Autumn And Gravestones

[Sitting and thinking at Forest Cemetery, St. Regis Falls, NY.]

Now that there is six inches of fresh snow on the ground and the trees are bare and the world outside our picture window is monochromatic, I can admit that I miss the late summer, the coolness of autumn days and the color of the trees.

I’ll also miss my favorite cemeteries. The best time of year to roam the country graveyards has come and gone. I’ll have to wait until mid-summer, after the mud and the bugs, until I can go “graving” again.

Does it all sound morbid to you? Too melancholy? It shouldn’t. I enjoy old cemeteries where I can learn local history and make up life stories of those who are interred beneath my feet.

And I have a perfectly good reason to wander the burying grounds. I am a volunteer photographer for Find-A-Grave.com. I get requests from people who live in places like Iowa and Nebraska asking for a photo of their grandfather’s headstone, or a memorial to an aunt’s grave they will never visit…never have a chance to leave a flower or a penny on the gravestone. They reply in emails how glad they are to have such a photo. It helps them build their family trees on Ancestry.com or some other genealogy site. Or (as they have written), share the photo with a grandchild, son, niece or spouse.

I love doing this for these people. I ask for nothing in return, except for a simple “thank you”.

Every human has a story that tells of their lives, even those who have been buried 150 years ago. I’ve stood over the graves and photographed headstones of suicides, murder victims, children who lived two days and men and women who lived to their 90+ years. I’ve wept over the graves of people whose families could only manage a hand-made headstone made of poured concrete and wrote the name and death dates with their fingers.

So many stories. So many headstones. So many epitaphs. So much grief.

But, time heals those wounds…they say.

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My Halloween Guest Blogger

[Source: Google search.]

Pleased to meet you, I’m a man of wealth and taste.

–Mick Jagger, Sympathy for the Devil.

It’s my favorite time of year. It’s Halloween. And to help me celebrate, I have invited a “guest blogger” to take this space and make it her own.

Erin Egan lives with her husband, son, and cat in Washington State, in a small town with an awesome view of Mt. Rainier (that is when the sun is out). She cooks, reads and tries to get the cat to pay attention to her.

So as to not make her father sound old, she will only say she’s in her mid-40’s.

The graphic above was added by me. All else, below, is from the creative mind of Erin.

Enjoy!

SEEKING

An Original Ghost Story

By Erin Egan

TO:           Zoe Crosby

FROM:   Dennis Winchester, HR Director, Beyond the Summit Technology

CC:           Internship Dept., Amherst College

RE:           2018 Fall Marketing Interns

DATE:     May 25, 2018

Dear Zoe,

I am excited to announce your selection as one of three students selected to be an intern in our rapidly growing marketing department. As you know, Beyond the Summit Technology has been named one of the “Top 5 Companies to Work For” in Seattle Magazine, and we look forward to you–with your ideas and energy– joining our team.

As discussed, we will be providing a modest stipend to help cover living expenses. Our office will contact you shortly regarding relocation assistance.

I look forward to greeting you in person.

Sincerely,

S: //Dennis Winchester

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           I’M IN!!

DATE:     5/25/18

I GOT THE INTERNSHIP!! Can you believe it? After three years of living in the shadow of Emily Dickinson, I can finally show the rest of the world that we New England chicks aren’t just uptight spinsters who walk around talking to ducks.

Now that I’ve told you, I’ll email Aunt Clara with the news. I didn’t want to tell anyone else in case this fell through and I ended up working at Starbucks this summer (Note to me: Ahh! Do not disparage the patron saint of your new adopted home city. Bad karma.) She mentioned driving out West with me if this job came through. She said something about wanting to go to the annual “Dames of the Dunes” gathering near Reno…she is looking for an excuse to take a road trip and hit some of the “retail shops” out here before going to Utah.

Could be fun!

Love you and thank you!

Zoe

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Checking in from the road

DATE:     8/17/18

Wow. We are in Iowa and my mind is reeling with questions. Who lives by choice in a town of 524 people? How do people sleep during tornado season? Where is the water? Why, in a land of acres/miles/counties, of nothing but corn, do people look at Aunt Clara and squint their eyes and chuckle when she asks for a vegetarian menu? I mean, we are surrounded by grains.

And why didn’t you ever tell me about Aunt Clara and the man from Minneapolis?

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Arrived!

DATE:     8/26/18

I’m settled into a temporary apartment. I’m not sure if I want to stay here. I’ll tell you right now, even with the cost of living allowance I get from BTS, I can’t afford much (read: anything unsubsidized) in Seattle. If I do well in this internship and could get an interview to start permanently I would be thrilled, but I plan to seriously look into opportunities in less spendy locations.

The apartment is in a cool old building in the International District. It’s kind of like Chinatown, but broader geographically. Like I said, it’s an old area. It’s a little shabby, in a good way

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Lonely

DATE:     9/18/18

I know I haven’t written in a while but everything is fine. Just busy, and…you know. Busy.

A strange thing happened yesterday. I was buying wine at Trader Joe’s, and when I gave the guy at the checkout my ID, he stared at it for about five minutes. I was just about to say, “Dude, it isn’t fake” when he started talking about prospectors. (Yes, this is a topic of conversation in Seattle.) Apparently, I have the same last name as a guy who came here in the 1890’s from Minnesota, loaded up on supplies, took off for Skagway and was never seen again. Not uncommon, except he haunts the old boarding house he lived in while he was here getting ready. The guy then said that the rooming house is still around, one of the places along Denny Avenue that was turned into apartments after the Depression. It’s probably my building. It does have that 19thcentury YMCA-type vibe.

Speaking of prospectors, I might get to take a business trip to Alaska in a few weeks!

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Itinerary

DATE:     10/21/18

Here you go–As you can see, I’ll be gone for twelve days, starting and ending the trip in Anchorage. I’m excited, and it’s a great opportunity to show off my design for the BTS booth at this year’s Sourdough Days.

Since I’ll be in Skagway for three nights, I asked my friend at Trader Joe’s more about the ghost. The prospector’s name is Karl, he said, and people who have seen him say he’s a thin, blond man dressed in dark green flannel and dungarees, and he opens drawers and cupboards and whispering “Tomas…help me, Tomas! Where is it?” When he heard I was on my way to Alaska, including the Skagway area, he told me to ask someone named Reid at the post office in Tagish to tell me the story about Tomas’s ghost.

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Northern Lights!

DATE:     11/4/18

I just can’t do this place justice in words, so your postcard is on its way. When I stopped in the post office to buy stamps, Reid was at the counter, and when I asked him about the ghost of Tomas he just said, “Ah, Karl’s friend.”  I asked what was so unusual about two prospectors who froze to death, and he shook his head and sighed. “Not everyone who didn’t make it froze. Or starved. Or fell. Or died of infections. Some had the nerve to be murdered.”

I asked who murdered whom and he shrugged, then went back to tearing rows of stamps.

“Karl and Tomas were two Swedes who knew each other back in Minneapolis. Their fathers were business rivals. Karl and Tomas both claimed to have had the idea to scout locations for mines, and I think the fathers both encouraged their sons to do whatever it took to beat the other one to mining rights.”  According to supply receipts and banking records, they both hit the Chilkoot the same week, but there is no official record of Tomas crossing into Canada. Other men said Tomas was on the Canadian side but he was alone.

I asked Reid how people know someone was murdered if they both just disappeared. I don’t think he gets to talk about this with a lot of people. “Because each one haunts the other. Both of them thought the other one was cheating. The legends that made their way to the cities in the following years suggest that they were both betrayed by the same person.”

So, that was my visit to the post office. Lots to ponder. It’s my last night in Skagway.

 

TO:           Mom and Dad

FROM:   Zoe

RE:           Aunt Clara

DATE:     11/6/18

I woke up last night and heard her voice whispering “No. No. No.”

Seriously, I heard someone hissing. I thought it was the heater but I heard words. “Clara…did you tell him? You told him. You ruined us Clara.”

It gets dark here so early, and the light comes so late, so I don’t know what time it was. I couldn’t sleep after that so I sat up and watched TV until my meeting. I am eager to get back to Seattle, where I can sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Son’s Beard

 

I saw him being born. Later on, I saw peach fuzz on his adolescent chin.

A few years later, when he moved in with us, in New York City, I think he borrowed my razor.

Yesterday, I stood next to him at The Beacon Bar. I sipped a beer, he had something I never heard of.

I was close to him, as I always like to be. He’s a big guy and he’s 31 years old ( Oh, God, how time flies !)

I studied his face, thinking how much I love him. Then I saw them!

I  Counted three. My boy had three gray whiskers on his cheek !

I don’t know what his thoughts were, but I felt ten years older.  Some would say “that’s life”. That’s not what my words would be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Father’s Books

The 1950’s & 1960’s

On Sunday nights, in the house at 420 Front Street in Owego, NY, there was usually an empty chair in our living room. My mother and three older brothers would gather around an oversized wooden console that housed a Black & White TV. The Ed Sullivan Show was about to come on the air. The diagonal screen measurement was probably about 20″, but I wouldn’t swear by that. Some memories dim with time…others stay fresh. It’s odd though. I sat and stared at this TV for years and couldn’t tell you what color the cabinet was.

But, the empty chair? Who was missing?

It was my father. Only on rare occasions did he join us for a TV show ( think he was present when Elvis was on the Ed Sullivan Show). So where was he? The answer was simple. He was upstairs. He was reading. This was not just a Sunday night activity for him…he was always upstairs (in whatever bedroom he had chosen that year for his ‘study’)…reading.

Our house was full of books. Upstairs and down, there were bookcases lined with a wide assortment of fiction and non-fiction. And almost all of it belonged to my father.

Today

We have a wonderful barrister bookcase that I brought from my family home after it was sold in 2005. It has glass windows. One sleepless night a few weeks ago, I went on the prowl for something to read. I decided to look into the bookcase at the books that we brought from my father’s library. Now I began to understand what his favorite reads were…back in the days while the rest of the family watched TV and he would retire to his comfy chair in one of the upstairs bedrooms. I began to piece together his changing tastes in literature. I determined that the oldest books dated to the 1940’s. (He bought 420 Front St. in 1945). I discovered a veritable treasure trove of pulp crime novels, early one’s written by Raymond Carver and John Dickinson Carr. There was Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene. It was next to Double Indemnity by James Cain. There were scores of these fine old pulps (even more in our bookcase downstairs).

I pulled out a copy of 5 Murderers by Raymond Chandler. I checked out the back cover. The book cost an astounding twenty-five cents! The highest price I saw on these books was fifty cents. Now, when I lived in Manhattan in the 1990’s, I used to see book vendors on the sidewalk in front of Zabar’s on Broadway. They would sell these very pulps, sealed nicely in a zip-lock baggie, for $5.00 or more. Quick math calculation: that’s a 2,000% increase. I am sitting on a goldmine!

I moved to hardcovers. There was E.M. Forester, Jack London, Robert Lewis Stevenson and so many more. Most of these were inexpensive book club editions, many had notices on the back cover to purchase war bonds.

In the upper right corner of the bookcase was a small collection of my own Hardy Boys and Tom Swift books that gave me so much joy in my pre-teen years

As my father aged, his taste in books changed. I used to see him sitting next to a stack of six or seven novels from the new releases section of the Coburn Free Library. The titles of these books, I can not recall, but I remember thinking at the time (1960’s) that this is what adults read. I wonder who the authors were. This was the days before Stephen King and John Grisham. I don’t think he’d like that genre.

My father passed away before I published my own novel. He never got to see his son’s modest success, but I’m sure he’d be proud. He tried to write a family history, but never got very far. He admitted that writing a long piece was a task beyond him.

But he sure could devour the writer’s he loved.

And he passed down his love of reading and books to all of his sons. He never pushed anything. He taught by example. I have done the same for my children. Erin and Brian are both avid readers. (Brian has been working on The Guns of August for a few years now. He has it on his Kindle. He told me once that there are about 900+ pages using the normal font. When he changes the font to a larger size, he is suddenly facing a 13,000 page book about the origins of WWI).

An indelible memory, a central, strong and clear memory of my dad is of him sitting and reading…until it was his bedtime.

He passed away at the age of 90. I’m sure he was reading when he was five or six. That’s 85 years of books. A lot of books, a lot of words and a lot of worlds to explore…for anyone.

Another Time Around

[Our front deck table.]

It all happened so fast. One minute, the flies fill the skies, the frogs croak down by the lake, the fan is kept on all night (a rare thing here in the North Country) and I spend my outdoor time swatting mosquitoes.

Tonight, we’re told of a frost warning. The fan is put away. The frogs are sitting out the cold weather deep in the mud. Our first frost, a few weeks ago, took care of the insects. I still find myself brushing away the spider nests, but their time will be over soon.

It’s about two weeks since the equinox. The first days of autumn are heavy upon us. The recent ceaseless rain has brought on some spectacular bursts of reds, yellows and scarlets among the deciduous trees. It’s the time of death and decay.

Or is it?

As I sit on the sofa and look out at the falling leaves, I’m remembering a very old Peanuts cartoon: Charlie Brown’s concern about that one last leaf that clung to a branch. I’m remembering the O. Henry short story, The Last Leaf…a deathly sick young woman lies on what may be her deathbed. The doctor tells her friend that she will…unless she had something to live for. The sick woman is watching the last leaf on a tree in the garden of her New York apartment. Her friend senses that the woman will die when the last leaf falls. The friend commissions an old artist gentleman to paint the leaf on the outside of her window. The last leaf never falls…the young woman lives.

It’s a melancholy story, but so is autumn, in a way.

[Beside our front walk.]

I took a walk around our property this afternoon. I noticed something that came as no surprise. It happens every year at this time, but it still takes you by surprise. When you think all is dying and rotting, you see new growth. Yes, something new is pushing through the wet soil like the crocus of April and the daffodils of May.

The fungi have taken over our lawn like daisies in June. They bring color to a darkening landscape. There, amid the fallen red leaves are white, brown and yellow mushrooms, not seeking sunlight so much (they’re not so big on photosynthesis), but are finding their food in the decaying leaves.

Soon, the first snows of November will put an end to much of we see.

But, rest assured that under the three feet of snow and the sub-zero temperatures, life goes on. The mice have tunnels, the future insects that will plague me next summer are holding out under the tree bark or in the mud of Rainbow Lake.

The frogs will be there too.

[All photos are mine.]

 

What Happened at 9:54 PM on September 22?

[The earth and sun at the equinox. Source: Google search.]

Are you regular? I mean do you feel in balance? Was everything right as it should be on Saturday last, September 22? Many of you, myself included, will say that nothing is in balance these days. Nothing is as it should be. But let’s leave politics aside for a moment to contemplate a wondrous phenomenon of nature. This one occurs twice a year. On or about March 21 and on or about September 21 (this year is was the 22nd, don’t quibble about details).

What on earth am I going on about this time?

Well, it’s the Autumnal Equinox, of course. You won’t find the Druids at Stonehenge on this day (actually, the Druids are always at Stonehenge). They tend to gather at the Summer Solstice, which is on or about June 21. If you are a novice Druid, think again about going to Stonehenge in June. The parking is a bitch.

Briefly, on Saturday last, September 22, the earth was facing the sun and the day should be of equal length. From now on, the days are going to get shorter…until on or about December 21, which is the Winter Solstice. The diagram at the top of this blog may help illustrate the general idea. Are the daylight hours and night-time really equal right now? No, because nothing in nature is quite that simple. There’s a lag time but I’m not going there.

[Balanced egg at the equator on the equinox. Source: GypsyNester.com}

It’s been said that at the moment of the Equinox, one can, if one desires, balance an egg. But this supposedly can only be done at the Equator. As a Science Teacher, I told my Sixth graders about this once in the late 1990’s. I challenged them. Two boys produced a photo (before digital) of a “balanced egg” on a table on the terrace of their York Avenue apartment. I said: “Wow”. They walked away pleased and proud they pulled one-off on the old science guy. But, I think they propped the egg up with some Nutty Putty or Wrigley’s Chewing Gum. You can’t fool me.

[My attempt at balancing an egg failed. But the tomatoes look balanced. Source: my photo]

So, I’ll be back to discuss the Solstice sometime in December. That’s a whole different diagram. A whole different story.

And you can’t do anything with an egg except scramble it (or poach it).

 

Adorable Aquatic Mammals Of Rainbow Lake

[Castor canadensis. Source: Wikipedia]

beaver n. A large aquatic rodent having thick brown fur, webbed hind feet, a broad flat tail and sharp incisors used for felling trees and building dams.

–The American Heritage Dictionary (5th ed.)

When late summer arrives here in the North Country and the leaves begin to turn red, gold and yellow, I like to reminisce about the fun facts and involvement I’ve had with the wildlife that is abundant in the Northern Tier of New York State, deep in the Adirondack forest, where animals and plants, from bears to wildflowers flourish.

I’ve written about the fascinating lives of spiders, black flies, mosquitoes, gnats and bees. This year, I’d like to turn my attention to the cuddly little furry critters that scamper about my yard at all hours of the day and night. The squirrels are just so full of life…they scamper about and make cute attempts to scratch holes into our eaves so they can live in our attic. The deer almost seem ready to eat out of my hand as I sit on the front deck. Every time I walk across the tiny little patch of grass that we like to call “our lawn”, I get yet another chance to check my body for ticks.

We don’t see too many bears so I’ll skip them.

But what we have, living in some lodge in some hidden part of this relatively large Rainbow Lake, are a pair of beavers.

So, let’s talk about beavers.  The North American beaver (Castor canadensis) can weigh up to 71 pounds! I got that fact from Wikipedia, so it must be true.

Are they social animals? You bet they are. They come right up from the lake and into our yard. Why just about two months ago, at night, while I slept just a few feet away, one (or both) of the local beavers chewed through and felled my wife’s favorite Poplar tree. I noticed it the next day when I was taking the recycling bags to the garage. There was the tree resting against the house, just outside our bedroom. Actually, the tree (about seven inches in diameter) was resting against our power lines.

This was serious. Our cable TV could have been taken out. How was I going to watch Dancing With The Stars or The Hoarders? We called the National Grid (sounds so Canadian) and within an hour they had the tree down.

Not one moment of interruption of our favorite shows!

But it was not all bad. We gained some useful information about our friends, the beavers. They loved Poplars and Birch. It so happens that I love those trees as well.

So, what did we do? Simple. We caged the trees. Our friend who sells us firewood and does some trimming (his name is Forrest, really) caged our vulnerable trees.

Now, because of those miserable beavers (what were they going to do with our tree, dam the lake?), we have a yard that looks like a display at Disney World.

How attractive is this:

Or this:

Or worse, this:

At least they left these under our dock. Maybe I can find a nice walking stick from this pile:

In search of more beaver lore, I went to The Wild Center in Tupper Lake. There, in a tank, was a beaver. I felt some aggression rise within me. I stared into the beaver’s eyes and said: “You will not conquer me. You will not take out all of our favorite trees on our .5 acre lot. I am still the master of my domaine. Do you hear me through this thick plate glass? I will not be ruled by you!” I suddenly realized that the beaver was stuffed. A small crowd had gathered around me.

“Daddy?!”

“Harriet, take the children to the car.”

“Don’t worry, Timmy, he’s just a grumpy old man…you know, like grandpa was when he became senile.”

I had to save face. I pretended I was a WWI veteran and slowly limped away humming It’s A Long Way To Tipperary.

I can only deal with these little frustrations philosophically. Soon, none of this will matter. The sun will expand to the size of a Red Giant and consume all the inner planets. Or, global warming will flood the Adirondacks.

And, if none of this happens, we’re going to spend the winter in England. I know they have hedgehogs, but I’m not sure about beavers. Hedgehogs don’t build dams, (I don’t think) but the beavers can gnaw away on our wire cages all winter.

At lease I don’t have to build a Wall.

[With the exception of the lead illustration, all photos are mine.]