In a certain way, that first coffee was a sort of rite of passage…something he knew deep within and something he dreaded with great sorrow.

He was losing his son, his youngest son to the terrors of a fast approaching place called adulthood.  His comment was the only thing he could think of to slow down the separation that was to come.  He wanted to hold on to my childhood as long as he could, because after that, there’s no going back, no reversal in time and no going home again.

The separation of father and son.

When my umbilical cord was cut sometime during the evening of May 31, 1947, I was separated physically from my mother.  No such action happens between father and son…until the son asks for his first cup of coffee.

I cling to my son these days.  I kiss his cheek when I see him.  I tell him how much I love him.  I wish I had to lean over, sore back or not, to pick him up.  I wish I had to walk at a tilt while I held his little hand in mine.  I wish he had to lift his head upward to look at me and to extend his arms, asking to be picked up and carried.

Everyday, I can feel the fear my father felt that afternoon, decades ago, when I said yes to a cup of coffee.

[Photo credit: Keith Daniel, Restitutio. Google search.]

A Halloween Ghost Story Told To Me By My Niece.

 

[Photo source: Google source.  This is not the spirit girl described.]

My niece and I share a fascination with stories.  Many of them are odd and unusual.  Many of them are ghost stories.

I’ve shared copies of ghost story collections with her over the years, mostly M.R.James and Lovecraft and Lord Dunsany.  All were classics and I hoped she pulled the comforter to her neck as she read them in her small cabin in eastern Maine.

Mostly, she lived alone in that state of endless forests, pulp wood factories and rocky coastlines.

She had a job as a receptionist at an Inn in North Conway, NH.  I’m sure you know the kind of inn where she worked.  Nestled in the midst of the White Mountains, where the shadows of Mount Washington darkened the glens and trails and leantos…where the evening shadows came early in the valley’s New England pubs and quaint olde hotels that could be found at many cross roads.  She would tell me local ghost tales, but I never had the opportunity of staying at the Inn where she worked.  Then she told me about the little ghost girl who was a legend at the Inn.  She laughed at the idea but I, to the contrary, thought that the story was something of interest.  Spectres of children always evoke a certain melancholy in me.  I’m a skeptic when it comes to ghosts in a general sense, but I love the ‘idea’ of them.  (I’ve never encountered a spirit, restless or not…that I know of…although I’ve have had some strange feelings in many an old hotel).

So, a few months ago she emailed and, with much excitement, said “I saw the girl in white”.  She said she was looking out of the window of her office and saw a little girl in white running around the corner of the Inn.  My niece ran to the back window expecting to see the girl…but there was no one in the large backyard.

She felt she had seen the “girl ghost”.  I’ve no reason to doubt her.  After all, its New England, it’s in keeping with legend and tradition and it fits all the requirements to compel me to tell this story.

At this time of year, as the night of All Hallow’s Eve is upon us.

This story of a little lost girl who died on some unknown date many years ago.  My niece’s astute observation skills puts to rest any need or reason for embellishment.

I trust my niece and I trust you to believe this old New England ghost story.

It’s a classic.

 

 

At The Museum…For Decades

[I loved this Alaskan canoe when you could see the people in it.]

The more things change, the more they stay they stay the same…

-Anon.

I never understood the above quote, except to say that I think it means that history repeats itself.

I certainly can get that…considering the Trump Era.  You can figure the rest out for yourself…if you believe in reading history and science.

But’s that’s not the point of this post.  No, I want to go back when I was about ten years old and my parents took me to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH).  It was decades ago…long before The Night At The Museum.  

When I was a child, I saw the dioramas of the ice ages, the history of farming along the Hudson valley, the mineral crystals as large as a park bench and, of course, the dinosaurs!

Over the years, when I was a teacher in NYC,  I had chaperoned so many trips to the AMNH that I think I should have been on their payroll.

What is amazing is that some of the building on Central Park West and between 81St and 77th Street has changed dramatically…and some of the exhibits haven’t changed since I was a child. The beautiful old Hayden Planetarium gave way to a giant glass cube.  More ‘state of the art’ but less architecturally beautiful.

[Hill of skulls…I don’t know what skulls they are.]

Is that good?  Shouldn’t museums remains in a state of stasis or should they “change with the times”?

Want my opinion?

I want both.  Up to date science about climate change (yes, it’s real) and astronomy (there’s so much new stuff out there, it will blow your Star Trek Mind).

Take me to the old galleries that haven’t changed in decades and let me dream about how I fell in love with science, anthropology, evolution, minerals and the stars when I was a child.

And, take me to the Hall of the Native Northwest Americans.  Show me the ceremonial mask that is supposed to

be ‘haunted’.  Night staff won’t go near it.

[Is this the haunted mask? I don’t know.]

 

Then, tell me that science and myth don’t blend in a beautiful and mysterious way. And, I’m praying to whoever may be the god of myth and history and childhood, I would love to walk my grandson, Elias, through the halls of history and myth and childhood.

It meant so much so me and I wish I could pass it on to my grandchildren.

That’s what Natural History (and family history) is all about.

 

Farewells and Departures

It takes a lot to laugh.

It takes a train to cry.

                                                                                                         –Bob Dylan

I’m writing this from a New York City hotel room on W. 35th St.  Last night we stayed over in Saratoga to lessen the drudgery of driving into Albany and catching the train into Penn Station.  We had dinner in The Olde Bryan Inn.

It’s supposed to be haunted.  Two employees told me so.  I guess it must be true.

The morning before we drove to Saratoga, we said farewell to our good friends and neighbors, D’Arcy and Judy Havill.  You’ve read about them in my past blog posts.  They will leave Rainbow Lake in a few days and go home to their real home in Camp Dennison, just outside of Cincinnati.  They’re summer people on our road.

I was a bit misty eyed when we shook hands and said farewell.  It’s hard to find better neighbors in such an isolated area where we live…who have talents, skills and are like-minded.

We’ve hiked more than one trail with them and climbed more than one peak in and around Lake Placid.  D’Arcy is an avid bicyclist, and even though I’ve tried, I can’t keep up with him.  Judy is a genius at finding artwork and antiques for their home.

Their home just about a five minutes walk from our house.

Mariam and I will miss their company, movie night and the fine conversation after a grilled dinner.

Good-bye, you two…won’t see you until July.

Missing you already.

 

Roadside Grief

You see them along the Interstate highways in Kansas, Arizona and nearly everywhere else in the country.  Those haunting small white crosses and bouquets of flowers that are mostly plastic.  That way, they survive the weather.

These are the roadside memorials for those who lost their lives, while driving along major highways and lonely roads.  I don’t remember seeing them when I was growing up, but they seem to be so common these days.

The memorial (photo above) is the closest one to where I live.  A young man couldn’t manage the turn on our road and skidded into a utility pole.  I knew the moment this young man passed away because I was reading, late at night, about 1 am when my reading light went off.  All the lights went off in our house.  A power outage.

Little did I know at the time that when the room went dark, so did the lives of this young mans family and friends.  It’s been several years now, and the ribbons, the messages and the notes are all faded.

Faded by the harsh Adirondack weather.  But, I’m sure the memory of this boy has not faded one tiny bit in the hearts of his loved ones.

Every time I see one of those white crosses along I-81 or I-75 or a county road to a desolate town in northern New York State, I try to enter the minds of those left behind.  Could they afford a proper headstone? Mostly likely they could, but some need within the family wanted drivers, strangers, to pause for a moment to reflect on the loss of a life that meant the world to them.

But, for the rest of us, it’s only a glimpse of a place where some live human being, for whatever reason, left this life abruptly and without preparation.

When you pass one of these memorials, pause your thinking and mutter a farewell prayer for the forlorn soul.

 

 

A Mistake Of Heartbreaking Proportions/A Blog About A Blog

[Source: Google search.]

Most people who choose to write and post blogs do so to make a point of some kind.  That is not something I always try to do.  Make a point, that is, or push a position, or share a recipe for s’mores.  Many of my subjects are valid and intense..full of honesty and conviction.  Some are light and whimsical.  Some are full of nostalgia, fear and regret.  I write and post because I enjoy touching on subjects that interest me, amuse me, and by extension, hope they will entertain and be enjoyed by you, my followers and friends.

But, I never have been good at math.

A few postings ago, I slipped in a teaser about an upcoming blog that would blow the roof off the cyber-joint that we share.  I said that I was only four posts away from my 400th blog.  I was elated.  I was preparing something special that would help many of my readers believe that they’ve really not wasted that much of their precious life in taking time to read my stuff and even click ‘like’.

But, then…cold reality and facts slapped me upside the head.  I took the time to look more closely at my stats on WordPress and found myself in a cold shower.  The number of 396 was what I was focused on.  But in reality, that number included the total number of blogs written not published.  I failed to recall that I had 14 posts that were started and never finished…for various reasons.  I didn’t think they were good enough, I forget about starting them and I, most importantly, neglected to delete them.  So they fell into a category called ‘drafts’.

This is where I am found wanting.  I promised a 400th blog that would deliver the emotional impact that would be the equal to Cher performing at half-time at the Super Bowl,  to Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize,  to finding a lost episode of Gilligan’s Island, to proving the climate really does change because of human activity (something that seems to be beyond the grasp of anyone who slept through 7th grade science), to proving that Yoko Ono really did break up the Beatles and that bringing back Dynasty to TV is somehow a rational idea.

So, in reality my last post about Halloween was my 383rd.

This is a set-back worse that Trump ‘winning’ the 2016 election (not really).

The question is: where do I go from here?  At the rate I’ve been posting, it may be well into 2018 before I can deliver the ‘keeper’…the 400th blog post.

Not to worry.  I will always find something worthwhile to post and, hopefully, worth your time to read.

And click “like”.

Please!