Sleep And The Birch Tree Clock

[Our Limelight Hydrangea.]

I look at the clock. It’s 4:35 am. I can’t sleep.

I begin another chapter in the book I’m reading. I go into the kitchen and eat a cracker. I sip some Tonic Water (it helps my leg cramps). I go back to bed. I can’t sleep. I take a little pill. Sleep isn’t coming to me tonight.

Sleep evades me almost every night. It’s been that way since I was a child. “What do you think your missing?” my mother would say. I had no answer.

I look out of our bedroom window and see our Limelight Hydrangea plant. In the pre-dawn light, it looks unearthly bright…like I left the car lights on. Or that small moons have dipped into our front yard. Or is it possible that I had indeed fallen asleep, slept through the rest of the summer…through fall and now I’m waking up to a new and substantial snowfall?

It’s dawn now and I still can’t sleep. Then I remember something. Two days ago, Mariam got me to open the door to the attic. Not so easy in this house. She wanted to do some gleaning of our stuff. We are trying to “de-thing” ourselves. She said she found a box of NYC books. I told her I didn’t want to go through those books right now. Who knows, we may move back to the City in the not-so-distant future. I might want those books then.

When she got back down from the pull-down ladder, she said there was plenty of my “stuff” up there in boxes.

I asked her what she saw. She said there was the tree clock. I asked her to repeat. She said: “You know, the clock that your father made from the tree”.

I’m still awake and now thinking about the clock that my father made…for me.

I grew up in Owego, New York. We were blessed with a large back-yard. There were enormous evergreen trees just beyond the lawn where my swing set was located. In between those two tall coniferous trees was a small Birch. Its trunk was only a few inches in diameter. One day, my father rounded up his four sons. He had us sit in front of the Birch tree. I’m on the right and look impish. Is that a sling-shot in my back pocket?

[The first of four Birch Tree photos. Early 1950’s]

Over the years, my brothers and I recreated our positions in front of the growing Birch. We were all growing up. The final posed photograph was taken on a lovely spring day in 1992. We were holding a wake for my mother who had passed away on Easter Sunday morning.

[The 1992 photo is the last one.]

Soon after that, the Birch caught a tree infection. It died. My father was left with no choice. It had to be chain-sawed down. I was in Owego that weekend. I asked him for a small section of the tree. He cut it down. He cut it up into sections. I wonder how he felt when he touched the chainsaw to the tree. It must have broken his heart. It breaks mine just contemplating it. He loved his sons so very much. Did he cry? He never would have shown it. But I would have been in tears hoping that my watery eyes could still keep the saw on track. I left for my own home without the tree section.

Six months later, my father presented me with the piece of the tree.  He had cut open one side and inserted a clock mechanism. On the other side, he attached the hands of a clock. He glued the hour numbers and attached a hook.

Since then I’ve moved many times. The clock always came with me, but over time, the numerals fell off.

That afternoon, after my sleepless night, I retrieved the clock from the attic.

I wondered what thoughts my father had when he cut the tree into pieces. So many decades have passed since he had his four boys take up a pose in front of the tree. I hold the clock in my hands. It’s all I have left of those four photo sessions. I run my fingers over the varnished clock face. I count the rings and calculate the ring that grew the year of the first photo.

Two of my brothers are gone now, as is my father.

I hold the Birch Clock in my hands.

These memories make me sad. I pray that I will sleep a dreamless sleep tonight.

 

Advertisements

It Just Isn’t That Simple

I am waging a war here in the North Country. I am waging a war against spiders. I am the General and I am losing. Look, we bought the house in 2000, but the spiders think they are the real owners. That’s eighteen years of warfare. The two World Wars didn’t last that long. Okay, you can talk about the Hundred Year War in Europe, but I’m not a historian and I’m sure it wasn’t about spiders.

I could stop the small weapon action with the whisk broom and rent a power washer. I could blast every shutter and every cornice and every eave. But I would lose. Seven minutes after I drive off to return the power washer, there would be a new spider web being spun, like a never-ending fairy tale. Sometimes I feel like we are living in something like the Addams Family house…or Castle Dracula in Transylvania.

Spiders. Living in the woods. Where is Stephen King when we need him?

I guess it just isn’t that simple.

I spotted a cluster of Indian Pipes (Monotrope uniflora) on the path down to our dock. I always thought they were Saprophytes…living wholly off the decayed detritus of the forest floor. But no. I glimpsed something in the New York Times the other day that alluded to the fact that scientists are finding that the way the Pipes get nutrients is more complicated.

I guess it just isn’t that simple.

The other day, my wife, Mariam (this happened on her birthday) was thinking about particle accelerators. She asked me a question about String Theory and it’s relationship to Quantum Physics. (She knew I was a science teacher for 34+ years). I thought about the question for a minute. Then I told her:

“Honey, it just isn’t that simple.”

So, on a recent night, Mariam and I went to a concert.

The second part of the concert featured a world acclaimed pianist. Before she came on stage I looked up at the piano she was going to play. It was one large piano, a concert Steinway Grand…about the size of a ’49 Cadillac. If it wasn’t for its odd shape (like a piano) it reminded me of the coffin that Andre The Giant was buried in.

[Full disclosure: My son, Brian, lives not very far from the Steinway & Sons factory (when they built them in Queens). He has no connection with the Steinway company so I’m not sure why I’m disclosing this].

We were in the second row. Great seats except you couldn’t see the pianists hands working the keyboard (music terms)…but then again you couldn’t see anything on that stage because of the size of that piano.

She played the piece with total abandon and gusto. It was breath taking…except I couldn’t take my eyes off the collar of the guy in the front row. It was not straight. He was there with his wife (she sat in front of me) and two children.

My first thought was what kind of wife was she? She let her husband go out into public with a messed up collar. Then she leaned forward. A tag on her blouse (shirt, top…whatever) was sticking up. I thought what kind of husband was he, letting his wife go out in public with a tag showing in her mid back.

I considered making a deal with Mariam (she admitted being distracted by his collar after I brought it to her attention), that she could lean forward and straighten out his collar while I tucked the tag inside her top.

We were conflicted. Mariam rejected the idea.

I took another sip of Chardonnay from the ‘sippy-cup’ and settled back to listen to the last movement of a piano concerto.

But I couldn’t take my eyes off the couple in front of us. He was clearly in love with his wife. He kept looking at her and even stroked her arm. She paid little attention to his attention…she chewed gun during the concert.

Was this a dysfunctional family?  Did she really love him?

Then I looked at the two children they made together. The daughter was a pretty 18-year-old with freshly washed auburn hair. The boy was a well-behaved ten-year-old who sat patiently through a concert that he probably didn’t really want to attend. But this couple, with his collar and her tag, were responsible for their very existence.

I guess some things are just not that simple.

 

Next Stop: Poughkeepsie

[Mariam awaits our train at Grand Central Station

My weariness amazes.

Bob Dylan

As Train #283 chugs northward, the Hudson River, on my left…its water the color of tan mud, is flowing south to enter New York harbor.

It’s going home in a way. So are we.

Almost one month ago we were aboard the Queen Mary 2 and docking in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Fifteen days after arriving home we were packing for ten days back in NYC.

I’m glad I’m not an ambassador to England or France. I’m way to tired to travel right now. How does Bob Dylan go on stage 310 days a year (my estimate)? I mean the man is five years older than me.

I am sore everywhere. My lower back feels like they held the annual Yuma Rodeo on my L4 & L5 vertebrae.

[A mystery trailer in the bush. A rail side photo]

So it’s time for me to go home, right? And sleep and rest from so much traveling?

Is it time to regroup, write, paint , read, think…

And recall Paris, Bruges, Brussels, London, Edinburgh, Dorset and the Atlantic crossing?

Yes it is! But the guide books, the google searches? They will start again soon. And then I will have more blogs to share with all my friends.

Why Can’t We Stay Forever Young?

[Brian looks out over Galway Bay, Ireland (2015]

As I type this post (3:00 pm Saturday, July 14), I’m thinking of my son, Brian, who, 31 years ago would be about seven hours old. When the OB-GYN turned from his mother, Nancy and asked me what I thought of watching my son being born, all I could do was look out over the parking lot of the Stamford Hospital parking lot and cry.

It was an awesome and overwhelming experience to be the second person to see him enter the world.

In 2015, he joined Mariam and me in Ireland for a quick tour and to meet some “real” Egans. He says he loved the trip…and I believe him.

Father and son are now 31 years older than we were that hot July day in 1987. He lives and works in New York City now and Mariam and I sit and listen to the loons in the middle of the North Country.

He is entering the prime of his life. I’m a ‘senior’ citizen and have more gray hair than I did yesterday.

From a father who loves his son…more than words can describe, I’m wishing him a very Happy Birthday.

Brian, you’ve grown up to be an amazing man.

Try to stay “forever young.”

[Brian bids me good-bye at Shannon Airport, Ireland 2015]

I’m Not Alone On A Wide Wide Sea

[NOTE TO READERS: I’M REPOSTING THIS BLOG ON MONDAY, JULY 2. IT HAS COME TO MY ATTENTION THAT MANY OF MY FB FRIENDS DID NOT GET THIS WHEN I FIRST PUBLISHED IT ON JUNE 27. I’VE MADE A FEW CHANGES. SOME PHOTOS ARE OUT OF THE PROPER TIME SEQUENCE.]

 

Sometime in the 1980’s, I came to the conclusion that I was getting older as each year passed. I projected that simple logic into the future and realized that there was, essentially nothing I could do about it.

So I read a book. It was the story of a man, Joshua Slocum, who sailed across the Atlantic alone. When I closed that book, I knew that was something I would do one day. A solo crossing.

A few days later, I was forty years older. Yes, I did get certified to sail a deep keel 26′ boat while Mariam and I spent two months in Florida a few years ago. I was given a log book where I was to keep track of my hours sailing.

There are no entries since we left Florida. I have not sailed since then. I must say that of all the things I ever accomplished, sailing was the one thing that gave me the most pleasure.

Well, maybe I’ll make an attempt when I grow up.

When this trip became a reality, part of my dream became fulfilled. The one part of my dream that was missing, was my being alone.

We departed Southampton about 5:15pm on Sunday, June 24. Before the boat left the dock, we had our first “drill” at 4.30. We assembled in our assigned area and actually put on our life vests. We were even allowed to test the little yellow whistles.

Sunset

[The sunset off the coast of Devon and Cornwall]

I am told that there are about 2,700 passengers aboard. The staff numbers 1,200. That gives a total of 3,900 people on this boat…the Queen Mary 2. According to the captain, there are people of 33 nationalities aboard. I guess they included Mariam and I, even though most of the people we meet in the bars and restaurants are either Canadian, Australian or from New Zealand.

I have made an educated guess that the average age of the total passenger population is 70.6 years.

NAV TV.jpg

[Constant information in our stateroom]

Britannia Restaurant.jpg

[The Britannia Restaurant, our assigned dinner venue]

Tonight is our second Black Tie dinner (Gala Attire). The only thing I get to keep from this rental is the bow tie.

[No comment necessary.]

The WiFi is spotty and very slow and I’ll be grateful if this blog post gets to you, my readers, before we dock in New York City on July 1. I began writing this on Sunday, the day we left Southampton. It’s now Wednesday afternoon.

Sunday morning we will be docking in Red Hook, Brooklyn. We will get the chance to see the Statue of Liberty as we enter New York Harbor.

Just like my ancestors from Ireland and Mariam’s from Asia Minor did, decades and decades ago.

[It’s hard not to tear-up when this comes into view..just as the sun was rising.]

 

 

 

Of Time and Distance: A Departing

[Corfe Castle]

Yesterday, in the late afternoon, I sat on unmowed grass leaning against a stone wall. I was on the grounds of Corfe Castle in south Dorset. The mason who built my backrest had fitted the stones into their places over 1,000 years ago. There was still a strong sun in the west and the sky was about as blue as any sky can get. The cool breeze, however, forced me to zip up my fleece vest.

I was thinking of our journey that is nearly over.

Tonight, I’m sitting in front of a MacBook laptop in room 412 of the Doubletree Hotel in Southampton struggling to find the words to describe our travels.

I am thinking about our journey that is nearly over.

Tomorrow, at this time, I’ll be standing on the deck of the Queen Mary 2 as it plows its way through the waters of the Atlantic ocean heading for New York City.

I’m pretty sure I will be thinking of our journey that will soon be over…July 1 to be precise…barring any major nautical distractions.

Five weeks ago, I sat at Gate 42 of the American Airlines terminal waiting to board our flight to Paris.

Where did the time go?

Paris~~We stayed in a tiny room of the Hotel Atlantis a few steps from the Church of St. Suplice. Days seemed to fly by as we walked through Pere Lachaise cemetery, saw a performance at the Paris Lido, visited the Louvre and stood in the sun at the front door of Notre Dame. We found a shady bench in the Jardin du Luxembourg. I felt like an artist as I opened my watercolor pencil set and made two drawings. I looked at my work…I’m no artist…just a traveler.

[Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris]

Onto…

Brussels~~Only a brief stop to catch a train to Bruges, which is to me, one of the most sublimely beautiful and melancholy cities I’ve ever visited. After a touristy canal boat ride, we sat in a small waterside bar. We conversed with the waitress. I asked her if she was married.

“No,” she said looking at the water. “No one wants to marry me.”

[Bruges, Belgium]

Back to…

Brussels~~This time we stayed for four days. We befriended a bartender named Aurora. She was from France and was completing an internship at the Marriott. We became Facebook friends. After one failed attempt to locate the Market Place, we found it down one cobblestone lane. Once in the Square, you can turn 360 degrees and see nothing but ornate buildings highlighted in gold gilt. Outside the City Hall, I watched a middle-aged man get out of a car and straighten his tie. He was on his way to be married. I caught and held his gaze as he walked to the large oak doors. I gave him a two finger salute from my right eyebrow. He smiled, nodded and went inside…proud, happy, in love and full of hope.

Onto…

London~~A few hours after boarding the Eurostar, we got off the train at St. Pancras Station. Our hotel was the best one yet in our travels. It was just steps from the frenzy of Trafalgar Square. We visited the National Gallery and had dinner at the Sherlock Holmes pub near our hotel. Next evening, we got tickets to The Play That Went Wrong. Madcap misadventures and very funny.

[The Sherlock Holmes]

Onto…

Edinburgh~~Here we climbed the hill to see part of the Castle. In the evening we saw Wicked at a theater two doors away. Trust me, it was a great show for a far less ticket cost than New York City. At night, we took in a sort of haunted Edinburgh walking tour.

It was time to begin our driving part of the trip. Got a rental at the Hertz less than 100 yards from our hotel. It was a perky KIA with a GPS. After a short drive to Durham to visit the Cathedral (massive, awesome but NO PHOTOS ALLOWED) we spent the night in a small hotel.

Onto…

Litchfield~~Again another Cathedral city. This prize was one of the best of all the cathedrals I’ve visited in the UK.

 

[Lichfield Cathedral]

Onto…

Grassington~~We’re in the “Switzerland of England”, but the time had come to test my back and right foot on a footpath. Things didn’t feel right. Lower back pain and pain in my foot despite doses of Alleve. Our main goal for us was to explore the Yorkshire Dales, but all we managed was a few miles one day, a few the next and 3.5 miles on the third day. We never unpacked our hiking boots!

[Part of the Grassington walk]

Onto…

Gillingham, in North Dorset~~I felt like I had arrived home. Most of you know that I lived and taught in Dorset in the mid-1980’s. I walked the footpaths every weekend that I wasn’t visiting a cathedral. My housemate was a young teacher named Tim. Now, Tim is semi-retired and does some consulting work with schools. He, and his wife Jo have put us up several times in their spare apartment. They have three children. George is working in London. Thomas is going to university and 11 year-old Anna, who is being looked at by the Royal Ballet. She’s very good.

[Tim, Anna & Jo.]

We spent six nights at Tim’s house, helping him one evening to celebrate England’s win over Tunisia in the World Cup. We spent our days driving around Dorset and revisiting places I knew and loved. Of all the Counties in England, I feel that Dorset is the most beautiful. The land of Thomas Hardy.

After a lovely farewell dinner, it was

Onto…

Corfe Castle~~We stayed at an old manor house. The first night we drove a few miles to Wareham and had a dinner with another friend from the 1980’s. Marion was the art teacher when I first met her. A most remarkable woman.

Onto…

Southampton~~And this is where I now sit, writing, thinking and remembering. Where did those 33 years go when I was so young and healthy that 9 mile walks were mere afternoon strolls.

At the front end of a six-week holiday, it seemed like such a very long time. But it passed like two blinks of my itchy right eye.

I wonder. I wonder about the stone mason who built the wall I sat against yesterday? If he walked out of the past and sat beside me to watch the afternoon sun descend on south Dorset, would he have the same questions I’ve been asking?

Would he ask what happened to that 1,000 years? Where did it all go?

[All photos belong to me and are copyrighted]

Lancelot, The Spotless Starling And The Blogger

 

[Spotless Starling. Source: Google search.]

I’m perched on a chimney near the Ashfield House B&B with my friend, Tristram. We’re Spotless Starlings. You can find us on page 303 of Collins Pocket Guide to Birds of Britain and Europe. You might not find us in Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds of  America, but we’re in the British edition.

My name is Lancelot. Some other Starlings think my friend and I are named for two of the Knights of the Roundtable, but that’s nonsense. The whole King Arthur thing is vague and not really provable, historically speaking. But, this Blogger that I’ve been watching…he believes. He’s been to the Glastonbury Tor and desperately wants to believe that Arthur is asleep, deep inside the Tor, awaiting the time when England will need him once again.

But, I digress.

Lance, I saw you keeping an eye on the American Blogger while he sat on his little balcony, sipping wine and eating cheese with his wife. What’s the deal?

Well, Tristram, as far as I can make out, he is a bit sore of foot and hurt in the lower back. And don’t even mention the pollen. It’s awful this year here in the Yorkshire Dales. He and his wife both sneeze enough to chase away the Morning Doves.

[Map is by Contour Designs Gloucester. Copyright Ordinance Survey, 2016]

So, Lance, has he gotten out into this awesome countryside yet?

Oh, yes indeed. Come let’s take to the wing and I’ll show you where I’ve spotted them. The first hike was short and hesitant. They walked between the stone walls to the River Wharfe and crossed the footbridge at Linton Falls. He wanted to visit the small country church at the end of the road.

How sentimental.

Yes, Tristram, he is a very melancholy person. Old mossy graveyards attract him. My theory is that he spends too much time thinking of his own mortality…but, hey, I only have a bird brain.

The next day they hiked down to the river and along a path that went beside some of those stone walls that everybody talks about. As I said, he was sore of back and his right foot was causing him grief. He didn’t feel he was going to make the entire 4.5 miles as described in the Short Walks in the Yorkshire Dales so he left his OS map and guide back in his room.

So, Lance, did he make it?

Funny thing happened. The two of them came upon a couple from Australia. They had a map but were unsure if they were going in the right direction. The Blogger once taught Geography so he knew maps. Then they met an older couple coming from the opposite direction.

Oh, don’t go up that way, the woman said. Me husband slipped and slid downhill on his bum. It’s like bloody mountaineeeering.

Soon the four of them, after walking up the steep bit, found themselves in an open and pleasant woods. The Blogger knew then, I could feel it from soaring over their heads, that he wasn’t going to retrace his steps. So, on they went.

Soon they came out of the woods. I could see them again. The wife seemed to find the wettest place to cross two pastures. And, by wet, I mean with recent cow pies.

Before I could find my favorite chimney, they were back in the center of Grassington and sitting at a pub. The couple from Australia joined them. They felt satisfied with completing 3.5 miles. I have good eyesight…the old guy took something called Alleve. It seemed to help.

But, somehow, Tristram, I could read his mind as he tried to photograph me. (I didn’t let it happen.) The old guy with the gray hair, gray beard and sore back wanted to hike again. He wanted to see Coniston Cold, East Marton, Sharp Haw, Winterburn, Ewe Moor, Captain Moor and Old Cote Mill Top.

But he never got there. They left two days later.

So, Lance, where are they now?

How could I know, Tristram? My range isn’t that far. Look it up in the pocket guide. But, I did hear them say one thing said as they were loading their car: the old guy said I wonder how Lichfield will be. Mariam, he said, do you think they will have Starlings waking us up in the morning?

No, it’s a Cathedral City, silly. They only have doves…doves of peace in places like that.

And they did.