Look Now, Beauty Can Die in a Moment

And this same flower that smiles today,

To-morrow will be dying.

–Robert Herrick

The end of beauty is strange.  The time elapsed can take decades.  You look at your wife…you don’t see a sudden change when she turns around to look at you…you don’t even notice the change because it’s slow…too slow for the human eye to perceive.  Only after the years pass, you look at her and something is different.  She’s still beautiful, but not in same way that she was when she was 22 years old.  It’s nature and it’s expected.

The beauty of a mountain landscape usually takes more than one lifetime to notice.  Barring a landslide, earthquake or Apocalyptic Chaos, the mountain is immutable.

The surreal beauty of clouds can last a moment or two.  Now, it’s a castle or dragon in the sky.  Now, it’s the shape of Idaho.

The beauty of the written word can and hopefully will last forever, in some form.

The beauty of a sunset or sunrise changes by the second…slowly giving way to darkness or to light.  The spectacular night sky is slowly changing as the stars and galaxies expand outward and away from us.  But we will never live a thousand lifetimes to began to see the shift of Polaris or the subtle change of Alpha Centauri.  For us it’s permanent.

It was 22 degrees this morning when I got into my car to make a quick run to the Post Office.  I started the car and looked up to adjust the mirrors.  There on the windshield was an array of stunning ice crystals that would rival the awesome nature of a thunderstorm.  And, that was the problem.  It was nature.  I’ve come to learn a few things in life; one is to look closely at the natural world and take a moment to stare.  Take a moment, for it will not last.  I turned off the car and went to get my camera.

I backed out onto the empty road and aligned the car so I could get some contrast with the crystals and the background.  I’m just learning the close-up function of my camera so it took a few tries to get what I wanted.

Did I capture it?  Not really.  I had turned the defroster on so I could see the road more clearly.  As the warm air blew against the glass, the crystals began to disappear.

I sat there until the last of the filaments of ice had gone…leaving small drops of water which were swept away by the wipers.  I didn’t destroy anything, the water is still there, as vapor…waiting to reform as a crystal or snowflake or raindrop.

But, a dry windshield is, to me, not that beautiful.  No, I saw beauty for about a minute before I killed it.

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How Soon They Forget

There I sit, in the corner of the yard, like a ’51 Chevy that had a broken axle and no one had the $65.00 to repair it.  I’ve been dusted off, washed and parked out to dry.  The thousands of smashed bug bodies on my forward surface are gone.  That’s ok, I don’t like bug goo any better than you do.  They even gave me an enema to flush my tanks and tubes.  All liquids were taken out of my cute little storage places so that when it drops to -30 degrees this winter, nothing will freeze, expand and burst out of the bottle, oozing cheap men’s cologne, eco-safe dish detergent, insect repellant or a forgotten can of diet Fresca into the recesses of my cabinetry.  I’m put up on plastic thingies that look like parts of a day-glo Lego set.  It’ll be lonely and cold out here.  I guess they forgot how well I got them through their journey.

I helped push them up and over the frightening mountain passes (Pat, the driver, thinks he was pulling me, but we know better, don’t we?).  I gave them a nice cool place to relax after an exhausting quarter-mile hike into Golden Canyon in Death Valley when Pat’s pocket thermometer read 96 degrees…in his pocket.  I never leaked a drop from the cold rain onto Pat’s sleeping head.  As for the sleeping, ok, I could have provided a more firm bed to help the guy with his poor back.  But, that’s fine, he’s many things, but a complainer he’s not.

They cooked nice, tasty healthful meals on my little two burner Propane stove.  I wasn’t a bit jealous when they chose to grill with that brand-new L. L. Bean griller.  Even if it was an awfully catchy bright green.  It’s the kind of thing that other grills use when they grill.

So, all in all, and all things being equal, when all is said and done and in the last analysis, I did a good job for them…for nearly 9,000 miles.  I hope they look out of their bedroom window and remember the good times we had.  Just Pat, Mariam and me, the little R-Pod.

I’m thankful for one thing.  They didn’t go crazy with the tourist stickers that so many RV’ers do.  Thankfully, they didn’t plaster one of those GREETINGS FROM OHIO peel-offs on my backside.

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Epitaphs: Part V–A Desert Grave

As a rule, this post is about unusual and interesting words, the last words, the final words that are carved onto a headstone.  In this case, there are no words.  Perhaps there is a name and a date, but the face of the stone was difficult to see.  I was held back by a fence.  The sun was bright and glaring.  I could not find a name.

So, one is left to be curious about who this person is.

The location itself may be helpful.  I spotted a cluster of about five graves about a hundred yards off the road leading into Death Valley.  In the distance, dug into the yellow-brown hillside, was the scar of an old mine.  There was no other signs of human presence as you turned a 360 to survey the landscape.  Here, most likely, was a miner and his family.  Resting forever in the absolute silence of the desert.  Absolute?  Maybe not.  The wind blew through the scrubs.  The wind moved the sand against the headstone.  A small rodent may scurry past.  The old sun-bleached boards that were scattered about may shift with a breeze.  And, perhaps the silence was so absolute that the moon and stars made the only sound.  Could it be that only dead, deaf ears can hear clouds pass overhead?

The funeral must have been something to witness.  A few wagons…a small cluster of people standing around the hole and watching as the coffin went slowly into the dry earth.

Then they left.  Then it was silent once again.

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Travels 27.2: We Save the Worst Until the Last

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I fully intended for Travels 26 to be the Grand Finale, but in the confusion, exhaustion and labor of getting back into our house on Friday night, I had forgotten to add the Vital Statistics that I had spent so much time compiling.  When I realized this gross omission, I felt the need to add a coda.  I knew that people out there were keeping score at home so I needed to fill in their house books.  That was why I posted Travels 27.1.  And, when I composed it I mentioned that I would need a Travels 27.2 to explain why Travels 27.1 was necessary.  The simple reason for this is that putting everything together in a single blog, would be confusing to most…especially me, because I lost track of the stats (Travels 27.1) while the “situations” that made it difficult to make a clean end to our trip would need a special addendum (Travels 27.2).

If you get my drift.  And, if you don’t, who am I to judge?

We began the final day from Erie, PA., where it had sleeted on us all night.  Our campsite was only a few miles from Lake Erie so we got the ‘lake effect’ blustery weather.  We knew we had a long push to get home.  So, onto I-90 and then the NYS Thruway.  At Tupper Lake we encountered more sleet and ended up stuck behind a Town salt spreader.

Then our goal! Home! We had driven over 440 miles and it was dark (7:25 pm).  We live on a narrow road so the question came up: what to do with the R-Pod?  We decided to BACK it in to the space in front of our garage (which housed our older car, a Honda CRV).  I would love to say at this point that during the trip, I had mastered backing the camper into various spaces…but in fact, I hadn’t master that skill at all.  Not a problem on the trip because we requested ‘pull-through’ sites every night.  So, I tried using what little skill I had learned to back the camper up to the garage door.  I tried everything…even the counter-intuitive move of turning the steering wheel opposite the direction you would like the end of the camper to go.  Nice in theory, but not a great concept when you have a road that is very narrow and no place to make these moves.  To those of you out there who are shaking your heads and thinking…a child could to it…good for you.  I hope your petunias wilt next summer.

Back and forth, forward and reverse; this was the way I spent about 45 minutes.  I had all the windows down so I could hear Mariam yell out directions.  It was chilly.  I was frozen.  I was confused.  I was getting impatient.  In the rear-view mirror I could see my wife checking her cell phone speed dial for a divorce lawyer.

Enough I said.  I am parking it alongside the road.  It’s a cul-de-sac anyway…nobody will drive by.  I make the loop around the ‘hood’ and pull up tight to the edge of our property.  No way, Mariam said.  Too much of an angle.  I got out to see for myself.  The car and R-Pod were listing like the Titanic just before it went down…you remember, when Leo looked up at Kate Winslet…while he died in the frozen water to the tune of “My Heart Will Go On”?

Okay, I said let’s move the CRV out and I will pull part way in, detach the camper and get into the house.  (Remember, I’m freezing).

Out and around the loop I drive while Mariam moves the CRV.  She parks it facing the garage and leaves the lights on to help us see what is going on.  I pull into the open door and just before it’s too late…I remember something…there’s something we’re missing, after all, everything went so smoothly so far.  What was I trying to remember?  I pulled forward into the garage and then stomped on the brakes.  Our dishes in the camper must have been sent flying onto our bed.

I rolled the window down again.  Mariam, I said.  The bikes.  I was about 8 inches from either taking part of the garage portal off or destroying our two 21 speed hybrid bikes that were mounted on top of the car, in an upright position (see various illustrations in earlier blogs). I tried to get out of the car but I could only open the door about 9 inches, so I pulled back out a few feet.

We got the key to unlock the Thule rack.  Took the bikes off.  I pulled the car into the garage and we detached the camper and stabilized it.  Mariam went back to the CRV. The battery was dead because she left the lights on for about 10 minutes.

I looked at the dead car and then looked at my crestfallen wife…and I did what any husband would do.  I smiled and said no problem.  I found the charger, plugged it in, and in five minutes or so, the CRV started and we pulled it into the driveway.

We left the everything in the lightly falling snow and went inside.  We ate the lentil soup a friend had left for us.

So, there you have it.  Travels 27.2 should wrap things up.  Unless you want to read about the time in Death Valley when I DID NOT realize there were bikes on the car when we pulled into the National Park Visitors Center.  That’s the place where it was sunny and 95 degrees.  I had spotted a covered parking area and headed for it….

Here are two photos.  One is full of history and romance of sorts, the other is full of history and romance but is now being covered with snow.  Can you guess which one is which?

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Travels 27.1: Captains Log

There will be a posting after this one goes out.  When? I can’t say.  But, the next blog Travels 27.2 will be a concise explanation for why 27.1 is necessary.  It will reveal in bone-chilling, spine-tingling and shocking details, the series of wrong moves made by me, the so-called Captain, as we arrived at our home on or about 7:30 pm, Friday last.  I mean, why was I expected to remember that I had two bikes mounted atop the car when I attempted to pull it into the garage? Give me a break!  I had enough stuff on my mind, like getting into the house and getting Travels 27 out to my expectant fans.  Families had put off weddings and Bar mitzvahs to gather around the laptop and read the closing chapter.  Bowling tournaments were cancelled.  High school football games all across America extended half-time. Homecomings were delayed.  Guys doing some heavy making out behind the Grand Stand of the Owego Fair Grounds, stopped the biological urge and pulled out their Mini (iPad).  Internet cafes had extended their hours to allow the blog readers to drink more Mocha and Latte in anticipation of #27.

APPENDIX

  • Total miles travelled—–8,998.5
  • Average Mpg—–10
  • Duration of trip—–September 18 – November 8, 2013
  • Number of campsites—–47
  • Temperature range experienced—–96F to 27F
  • Number of states visited—–20
  • Approx. number of photos taken on two cell phones and a serious Nikon D3200—–320
  • Approx. number of times we dumped our “black water” tank—–10
  • Number of showers taken in the R-Pod—–0
  • Most awesome moment—–Looking into the Grand Canyon
  • Saddest moment—–The eyes of the Lakota people at Pine Ridge Reservation
  • Most frustrating time—–Being locked out of Yellowstone National Park during the stupid government shutdown
  • Most terrifying moment—–Watching how terrified my wife was on the Tioga Pass onto the Eastern Sierras
  • Least terrifying moment—–Taking a nap in the R-Pod with a Native American Flut player CD
  • Total number of times watches and clocks were changed by an hour—–7
  • Number of Audio Books listened while driving—–4
  • Number of MacDonalds Fried Chicken meals—–2
  • Number of times we were stopped by police for any reason—–0
  • Days snowed on—–3
  • Approx. number of rolls of RV toilet paper used—–9
  • Approx. number of compliments on the “cuteness” of the R-Pod—–12
  • Number of confrontations with hostile motorcycle gangs in the Arizona desert—–0
  • Number of rattlesnakes seen in road—–1
  • Number of “Beware of Rattlesnakes” signs seen—–1
  • Number of times Pat asked to take an RV break and stayed in a motel—–6
  • Number of motels we stayed in for an RV break—–0
  • Number of signs for legal brothels seen in Nevada—–3
  • Number visited by Pat (just to use the rest room)—–0
  • Number of movies on DVD brought on trip—–150
  • Number watched—–2
  • Most annoying thing encountered—–$20.00 to 25.00 admission fee to most National Parks (The land is ours…it should be free)

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Travels 27: Falling In Love Again [The Final Installment]

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense.

Take what you have gathered from coincidence.

The empty-handed painter from your streets,

Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets.

The sky, too, is folding under you

And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

     –Bob Dylan “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”

Carpe R-Pod.

     –Patrick Egan

Well, it’s over.  Our journey to the west coast and back is completed.  Now it is not a day-to-day reality, but a seedling memory, destined to grow and spread like Kudzu along a Virginia roadway.

All this may sound ponderous, but it isn’t over to me or to my wife, Mariam.  This trip was the longest I’ve made in decades.  It filled in many blanks in my mind’s geography.  I’ve seen places I have been dreaming about since I was a child.  I’ve met people in out-of-the-way places that won’t be easily forgotten.  For me, some stops were repeats from trips made as early as 1964.  For my wife, many of our destinations were new to her.  We’ve shared a great deal.

There are a million different ways I could have gotten from Rainbow Lake, NY to Orting, WA, but I chose one.  It was a ribbon of asphalt, sand, gravel and metal that led me to a certain door, of a particular house, on an average street where my grandson lived.

Don’t look for a PowerPoint “My Vacation” slide show, or a list of places I took pictures.  You’ve read my humble posts.  You got the general view of what happened along the way. ( I want to thank all the people who took time to read my goofy musings and please know that I appreciate your comments more than I can truly say.  I hope you found these blogs amusing, informative and thought-provoking.  Thank you for allowing me to play the role of tour guide in ways I hope were creative and worthwhile.)

So, how did this whole thing, this budget-busting, underestimated and exhausting trip change me?  What have I learned?  How am I different from I was on the morning of September 18, 2013?

The answer is that I fell in love again…in love again with emotions I feared were beginning to die inside me.  I’m invigorated and in love again.

In love with my wife, for being with me every mile of the way.  We argued routes, menus and which CD’s to play.  But we were hardly ever out of each others sight…something I want to keep happening.  The success of the trip was because of her genius and patience.  All I did was keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road (with only a side glance at the girls on the split-rail fences).  Remember,  I can multitask.

I experienced a renewal of the love I have for my daughter, Erin, as I watched her cuddle with Elias as I did with her forty years ago.  My love grew for Bob, her husband, for making my little girl happy.  And, Elias.  I am in love with my grandson.  Within days of our arrival, he began to crawl with serious intent.  This is no small issue; dealing with a ten-month old wanderer.  I will never forget the sight of Elias kicking with joy as he saw his daddy pull up in front of the house at the end of a work day.  If all children were loved like that…

I fell in love once again with my son, Brian, who encouraged me to continue the postings.  “It’ll be strange when they end,” he emailed me.

This country.  This amazing country is a place that can be loved in countless ways.  America has the beauty, geography, history and people who could keep one on the road forever.

Every person, eye, rock, tree, sand dune, mountain, lake, diner, hand, gas station or store has its own unique tale–but most will never be told.  Every face I saw is a doorway to ten thousand moments of joy, sorrow and all other emotions you can name.

I wish I could live a hundred more years just to open one or two of those doors.

And the land itself is a giant face…the face of “our land”, everyone’s land, regardless of any differences.  The “big picture” is joyfully heartbreaking to gaze upon.

It is polite to stare.  How else can you really absorb it all?

If you think it’s goodbye, it’s not.  There are more blogs in my head now than ever before.  I’ll be back…

So, happy trails to you, until we meet again.  Now, excuse me while I scrounge through our trip stuff to find that refrigerator magnet…the one that says Route 66 on it.

Awake, awake, the world is young,

For all its weary years of thought.

The starkest fights must still be fought,

The most surprising songs be sung.

     –J. E. Flecker

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Travels 26: A Grave Situation and a Cold Grey Sky From Lake Erie

I know, intuitively, that my readers are gathered on street corners, in cafe nooks, penthouses, cabanas, taco trailers, art theater lobbies, bowling alleys, massage parlors and sleazy bars all across America saying:

“The guy must have run out of ideas by now.  Surely, his well of experiences has run dry.  What else can the old man find to blog about?” said Larry.

“Our last GPS fix on his location was something like 42 degrees 10 minutes North and 80 degrees 10 minutes West.  That’s what I had on my cell phone before Rhonda came by and grabbed it so she could talk to her sister, Gladys in Cincinnati,” said Hal.

“Guys, guys…I taught geography for thirty-two years.  I know my stuff.  Let’s see,” said Carl, as he twiddled his fingers in the air.  “That would put him near Erie, PA, somewhere near Presque Isle.”

The exotic landscape is behind me now.  The low hills, fields, farms and forests of western Pennsylvania look like so much of the part of New York State that is in front of us until we make our final lap into the Adirondack Mountains…and home.  The autumn colors are long gone now.  Only the last of the burnt browns and damp yellows can be seen against the near-black of the trees.  The skeletal branches reach up against a sky as grey as wet slate.  The low clouds blow in from Lake Erie and bring tiny flecks of sleet.  It’s 39.9 F outside the R-Pod, but feels much colder.

Unless something quite out-of-the-ordinary happens to us during the final 400+ miles, I feel the need to share an experience that occurred to me a short time ago, before we passed through Ohio.

I was sitting in the campground common room.  Our RV was parked and stabilized.  I needed some warmth so I wandered over to the building that housed the laundry, showers and common room.  There was a pool table, ping-pong board and a TV.  The cable reception at many of the campsites was dicey at best.  Here, I could sit in warmth and give Mariam some time to catch up on email.  And, since I held the remote, I controlled the channel selection.  I had several choices: a rerun of “Duck Dynasty”, a high school football game, and a documentary on Entertainment Tonight on “Vanna White: The Early Years.”  It promised rare footage of Vanna performing “I Don’t Know How To Love Him.” at the Englebert Humperdinck Mall off Exit 17B outside Toledo.  The reviews said she handled the mega-phone like a true professional and predicted that her talent would carry her to the top in the rarefied world of game shows.  The only other choice was a PBS airing of bloopers from The Charlie Rose Show.  I opted for the Vanna White documentary (I already had the Charlie Rose thing on DVD).

Just as I was settling back in the sofa, which smelled faintly of cat urine, I felt the presence of a guy who had just sat down.  I looked at him.  He was wearing sweats and seemed a little red in the face.  I looked at what little neck he owned and noticed it too was the color of a tomato.  There were drops of sweat rolling off his ear lobes so I figured he had just come from the steam room located in the Motel 6 across the road.  Apparently, the motel and campground had a sweetheart deal going…you could use their gym for $12.00, if you could show your campsite pass.

What a steal, I thought.

“Hey,” he said.  “Name’s Buster.  Buster Nibbins.”

“Evening,” I replied.  “I’m Pat.”

“Hey,” he said.  “Wanna hear a good story?”

I wanted to be alone with Vanna, but the moment had passed.

“Sure,” I said, as I muted the TV.

“I’m a Cemetery Sexton,” he began.  “And I really wanted to tell you about how my friend and I probed in the graveyard yesterday.”

I didn’t like where this was going but I gave Buster the benefit of a doubt.  Maybe there was a story here after all.  I glanced over my shoulder, pretending to scratch my right elbow, to check how close I was to the door.

“Yeah, it was quite a thing,” he said.  “I was checking the cemetery grounds the other day and I came across this woman standing alone and looking down at a headstone.  She saw me coming and noticed my SEXTON badge on my sweatshirt.  I had just picked up a flattened Budweiser can when she stopped me. ‘What’s mama’s gravestone doing here?’  I said that it was there because that’s probably where she was buried.  She objected…strongly objected.  ‘No, she’s not.  We had her disinterred and moved to California so she could…could sleep with the rest of the family.’  No, ma’am, I told her.  I’m the SEXTON, touching my badge.  We haven’t had a pull -up here in years.  I would know.  I’m the SEXTON.  She looked at me with a growing impatience.  ‘Sir SEXTON,’ she said.  ‘I think you’re mistaken.  I have the papers right here.  Mama was disinterred and shipped to the West Coast…San Jose, to be exact.  We own several plots here and I came out to look them over as we plan on selling them.  Now, I’m asking again, why is Mama’s stone still here?’

“Miss,” I said, “Nothing has been dug up here.  See.  No fresh dirt.  There must be some mistake.”  She said: ‘The mistake, mister, is yours.  Your records are clearly not current.’  Miss, I said again, there’s been no digging here except for burials.  Now unless this disinterment was done at night, someone would have noticed a back-hoe, flood lights, workers, a funeral director and me, actually.  And nothing like that has happened here since…well, let’s just say it’s never happened here.  Now, how do you know for sure your mama arrived on the west coast? I asked.  ‘I don’t really, that part of the family doesn’t talk to me.’  Well, there’s your answer, lady.  She still here.  ‘No, she’s not.  I have papers from our lawyer that state that it was all taken care of.  It’s all here in my purse, along with his bill…for $9,000.’  Well, we’ll just have to see about this”, I told her.  We parted after I gave her my SEXTON card.  So yesterday morning, my friend and assistant, Ozzy and I came out here just before dawn and probed to check if the concrete vault was still in place.  If it was, it meant the coffin was still inside, unless they just took the coffin and left the vault, which they’re not supposed to do.  Our probes would touch the top of the vault, it’s only about 8 inches down, if it was still there…but if the vault lid was removed and taken, then we would likely miss something, which means there could be a vault that may or may not contain the coffin.”

I stared at Buster and blinked twice.

He leaned closer and lowered his voice.

“And, guess what?” he whispered.  I could smell his Old Spice body lotion. “We…”

Just then the door to the common room swung open and a woman in a hot pink terry cloth robe stood there.  Her hair was set in rollers the size of Ajax cans.  There was an awful lot of terry cloth covering what could have been a set of triplets.

“Buster, you get your sorry ass back to the trailer…NOW”  Without a word, he was past me and out of the door, somehow squeezing past his wife.

“Sorry, Mister,” she said, looking me up and down.  “He’s been like this since the operation.  Sorry.”

The door slammed and she was gone.  The Vanna White documentary was nearly over.  I punched the remote and the TV went dark.

As I walked to the door, I noticed something on the floor.  I bent over and picked it up.  It was a laminated, legal and very legitimate license.  A license to be a cemetery SEXTON.

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