When A Leaf Dances A Snowflake Will Soon Fall

Leaf1

I’m sitting on the front deck of our house which sits on a small rise above Rainbow Lake.  It’s late September in the North Country of New York State.  The trees are oddly out-of-tune with the season.  Some are brown, dead and waiting to drop to the ground.  Some are just hinting at the blast of hues they will splash your color receptors with–in a few short weeks.  And, some trees have ignored the short daylight and the 41 degree evening temperatures.  They are holding their chlorophyll until some command from the Horai and, they too will reveal their true colors.

I’m sitting on the front deck, breathing through my mouth and trying not to cough.  I am just getting over a mild case of pneumonia that I seemed to have picked up while traveling to my high school reunion.  My chest is feeling clearer and my temperature is roughly normal.  I’m sitting here wearing a fleece vest–but that’s nothing new.  I just took it off three months ago after wearing it pretty much since this time last year.

But I’m not doing nothing.  I’m watching a leaf dance.

It’s movement caught the corner of my eye as I took out a bag of recyclables.  A tiny maple leaf, part brown, part red and patched with black is caught at the end of a long strand of spider web that reaches from the roof to within a few inches of the floor boards.  Don’t even try to see the gossamer thread, its invisible as far as I’m concerned.  For me, the leaf is dancing its gentle pirouettes on the air.

That’s why I’m sitting on my front deck.  I’d be napping if I had not seen the leaf and I would be missing this special private recital.

Just now, I hear a skein of Canadian Geese flying westward.  Their honking has interrupted my silent concert.  It has led me to think of the passing summer–and the approach of the cruel and harsh months of ice and cold.

Winter usually begins without warning.  In the Adirondacks, it could come on the next cloud–it all depends on your elevation.  Here, beside the lake, it comes with seeing the first snowflake.  Usually heavy with moisture, the first flakes are soft, pure and slow to reach the ground.  Unless you find pleasure in winter sport, it’s a rough road until the Big Melt.

But, soon, if a strong wind doesn’t take my leaf away, a snowflake or two will collide with the leaf and adhere to its surface.  Then another will join–and then another.  The weight will cause my leaf to break its attachment to the thread and fall to the deck.  It’ll get swept away by new winds and then rot into the soil, under inches of snow, in our yard.

I have to go inside for a box of tissues now.  I wonder if the leaf will wait for me?

I doubt it.  The leaf owes me nothing.

Leaf2

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Trying To Stay Forever Young

AngieMaryMe

I’m sitting on the deck of our home at Rainbow Lake.  A lone chickadee hops from branch to branch and then vanishes into the thicket of trees.  I can see the shimmer of the setting sun reflecting from the water below us.  Only patches of the lake can be seen, we need to trim a few trees so I can watch the kayakers splash by on warm afternoons.

I hear the distinct honking of the Canadian Geese as they fly overhead and set their internal compass on south.  Their skein is visible for a brief moment above my head through the only patch of open sky on our property.

Just a week ago, I too, headed south.  Back to my hometown.  Back to a monumental reunion of my classmates, fifty long years after we graduated from Owego Free Academy.  At this very hour, one week ago, I was mingling with men and women that were once the boys and girls of my class.  Grey hair was dominant.  A cane here.  A limp there.  But, considering the changes that took place in the past half-century, my classmates fared well.  Extraordinarily well.  Last Friday night was the mixer.  I had to read names tags carefully, since I hadn’t seen these people in decades.  I did not watch them age because I did not stay in my hometown.  I saw them on a day in June 1965, and now I was seeing many of them for the first time since.

The next night was the Big Event.  It was the dinner and dance.  I found out that I was one of the few speakers on the program to make remarks.  I was to follow shortly after the poem that remembered those of us who had passed away.  Tough act to follow.

I was very nervous.  Many in the ballroom had read my blogs, many had followed my Facebook posts.  Many had little idea of who I had become.

My talk seemed a blur to me as I tried to bring humor and nostalgia together.  Was I funny?  Was I confusing?  Was I making a fool of myself?  I’ll never know.

I watched, with a wet eye, as Judy walked across the dance floor and became our “Senior Prom Queen”.  I learned that she had to move half-way through our senior year to join her mother–she missed the prom.  Now, this was her moment.  Her gown was that of a princess.  Her husband wore a tux.  I looked at my wool blazer and felt underdressed.

Across the dinner table were dear old friends, including my childhood sweetheart.  She and I and her BFF from elementary school went to the photo booth.

I’ve been dreading this reunion in a way.  I knew it was going to be a splash of cold water–something to force me to face the fearful fact of how fast time goes by and how we succumb to the years and how we face mortality.  I had to face the fact that, unpleasant as it is, I may never see some of these people again.

But, that dinner-dance was a moment in the present.  Some danced at the oldies like any of the sock hops back in the day.

One can try to “stay forever young”, but everyone in that room was aware of the force that was beyond our control.  The ticking of the clock–the pages of the calendar–the rising and setting of the sun.

But, for the moment, everyone was in the present.  The only place to be, really.

Someday, a group of people will look back on the weekend of September 11 & 12, 2015 and say: “Those were the days.”

Me at OFA

[Photo of a man with a microphone trying to make some sense]

The Migratory Habits of the Boomers

OwegoStuff

In this lecture we will explore the migratory habits of certain unusual groups of animals.  Let us begin by taking a glance at the Puffins of the North Atlantic.  They migrate to a big rugged and very isolated rock somewhere in the waters of the Atlantic.  There they breed.  Then they migrate somewhere.  It’s totally fascinating.

Now, let us consider the famous Swallows of Capistrano, California.  According to legend, they arrive at the mission on October 23, almost always on that date.  Pretty interesting, huh?  Then, on or about March 19, they circle the mission at San Juan and then depart.  Some say its a miracle.  Some say they just like the warm weather.  But you can bet that they will do a lot of breeding while they’re in California.  Isn’t that what California is for?

However, recent studies have uncovered a rather new group of migrating animals.  These would be the Owegoian alumni, which are rather new to the list of migrating groups.

It seems that each year that ends in a “0” or a “5”, this small population will make their way from far-a-way places, such as North Carolina, Georgia and the Adirondacks of New York State to gather in a ritual that has been termed a “reunion”.

The next such gathering is expected to occur very soon in the Southern Tier town of Owego, New York.

Experts who study such phenomena are wondering whether breeding is to be a part of this gathering that is soon to happen.  Some investigators say that the population is getting too elderly to partake in such risky behavior as breeding at this stage in their lives.

But, who knows?

Our Appeal To The Great Spirit

AppealGreatSpirit

[Source: Google Search]

It was the icon of our school.

It stood in the large foyer of the Owego Free Academy high school.

The title of this equestrian sculpture is Appeal to the Great Spirit.  The artist was Cyrus Dallin and it dates from 1909.  The original bronze statue is at the entrance of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  A small version rested on a table in the Oval Office of President Clinton.

My classmates and I were lucky to see this amazing piece of art everyday as we moved about the building near the main office and entrance.  I believe it stood in the old school (now a county office building) before it was moved to the front lobby of our high school.  It was never vandalized (to my knowledge), but more than once, some student would stick a cigarette between the fingers of the Native American as he sits upon his horse.  The Marlboro never lasted long there–a teacher or administrator would remove it.

But, somewhere in the minds of the students was the question: Why is he making a plea?  What does he ask for?

I recall having to spend a few minutes in the lobby alone with the statue sometime between the years 1961-1965.  I leaned against the wall and stared at the figure.  I felt I knew what the man on the horse was seeking.

As a boy growing up in Owego, NY, I collected arrowheads and sinker stones along the banks of the Susquehanna River.  The town is steeped in the history of the natives who lived on the site, undisturbed, until the late 18th century.

I pulled down my copy of the 1965 Tom-Tom yearbook.  I don’t find the Appeal; the cover is a stylistic “Indian” printed in white on burgundy.  But, I sensed his presence.

Other yearbooks in other years used the figure on the cover.

I look at the brochure inviting me to the 50th reunion of the Class of ’65.  There is the statue.

I think back on the years we walked past the statue dozens of times a day–on our way to gym, the office, the nurse–the front door.  The ‘message’ of the figure is unmistakable.  A young Native American in full-feathered headdress has his arms out stretched.  He is asking his god, his Great Spirit, for something.  Is he asking for forgiveness?  Is he pleading for a cause that he and his people would eventually lose?

As I leaned against the wall that afternoon, I wondered what his plea meant for us.  I didn’t know the answer then, but I think I have an answer now.

I stare at a downloaded image of Dallin’s work.  I think of four years among my classmates, my girlfriends and my teachers.  I think of a warm day, a June afternoon, in 1965.  Closing my eyes, I can see hundreds of people, parents and recent graduates walking past the statue.  We’ve just walked across the stage and received our diplomas.  For most of us, passing the figure on the horse would be the final time we would have an opportunity to look at his pleading arms.

Some of us would go off to war and lose our lives.  A few would come home from the war and lose their lives.  Many would move away, never to return to Owego.  Many would go off to a college and perhaps return–perhaps not.  And, many would stay in Owego and marry and have children and take their kids to football games and attend reunions.

A few would pass away from illnesses that we never knew much about, or even heard of, when we sat in our classrooms–those many years ago.

I can only speak for myself.  My answer to what the young man is appealing for is clear.  He, as our symbol, is asking the Great Spirit for a kind of guidance.  We didn’t know it when we left the building that day in June, but deep inside, we were scared.  We were afraid of what the future held for us.  We wanted more guidance than the well-meaning speeches we had just heard.  On the outside, we felt we had “made it” and were now on our own to discover the secrets of life.  But, on the inside, we feared what we would find along the trail of years that lay before us.  We feared we would lose our way.  Some of us did.

There are statues and monuments to great explorers like Captain Cook, Robert Scott and Henry Hudson.  They were all going into the unknown–without accurate maps–not knowing what awaited them.  Aren’t we all deserving of a statue? We all went “where no man has ever gone before”, and we did it without a starship.

Yes, the figure on the horse was our icon but he was also our Ultimate Class Speaker.  He had absorbed our hopes and fears for four years and now he was asking his (and our) Great Spirit for a guide to carry us from that day to this day.

Now we can say we “made it”.

On September 12, I will sit down at a dinner and look around the room at my classmates, now in their late 60’s.  I’ll see familiar faces of friends I’ve never lost touch with.  I will see faces of those I haven’t seen since the last reunion I attended in 2000.  I’ll see people I haven’t seen in fifty years.  And, I’ll see the empty seats of those who are no longer with us…there will always be a place at our reunion dinners for those who swirl among us in our memories only. Those of us who carry on with our lives are left with fleeting moments and stories to tell.  This is the double-edged reward for a long life.

Gary sitting behind me in homeroom.  Doug and Donny and David.  Nancy and Glen and Keith.  Too many to mention…too many to forget.  Too many.  Too soon.

We have followed our individual paths for over half a century.  Countless appeals have been made by each one of us, and countless more will find their way to whatever Great Spirit we choose to speak.

Let us raise our glasses…

OFA65 SeniorsSketch

Those were the days my friend

We thought they’d never end

We’d sing and dance forever and a day

We’d live the life we choose

We’d fight and never lose

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days…

                                                     –Mary Hopkin

 

 

 

Spider Dilemma, My

SpiderWebB:W

I wanted desperately to write a blog about Daddy-Long-Leg spiders.  But, there was a technical problem that I could not solve.  It’s not that there is a shortage of this species here in the North Country.  Indeed, just the opposite is true.  They are everywhere.  But try to get a photo of one…it’s not impossible, just very difficult.  Unless you own a Nikon DSLR with an 900:1 digital zoom lens, you’re out of luck.  The long legs are not really the issue, it’s the rest of the thing that’s problematic.  The Daddy-Long-Legs has a body the size of a match head, you know, those paper matches that they used to give away in bars.  It’s like trying to get a good photo of a fly on the fight deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard.

I found a Daddy-Long-Leg spider on the railing of our deck and took this photo:

Daddy

The gray arrow accurately points out the location of the Daddy-Long-Legs.  See it?

I realized that photo wasn’t going to make much of a blog, really.  I mean, I can hardly see the arrow much less the spider.

That was end of that idea…for awhile, anyway.

This morning I decided to brush off the R-pod in preparation for our trip to Florida in October.  There were nests and webs everywhere.  But after giving the camper a good cleaning, I noticed something near the front, where the hitch and propane tanks are located.  It was a spider web.  But this time, the spider was big enough to photograph.

Rushing back into the house, I try to find my iPhone 5 and snap a few images. I reached for my Nikon DSLR, but remembered that I had taken the chip out because it had other photos I needed for another blog.  I tried finding my CoolPix, but realized we had put in one of our suitcases for our recent trip to Ireland.  My mini-iPad was not that good because you had to fiddle with the touch screen in order to “zoom” in.  I settled on my iPhone 5 and even though I had to spread my fingers on the touch screen, decided that I could get the photo I wanted.  Now, I had something to blog about.

SpiderNext step was to identify the spider.  I can’t post something about a spider and keep calling it “spider”.  I had to find out what kind of spider it is.  I hurry back inside the house and look over my collection of Peterson Field Guides.  I don’t have one on spiders, only insects.  They’re not the same.  They are scientifically classified as being wholly separate.  So, I Google “spider” and find a quick identification key intended for the amateur naturalist.  [Notice I didn’t use the term “naturist”–those are the people who run around naked.]

I set to work trying to find out the species.  This was not easy because the spider in question hangs upside-down near the center of its web.  Not only that, but its underside was facing me and it’s identifying marks were on its back.  I pondered this for a few minutes before arriving at a solution.  I needed a mirror to see the top of the spider.  So, I rushed back inside the house and found my wife’s make-up mirror.  I ran back outside and carefully slid the reflecting surface (mirror) under and beneath the web.  I ran back into the house to replace the mirror.  It was too dark to get a good view, but I narrowed it down to three possibilities;

  • The Orb Weaver (Araneus spp)
  • The Cross Spider (Araneus diadematus)
  • The Shamrock Spider (Araneus trifolium)

It should go without saying that we’re talking about the genus Arachnids.  We all know that.  I also know that fully 75% of the human population are intimidated by spiders (only a fraction have full-blown Arachnophobia).  I’m in that 75% population cluster.  If you want to understand my relationship with spiders in more detail, order the 1958 version of The Fly on Netflix.

But all this left me with another and more complex dilemma.  I don’t especially like spiders, but I am aware that they eat mosquitoes, which I like even less.  So, do I whisk away the aforementioned spider so I won’t feel threatened each time I hitch the trailer to the car?  Or, do I let the mosquito-munching spider live?  That leads to another problem.  Do I transport this Arachnid to Florida?  What if it’s considered an alien species down there?  What if I am Person Zero who starts an Ecological Problem, a situation second only to the Rapture?

Life is not easy up here in the North Country.

BiggerSpider

[This is as close as I get.]