The Troll Of Barnum Brook Bridge

[The only known photo of the Barnum Brook Bridge Troll. Photo source: Google search.]

I stood in my kitchen staring at my Costco weather monitor. Mariam was busy looking for a container of low-salt broth. For twenty-two minutes I glared at the humidity reading. It was our eighteenth day of self-isolation. Except for a small incident involving two garbage bins, I hadn’t left the house. I was hoping something would happen with the humidity that would excite me, but it stayed on the Very Dry mode. I turned away in anguish and went downstairs to use our stationary bike. I plugged in my iTunes, put on my earphones and listened to Elvis Costello for ten minutes. The left peddle began to wobble. Not wanting to let it loosen too much I decided that ten minutes was more than enough.

Back upstairs in our living room, I stood at the picture window and waited thirty-three minutes for the Blue Jay to land on my suet basket. Nothing.

Mariam came to the door and said:

You need to get out. Go for a walk.”

As I layered up, my thoughts drifted to Coney Island. The sand, the surf, the hot dogs and the bikinis. One can still dream. I’m not dead yet, I thought.

I drove over to the Paul Smiths College’s Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) and went to the start my favorite short walk, the Barnum Brook Trail. I reminded myself to stay at least six feet away from anyone I met, but the parking lot was empty. I was on my own.

Part of the trail is a boardwalk with several bridges. I crossed the first bridge in fine spirits, my head was clearing. I was almost in a good mood, considering. I slowed as I approached the second bridge. This is not going to be pleasant, I thought. Sure enough, as I stepped onto the wooden crossing I heard the voice. It was louder than usual, rougher and more ugly than usual. There was true anger this time. From beneath my feet I heard:

[The Barnum Brook Bridge. Photo is mine.]

“Who’s crossing my bridge?”

It was the Troll of Barnum Brook Bridge. We’ve met before. He pulled himself out from the underside of the crossing and stood, blocking my path.

“Oh, it’s you. Well then you know what the deal is. You must answer my riddle or face a horrible death.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Okay, Troll, ask away.”

“Right then. First question is:

A boat is filled with people yet there was not a single person aboard. How is this possible?”

I pretended to ponder the posed puzzle.

“Because they were all married,” I finally said.

“Humph. Too easy. You must answer another one.

“Whatever.”

“I have branches, but no fruit or leaves. What am I?”

“Are you kidding? That’s easy,” I said.

“Answer!”

“A bank,” I said. “I need to move on.”

“Okay, those were easy, but you must answer one more question.”

“So ask, already,” I said.

“The more of this there is, the less you see. What is it?”

This was a new one so I had to pause. But I paused too long.

“You’ve lost! Now you must suffer a horrible fate.”

Then the answer came to me. “Darkness,” I said.

“Too late,” the Troll growled. “I will now grind your bones and have you for dinner.”

“You’re not grinding anything, except your green teeth. Order take-out tonight.” I squeezed past him, avoiding his fetid breath. “Besides, you’re not real. You’re just a bit of Norse mythology.”

As I walked off the end of the bridge I suddenly felt sorry for my final comment. We’re supposed to be kind to each other in these unreal crazy days. I turned around and said:

“Stay safe, Troll. See you when times get normal again.” He gave a small wave and climbed under the bridge, presumably to self-isolate.

When I walked into our kitchen, Mariam was busy preparing Tortellini and Zucchini Soup. I poured myself a glass of Chardonnay.

“I have a riddle for you, Mariam.”

“Hmmm.”

“What has to be broken before you can use it?”

“Oh, please. An egg of course. Now hand me the rosemary, please.”

I felt grateful that we were in self-isolation together. So many people are alone. Sad. But I felt so lucky to be in lock-down with such a smart woman.

“Baby, you’re the greatest,” I said as I handed her the jar of the herb. Then I went back to look if the humidity level had changed. It hadn’t changed a bit.

The Two Garbage Bins: A Winter’s Tale

[Iceberg Landscape. Photo source: Google search.]

In the U.K. they call it “Bin Day”. That’s when you put your rubbish and recycles out at curbside. I think that is a very cute way of putting things, but then the English are so cute anyway. On March 22, they will celebrate “Mothering Day” instead of “Mother’s Day”. The Brits have a quaint and charming (cute) way of putting names to things. In the USA, if a new mother is having difficulty nursing a newborn, we call in a “Lactation Specialist”. In England, the worried new-mother would summon a “Breast Expert”. (A fair percentage of men I know would qualify for that title).

It’s all very interesting, but all this has nothing to do with the following post (except the word bin.)

My wife and I live in the North Country. It’s not easy residing in an environment that pays little attention to the calendar. A few days ago the Northern Hemisphere celebrated the Vernal Equinox…the first day of spring. We celebrated a sub-zero nighttime low and a coming forecast of six or more inches of snow. Not many of my old friends from high school have to use a child’s plastic sled to bring our groceries from the car to our front door. Most of them are worried about which iron to use to make par in places like Hendersonville, North Carolina or Boca Raton.

But I digress.

The garbage pickup, here in the North Country, is handled by Casella, Inc. They provide you with two bins, one for garbage and the other for recycling. All we have to do is drag the bins to the roadside every two weeks (for us, this means the bins are put out on a Thursday night for a Friday morning pickup.) Very convenient. But we have been out of the country so we suspended service. So, now it’s time to get things rolling again.

[The garage in question. Photo is mine.]

However, here in the North Country, simple things sometimes aren’t so simple. You see, our garage has a leak, like a toilet has a leak. In the winter, this leak leads to a sheen of ice that is smoother than the rink at Rockefeller Center. Don’t think I haven’t thought about backing my car out, hooking up my iPad with Spotify and skating a pair of figure eights to Waiting For The Robert E. Lee with my wife. (The problem is that we don’t own ice skates.) The ugly reality is that to get from the back door to the bins, you have to have the skill and dexterity of Sonja Henie or Tanya Harding. So, by partly skating and partly clutching my car door handle I manage to get to the bins to prepare them for the move to the roadside.

Oh, how wrong I was. The bins were frozen in several inches of ice. I nearly threw my back out when the usual body slam to dislodge them (this happened several winters ago) did not work. The recycling big was already 75% filled. I opened the lid and peered inside. Where did all those wine bottles come from?

A little history. Ice is a powerful force. Look what happened to the Endurance, Shackleton’s ship when it got stuck in the ice off Antarctica. The ship was crushed and sank, stranding the entire crew. Could this be happening in my garage?

[Shackleton’s huskies watch as the Endurance sinks. Photo source: Google search.]

I thought about tying a rope on the handle of the recycling bin and securing it to the front towing hook of my Honda Fit and hitting Reverse and slamming the gas peddle. But the vision of my front axle being ripped off changed my strategy. Finally, after several days, I managed to free the garbage bin. Only yesterday did I succeed in breaking the icy grip that held the recycling bin. It took brutal strength and violence (and a few cups of that blue ice melting stuff you get when you enter a drug store) to finish the job. These are necessary skills one needs in the North Country.

[The bins in question. Photo is mine.]

Our next scheduled pick-up is April 3. Mostly likely the ground will still be frozen and it will be fairly easy to move the bins to the roadside. It not, I’ll have to drag them through the mud. In which case, I’m quite worried about the recycling bin. It’s very heavy.

I wonder where all those wine bottles came from.

[NOTE: This post was written while in self isolation. Good luck and be smart.]

 

 

Snow

The woods are pleasant, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

–Robert Frost

 

[Our tiny forest. Our front yard. Photo is mine.]

I can think of nothing in nature more calming, soothing and tranquil than standing in a forest while snowflakes nearly the size of marbles drift slowly downward through the trees.

I’ve sat by gurgling brooks. I’ve felt the winds of the prairie whistle in my ears. With a mug of Oolong tea laced with local honey at my side, I’ve sat and listened to the rain fall, sometimes heavy and in waves…sometimes only a dribble. These are all transcendent. And you need only one good sense, hearing.

Snow, on the other hand is silent. You can’t hear a flake settle on a pine needle. A rainfall doesn’t lend itself to a visual experience, unless you count thunder and lightening. A snowstorm, in its aftermath, can leave you breathless…the absolute whiteness of it all.  Well, not all. A mere three weeks can separate the dazzling colors of late autumn to a black and white world where only a hint of dull green marks the presence of coniferous trees and a cluster of brown Aspen leaves that have not yet fallen from the mother tree.

But snow is a superb example of what could be a blessing to one but can be a curse to another. Yes, I appreciate the quiet solitude that snowstorms bring, but I can also see darkness that lies beneath the ten inches of the white fluffy stuff.

It wasn’t always like this for me. I skated when I was young. Tobogganed every hill around Owego, NY and skied Whiteface Mountain. I spent five summers living on glaciers of the Juneau Icefield in Alaska. I knew ice. I knew snow.

Then I aged. Snowshoeing became difficult. X-Country skiing became problematic and downhill alpine skiing presented its own set of dangers to my body.

Blame it on my Lumbar region (L4 & L5) for my falling out of love for the winter season.

[Me shoveling. You can’t see my L4 & L5, but I can feel them. Photo credit: Mariam Voutsis.]

SIDEBAR A few facts about snow.

It is a myth, often repeated, that the Inuit (Eskimos) have dozens of words describing snow. There is no way to determine the real facts here because of the multitudes of Northern Native People. Different country…different way of viewing snow. There are however, researchers who study snow and keep track of these sort of things. The latest list contains 121 different types of snowflakes.

Is it true that no two snowflakes can be the same? This is mostly true, but recently scientists have found ways to practically duplicate a snowflake pattern.

Most snowflakes that we are familiar with are hexagons. There are thirty-five common types in all. Here is a short list:

  • Stellaar Dendrites (pictured below)
  • Columns & Needles
  • Capped Columns
  • Fern-like Stellar Dendrites
  • Diamond Dust Crystals
  • Triangular Crystals
  • Twelve-branched Snowflakes.

[A Stellar Dendrite flake. Very common. Photo source: Google search.]

There is even a Field Guide to Snowflakes available. I tried to examine snowflakes one afternoon a few winters ago. I wore a dark jacket and held my geologic hand lens in my frozen fingers. A flake landed on my dark sleeve. But when I put the hand lens to my right eye and leaned forward to examine the flake, my warm breath melted it, leaving me to examine a small drop of water. This is something I could do in my kitchen. I learned nothing. I’ll learn the technique, someday, perhaps.

So, I believe it can be stated that there is a snowflake for every taste. It would be an understatement to say that snow is the engine that runs empires, so to speak. What would winter TV every four years be like if it weren’t for the Winter Olympics. Hallmark Movies? Who would know about Tanya Harding? (I’m including ice as a sub-set of snow). How could we live without the likes of Lindsey Vonn? If you’re old enough your heart stopped for a few moments when Franz Klammer won the men’s downhill in 1976. And of course, who can’t forget the aerial flights of Shawn White?

[Alpine skiing. Awesome. Photo credit: Google search]

I celebrate winter. I love snow. But, these days it’s a visual thing. I must leave you now to contemplate my winter landscape.  I’ve sat long enough. I need another heat patch placed on my L4 & L5 region. I will make another mug of Oolong tea and add a tad of honey.

[Winter on our road. Photo is mine.]

[All of the factual information about snow came from several Google searches.]

 

My 500th Blog !

[The Wanderer Over The Sea of Fog. Casper David Friedrich. One of my favorite paintings. Source : Google search.]

Dear Followers,

Open your oldest and best cognac and celebrate with me.  This is my 500th blog post! Finding topics and putting them into (what I hope were) clever words was not an easy thing to do. And to do it 500 times is, for me, a true milestone.

I would like to use this opportunity to look back at some of the good times we’ve had together…places I’ve shared, people I’ve introduced to you and topics I have chosen to explore. I wrote some as fiction, some in the second-person and I experimented with different styles of writing.

I have a small pebble on my shelf in my office. It looks like a meteorite. Tiny craters and black as though it spent time in a furnace. This is a token I took from the floor of Death Valley. The little pebble had been baked in the 120 F of many Death Valley summers. I can’t let you feel this stone, but I can share with you how I sat on the salt flats of Bad Water, where I found it. I can share it through a blog post.

Some general statistics:

-My posts have been read in 60 countries. That’s 30.8% of the world’s recognized countries according to Google.

-My first blog was “A New Blogger on Board” [Not something written by me but a generic welcome to WordPress.] That was published on July 15, 2012. That’s roughly 7 1/2 years of blogs.

-I posted something every month since the above date. I’ve duplicated a few, i.e Coal for Christmas which I put out every year in December.

-The most number of clicks (likes) were under the category of Home Page/Archives. Apparently this is people just looking my stuff over. I racked up 10,111 ‘clicks’ on that.

-The most clicks, by far, were for A Short History of Chains and Chain Making. 1,551 people read it.

-The least number of clicks were for The Moth. Only 8 people seemed to like it.

My personal favorite is This Old House. In it I spoke of how heartbroken I was  when I handed the keys to 420 Front Street, Owego, NY to the new owner. It was the only home I knew.

[420 Front Street. Photo is mine.]

I have taken you on two cross country road trips in our R-Pod. I’ve followed my grandson, Elias as he grew up. We shared numerous trips to Europe and I’ve shared two trans-Atlantic crossings on the Queen Mary 2. You’ve met our friends, Tim and Jo Ovenden who live in North Dorset, England. They have graciously accommodated us on several trips, providing us with a place to stay.

[Jo, Anna, Thomas and Tim Ovenden. Photo is mine.]

I have shamelessly used Fluffy in several posts in a feeble effort to peddle my books.

[Fluffy. Photo is mind.]

My sincere hope is that you have found my posts thought-provoking, funny, sad, introspective and at the very least, interesting.

I posted my 400th blog from a rented house in Joshua Tree, California almost two years ago.

I hope I get to a 600th with all of you.

Thanks for reading.

Patrick

 

I’m Not Sleepy

[Goya’s The Sleep of Reason. Photo credit: Goodle search.]

[NOTE: The following post is rated for sad.]

When I was a young boy, about a hundred years ago, my mother would sit on the edge of my little bed and stroke my brown hair. It was well after my bedtime. I should have been sleeping the sleep of the innocent.

“What do you think you’re going to miss, honey?” she would ask, her voice soft and concerned. “Try to sleep, please.”

“I can’t,” was all I could say.

“Close your eyes so that the sandman can find you and help you go to dreamland.”

“I can’t,” I said again. I wasn’t been bratty or difficult. I just couldn’t stop staring at the ceiling. Nothing much has changed in all these years. I fear the setting of the sun and oncoming darkness. I plead to my wife to not turn out her reading light until I fall asleep.

Sometimes it works.

And then in the morning, I wake from the usual nightmares with my heart pounding and my breath coming in gasps. (At least I don’t wake her up screaming and flailing about the bed like I did twenty years ago.

My dreams are full of frustration and anxiety. Typically, I’m caught in the school where I used to teach, frantic because I can’t find my classroom or my list of students. Sometimes I’m lost in a horrific version of a Manhattan that doesn’t exist on any map. I’m walking endless streets and wandering through a warren of a broken landscape. I’m trying to find my way home. I’m lost. I’m terrified and lonely…and then the dawn comes and I’m back at Rainbow Lake.

[Photo credit: Google search]

Out of breath and fearing what the next night will be like.

Bob Dylan wrote: “My dreams are made of iron and steel.”

My dreams are exercises in frustration and…loneliness. I feel somehow blessed if I can remember nothing of my nighttime. That is a rare morning.

I read that dreams occur during REM sleep. That’s not a good thing because it robs you of the deep sleep you need for a true rest. I never greet the dawn like they do in TV commercials…stretching and ready to take on the day.

I think my condition is inherited from my father. He struggled with insomnia for as long as I can remember.

My legacy to my children? I hope they have a love of books and reading and traveling…looking forward to drifting off with a good novel on their chest.

I don’t want to meet my daughter or my son on the midnight lanes I frequent.

I’d rather they find time to let the sandman into the bedroom.

[Nightscape. Photo source: Google search.]

 

Two Men On A Rock

And I need to be there when the world gets too heavy and the shadows cross my mind.

Like brave mountaineers, we were never bothered much by time.

—Gordon Lightfoot.

 

[The author, left (in blue) and climbing partner, Greg Stella on the trail of Big Slide Mountain. circa 1972.]

Once upon a time, two young men set out from Johns Brook Lodge in the heart of the High Peaks region of the Adirondack Mountains. Their goal was to climb Big Slide. These two men were vigorous and healthy. The fire of youth burned in their veins. They climbed together for many years…in the rain, the sleet, the fog and the snow. In the summer they sweated and in the winter they huddled beside a log-fed blaze and sipped hot chocolate, hot enough to scald their tongues.

On this particular day, nearly half-way to the summit of Big Slide, they shook off their packs and sat on a rock for a cool drink and a rest. A few moments passed and another climbing party came panting up the trail.

“Excuse me,” said one of the resting men. “Would you mind taking our picture?”

The stranger obliged and handed the camera back to the man who wore a blue parka.

The small group moved on. The two young men rested for a few minutes and continued their climb.

Forty-seven years later, these two men and their wives were enjoying a few days together at a lakeside cottage owned by the blue-jacketed man and his wife.

“Hey,” he said. “I have a website and if I remember correctly, there is a picture of you and I when we were climbing Big Slide. It’s in one of my slide-shows. Would you like a copy?”

Soon it was all over. The slide-show was seen and the picture was saved. Much to the amusement of those present, an attempt was made to reproduce the postures of the two young men resting on a rock.

The two men stared at the original photo…and remembered.

 

[The author, left (in white socks) and one-time climbing partner, Greg Stella. November 5, 2019.]

 

[Note: The sound track to the slide-show was Bob Dylan’s Forever Young.]

Both photos are mine.

My website: http://www.patrickjegan.com

Now I Know What It Was Like

[Three candles and a laptop. Photo is mine.]

Don’t get me wrong…I love history. But I don’t necessarily need to live in history. I have no desire to travel to someplace in North Carolina to ditch my reading glasses, my jeans and my iPhone to reenact a minor battle in the Civil War. I have a great interest in the Civil War, and I think it’s a national shame that these precious and hallowed battle fields are being lost to development. But I don’t really need to dress up in a Union uniform and fire blanks at some bloke who is probably a lawyer in real life and and living with four children and a wife in Richmond who doesn’t really like wearing muslin.

That’s all very interesting, isn’t it? But that’s not the purpose of this post. No, my story is a bit different.

I’m writing this by candle light. Don’t ask why I have WiFi and hardly any electricity. I wish I could answer. But this may help:

Last night, Franklin Co. NY, (where I live) had a heavy rainstorm followed by a wind storm that was simply Shakespearean. The heaven’s howled and the trees swayed ominously, with a disconcerting roar. (And I mean roar). I’ve rarely head such sounds of fury. It kept me up from 4:30 am until late morning. I fell asleep simply out of exhaustion.

We had been trying to make decisions. We had no idea then this problem would be fixed, so should we just tough it out with six more fleece blankets on our bed? Should we light a fire in our fire-stove in the down-stairs room and sit until it was 85 degrees? We have a new tent…should we try winter camping in our front yard? We decided against that because of the number of blown-down trees. Should we plug our cell phones and go for an eleven hour drive, for the warmth and for the charged iPhones? Maybe Quebec City?

Upon waking and getting out of a warm bed into a chilly room, I counted eight trees that were blown down during the night. Not one fell on our car.

I also woke up to a power outage that started about 6:45 am. Here I am at nearly 10:00 pm sitting in a brown-out.

Writing this by three candles, I feel like Nathanial Hawthorn, or Washington Irving. They didn’t have electricity. But they weren’t writing blogs either. They were writing great American literature. By dim lights.

Isn’t that is what I’m doing?

Sort of?…..

[Our coffee table at black-out time. Photo is mine.]

[P.S. The full power just came on at 10:01 pm.]