The Masts…Oh, the Masts

sails at Plattsburgh

Here I am once again. I’m sitting with friends at the Naked Turtle for dinner.  It’s located on the shore of Lake Champlain in Plattsburgh.  I listen to the conversation but I’m drawn to the eastern view, toward Vermont.  The marina is filled with boats of all sorts…but it’s the sailboats that attract me.

Where are they going for the winter? North to the St. Lawrence River and out to the open ocean?  Will they head south to Lake George?

I wonder…

If they go north, they can use a series of canals to reach the Atlantic.  From there, they can make for the Intercoastal Canal and eventually end up in the Caribbean…on some island…in some port.  Sipping latte or perhaps a margarita. And they can use the wind, however it blows.

Are these journeys behind me (in my dreams?) or in my future?

I look at the boats.  I count the cabins.  I’d like four berths and a decent head.  I don’t favor anything more that I and my wife can handle.

But, a guy can dream, even at my age, a guy can dream

Some of us will sail away and some of us will wait until the right boat comes in,

Where Are The Castles In The Sky?

ADKclouds

When I was a young boy, my mother would walk with me down through our backyard and toward the river.  There was a decline on the property that, in very old times, was the bank of our river.  Now, it was simply a gentle slope down to a lawn that took my father decades to transform from a field of weeds to grass…that had to be mowed, of course.  I often wished he’d left that part of the yard alone and allowed it to grow into a forest of wildflowers and small birches.

My mother would usually stop and sit on the highest part of the slope and lay back…looking at the sky.  She pointed to the cumulus clouds that were usually present in the afternoon above Owego.

“Look,” she’d say.  “See that cloud?  It’s shaped like a whale.”

I’d look and wonder.  Then I began to see the shape she was still pointing to.

“Yes, mommy, I see the whale,” I said and I did indeed see the hump and the tail.

“The clouds can take on all sorts of shapes if you let your mind free to imagine.  Right now I see a ship…a ship that will one day come in for me,” she said wistfully.

I think this is what she said.  I don’t remember exactly because I was too young to remember her words.  But, from that day on, I used to keep my eyes aimed at the clouds and I began to see that what one minute was an amorphous shape, become a dragon, or a knight, or a horse…or an angel.

I did this through my teenage years when I would stretch back in the same place where my mother and I would sit and sit and think and begin to see the shape of castles and eagles and great ships and more knights.

In the late 1970’s, I would take my daughter, Erin, down to the slope in the backyard, to the same place my mother sat with me…when I was a little boy.

“What do you see?” I asked Erin.

She stared at the sky for a time and then said she thought one looked like a mountain…a volcano…with the sun edging over the peak.

“It’s a beautiful mountain,” she said.  “Daddy, do you see it?”

“I don’t see it now,” I said, “but maybe someday.  That cloud is only yours to imagine.”

Years later, I took my son, Brian, to the slope in the backyard, to the same place my mother sat with me…when I was a little boy.

“Daddy!” he said as soon as he looked up.  “I see a big building, a skyscraper like the one you showed me in a book.  It looks like the Empire State Building,” he said.  ” Do you think I’ll ever see it in real life?” he asked.

“Maybe someday,” was all I could say.

Many years later, I would  manage to look up…the trees were thinning out now…and find objects and shapes in the clouds while I mowed the lawn my father had created.  My children are both adults now.  I saw only shadows of happiness in the faces of the dragons and knights.  The castles I saw were dark and menacing.

Even later, after a heartbreaking divorce, I still continued to look up to the clouds and try to find fanciful and dreamy and mythical shapes.  I only saw only puffs of water vapor…simply clouds.

After my father passed away, I continued to mow the lawn and look up.  I saw only dark clouds and vague images of those I loved who had passed on.

I took one last walk to the river the day I handed the keys to 420 Front Street to a woman named Lauren.  It was overcast and nothing distinct appeared in the sky.  A vague shape of an hour-glass formed in the lower clouds that were building over the southern hills.

A year or two ago, I took the walk…perhaps for the last time…to the bank of the river.  I was with my wife.  The house had been empty for a few years and the lawn had suffered through two devastating floods.  When I had mowed it, it look like the 17th hold of Augusta National Golf Course.  This day, it was shoddy and overgrown and almost unrecognizable.  But, this time I saw visions of King Arthur, Roy Rogers and cowboys and indians and brave soldiers and angels that seemed to smile on me once again.

Mariam and I sat and looked at the sky.  She told me that when she was a child, she would lay back and make images of the cloud shapes.  I asked her what she remembered.

“I recall the image of an old man…with a crooked nose and a cane,” she said.

“Maybe someday,” I said.

Walking back to the house, I looked at my wife.  Then I looked at the very spot my mother would make me sit.

“Yes, mom,” I said.  I see it all.”

cloud2b:w

The Night Of The Living AA’s: Report #3

Thermometer

I’m sitting on the sofa in our screened-in porch listening to the rain falling, heavily and with vigor, on our deck, roof and the new leaves of the maples.  I want another mug of Dorset tea, but that would mean going into the kitchen one more time.

I’m reluctant to do that.  There is something going on in the kitchen that causes me to suffer the most prolonged insomnia and induces the more horrific nightmares when sleep does finally come to my weary and reddened eyes.

I have only myself to blame…

I’ve always wanted to own an indoor/outdoor thermometer.  I wanted one even as a young child.  While the other boys in my neighborhood would be playing catch or stealing apples from the old orchard or riding their bikes around the block singing: “Back in the Saddle Again”, I would be dreaming of owning a device that would let me know what the temperature was both inside my home and outside in the yard. The only problem was that these instruments weren’t yet invented.  If I wanted to know how cold it was, I would have to don a coat and flannel-lined jeans and trudge out to the wall of the garage and look up at the mercury column, inside a glass tube that was attached to a Coca Cola advertisement.

Now, sixty years later, I own three of these wonderful little units.  There’s one in my “man-cave” in the lower level of our house.  There’s one still in the box, just as it was when I bought it at a Costco’s in Jupiter, Florida.

And, there is the one in the kitchen…on the narrow sill just above the sink.  It’s small.  It’s accurate.  And, it simply terrifies me.

I’ve written two posts on this Radio Shack model before (or maybe one blog and a Facebook post, I can’t remember).  So, for those who have been following me over the years, you may know what’s coming next in this particular report.  For those of you who are more recent “followers” of my stuff here on WordPress, then be afraid, be very afraid.  Do not let your children read this post.  If you’re weak of heart or a faithful church-goer, you may want to stop here.

You’ve been warned!

You see, my friends, my wife and I bought this house in 2000.  We used it as a vacation home for a number of years, renting it out to people willing to come to the Adirondacks and get bitten by black flies and deer flies and mosquitoes while enjoying the hiking, boating and swimming that the Park offers.

We were living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at the time.  It was the perfect weekend get-a-way retreat for us when we felt the need to escape the artistic and cultural life of a vibrant city.  It was only a mere six and a half hour drive (305 miles) from our front door on W. 93rd St. to the driveway at 58 Garondah Road.

Within a month or two of buying the house, I happened to be in the Saranac Lake Radio Shack.  I was looking over the radios and kits of all sorts when I spotted it.  There it was.  An indoor/outdoor thermometer!

Naturally, I bought it and within an hour I had it up and running.  I carefully placed the outdoor sensor outside our kitchen window and behind a shutter…in the shade.  It was this very same thermometer that I glanced at one evening while we making a quick winter trip to use our new L.L.Bean snowshoes, and saw that it was -36 degrees.  This was probably the first time that I began to question why we had chosen to live this far north.

I put in two AA batteries.  It was 2000.  At first, for a year or two, everything went smoothly.  Then, I began to notice something strange…something sinister…something that has grown more terrifying as year came and went.

The indoor/outdoor kept working!

“What’s wrong with thing?” I asked Mariam.  “It should have needed new batteries by now.  Nothing made since 1957 was made to last more that a few years.”

I knew this was especially true of batteries.  Why else would places like Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Radio Shack sell them in packages of sixty?

And, this, dear reader is where the story becomes unnatural…eerie…and downright frightening.  It’s been sixteen years since I put in those two AA batteries…and they are still working!  It’s not my imagination.  I will swear to the good Lord above that I have not replaced those two batteries.  I want desperately to open the back of the indoor/outdoor thermometer and check on the brand, but I am afraid to open the small plastic door.  I’ve seen enough Steven Spielberg movies to know that when you open certain items, unholy things come, like smoke from a clay Churchwarden pipe and the demons of the Other World are released.

I have enough guilt in my heart already…I don’t need to unleash Satan or whatever into this world.  It’s already too violent, religiously insane and terrorizing…and I’m not just talking about Donald Trump here.

But, something is powering my indoor/outdoor thermometer. Something sinister and unworldly.  It certainly can’t be the AA batteries…sixteen years is fifteen and a half years beyond their expected lifetime.

I still want a second mug of Dorset tea.  I think I’ll ask Mariam to go into the kitchen to make it for me.  I can claim my back hurts.

And, it does.  I have an MRI to prove it.

Shot Out Of A Cannon/Driving Until The Wheels Fall Off And Burn

Cottonwoodflowers

[The first day of Spring]

Lately, I’ve felt like I, the r-pod, the red Ford, Mariam and life in general have been shot out of a cannon.  Our departure from the desert southwest happened so fast, I somehow missed the line that I could point out, photograph, and say: “Well, there goes the desert…we’re in the midwest now.”

Indeed, the world of this:

MojaveHighway

…changed into this before I could think of something to say:

Clovers

Yes, I missed that line that separates the two geographic anchors of my life.  My home in the North Country of New York State–and the engaging, terrifying and empty beauty of the arid lands.  I’ve said it before–The Empty Quarter.

So, I’m sitting in the r-pod, on the first day of Spring.  In two nights, I will see the fifth full moon rise–the fifth time I’ve looked eastward and waited for the big orange orb ascend.  I don’t think I’ll have time to write a killer blog on this fifth moon (we will be on the road) so I’ll just say that it was close to full the other night I took this:

NearFullMoon

In this way, with the setting sun at our backs, we crossed the Missouri River just after leaving Kansas City.  After a night in Columbia, Missouri, we finally caught sight of the Arch of St. Louis.  The Arch represents the Gateway to the West, but we were coming out of the west.  So, for us, it’s the Gateway to More Familiar Terrains–home.

We visited Union Station, once the largest train station in America.  When I was there in 1989, the interior was a bustling and crowded shopping mall.  Now, the stores were empty and yellow tape blocked the escalators and hallways.  I asked someone about what happened and was told that it was going through a renovation.  I hope so.  The interior is stunning.  There is a Doubletree Hotel located in the front portion of the terminal.  The grand hallway, that now serves as a spacious lounge and bar, was jaw-dropping in its beauty.  I saw stained glass:

StainedGlass

…a ceiling that had a fabulous light show every hour…

StationLight

I looked up at two statues, females that held lamps, high and proud…

UnionStationStatue

I wondered if her bronze arms ever tired of holding the lamps so majestically…

I wondered if my arms will cease feeling the grip of the steering wheel.  I wondered if I will sit on my back deck in a few weeks and be thankful for where I am and for what I’ve seen…or will I yearn for the Yucca and the Joshua tree?  Will the Adirondack trees push in on me?  Will I wonder what the heat of Death Valley will be like in June?  Will I swat the infamous Black Fly and wish for a scorpion instead?

Will I ever be satisfied standing still?

Part of me wants to turn around and drive back into the desert, face my worries, think my thoughts and sing:

“Tumbling Tumbleweeds…..”

 

The Road To Zzyzx And Down The Boulevard Of Dreams

BlvdDreams

I wrote a version of this post several days ago, before I went to this Place of Healing, before I walked along the Boulevard of Dreams.   After the visit, I deleted most of what I had written…and began again.

Yes, I began again when I made the right turn off I-15 and took the road to Zzyzx.  I was taking a drive that thousands of people took, from the mid-1940’s until 1974.  Me? I was going to write about arriving at a ghost town of a health spa, a place of healing.  I was going to describe how I felt the need to wash away the sins of my youth and expunge the guilt of my impure and sin-laden thoughts.  I am Irish and raised a Catholic…I carried my guilt like a biker’s tattoo.  I find the idea of “cleansing” of body and soul, an interesting concept.  The ritual of washing away impurities and rebirth is a very ancient practice.  The Christians have Baptism and the River Jordan.  The Hindu have the Ganges River.  The Native American’s have the sweat lodge.  The Jewish people, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, gather for the Tashlich, and symbolically cast pieces of bread into flowing water to atone for transgressions.  As a former teacher, I simply erased the chalk board to begin something new.

But, my problems were not the kind that would draw me to this mecca in the emptiness of the Mojave Desert, to be cured of my aliments by a supposed man of God, a self-described healer.

Preachers and healers, hucksters and quacks, gurus, life guides and snake-oil salesmen have fascinated me for a long time.  I sometimes wish I lived in the days of Billy Sunday or Aimee Semple McPherson.  I wanted to hear the real Bible-thumpers who, sweating and strutting on a wooden stage under a circus tent, would tell me that Satan had my soul and my impure thoughts would send my soul to bake and fry for all time.

I accepted this guilt/burden for many years.  But, I never fully understood, until I was well into middle age, that instead of being a path to freedom, those kinds of beliefs can keep you from growing in countless ways.

After a bumpy ride along a blinding white salt flat called Soda Lake, I saw the palms a few miles away.  This was Zzyzx.  This was my destination.

This location, in the heart of the Mojave Desert has been providing water for travelers for over a thousand years.  The indigenous people would stop here on their journey across the desert to fill their gourds and rest.  One Chemehuevi woman is thought to be buried here.

blvdofDreams

But something troubled me.  I was merely a tourist here.  I arrived with a notebook and two digital cameras.  I did not arrive the way that most people did, for several decades, clutching a Bible in their hands and a prayer in their hearts…and a tumor or a case of TB or nervous exhaustion or a void where their soul used to be.

I needed to rethink the reason for my pilgrimage.  I needed to get inside the mindset of a true believer…a true sufferer…a desperate human being hoping to get mind and body repaired.  I didn’t want to be a mere tourist…I wanted to feel the dread of fear and the elation of hope that the pilgrims of the mid-century, had experienced.

I had to get imaginative…I had to get creative…I had to invite into my heart and mind, the suffering of thousands.

These were the real people who came, praying for their own lives or the lives of a loved one.  For many, I’m sure that making the journey to this health resort with the strange name, was their last hope for a cure or a blessing from the founder, Curtis Howe Springer.

RoadSignZzyzx

He named his establishment Zzyzx Mineral Springs. Why Zzyzx?  The story is that he chose the name because it would be the last word on a list of geographical destinations. Is it the last word in the average dictionary? Not in my copy of Merriam-Webster. The last word in my book is zygote.

They heard Springers voice on the AM radio station, broadcasting out of Mexico with 50,000 watts of power.  The sick and the lame could hear him in Los Angeles.  You could hear him in Chicago.  You could even hear his reassuring voice in Bangor, Maine.

The main avenue leading to the bath houses, cabins, meeting room, dining hall was the Boulevard of Dreams.  I stood at the base of the sign and began the walk, past the old pond that once had a spraying fountain.  Now, the fountain was a mere pile of rocks.

PondZ

[The Pond with the broken fountain]

blvdofDreams

[The Boulevard of Dreams]

I let my mind drift back to 1953, or 1959, or the year I was born, 1947.  I put myself in the mind of a pilgrim seeking a cure.  Maybe my mother was seriously ill, perhaps my wife had a growth in her breast, possibly my father returned from the war in Europe with a changed mind.  I began to feel the power of hope.  What lay ahead of me, the baths, the healing waters, the relaxation…the great white plain of Soda Lake, blinding in its glare from the Mojave sun…what lay ahead of me would save me or someone I did not want to lose to the shadow of death.

OriginalRooms

[One of the many original apartments…now in ruins]

Hidden behind a grove of palm trees was the original bathhouse.  Everything was empty…cracked and broken cement and peeling adobe.  I stood over the individual “tubs” where the ill could soak themselves in the briny solution of desert minerals.

MineralBaths

[The old mineral baths]

I poked about the old buildings.  Some structures have been restored and are now part of a Desert Studies facility of the University of California.  A few students strolled past us and went onto the parking lot, got into a black Taurus, and drove away.  Now, Mariam and I were the only people in the area.  I stopped at an old table on the Boulevard and looked up at the old bell tower.  I assume this once rang to call the patients and guests to prayer or a meeting or to a meal.

BellTower

[The bell tower.  Original part of the structure..??]

Were we really the only presence here?  I began to feel that we were not totally alone.  I felt that the ghosts of patients and preachers, children and adults, the sane and the insane, were walking among the palms alongside us.

No, we were not alone here.  Too much energy, pain, prayer, hope, loss, death, disease, promises, disappointments, grief and joy dwelt along the Boulevard of Dreams.

We drove away, leaving the little settlement to the rightful residents…the spirits of those who came with only a plea for life.

 

 

 

The End Of The Line

PalmDesertSunset

Like, wow…I can’t believe we’re in California.

What a magical and special state this is.  It’s no wonder that all the famous people live here.  It’s the “land of opportunity”, where an anybody like me can become a somebody like…George Clooney.  We weren’t here an hour when I drove to a service station to get a bag of ice and fill the tank.  On a whim, I bought two $2.00 scratch-off lottery tickets.  Would you believe I won $25.00 from those two tickets?  I was elated and felt that my time had come, until I paid for the gas.  When we filled up the tank one afternoon back in Tucson, AZ, it cost me $1.43/gal.  I nearly spilled my Starbucks Latte when I saw the California price (at this particular station) was $2.79/gal.  I thought there were oil wells out here??  I think I saw a Clark Gable movie once and he got soaked from the gushing crude from a well.

Maybe that was Texas…I can’t remember.

lottery

[This probably isn’t legal to post winning lottery tickets online, but I’m from New York…]

This is as far west as our journey is taking us.  If you’re a faithful reader and you’ve paid attention and taken notes, pick up that Rand McNally Atlas that’s sitting on your coffee table…the one with coffee stains and rings left by the condensation of the Bud Lite cans during the Super Bowl.  Turn to page 15 (I’m using the 2013 edition).  We are at the Emerald RV Resort located on the map page at coordinates “15/SJ”.

I feel so…so important being here in the Golden State.  Our RV Resort is located on Frank Sinatra Drive, which is separated from Dinah Shore Drive by Gerald Ford Drive.  (If you don’t believe all this, just Google this place).

We had a long hard drive behind us today.  We left Yuma in the late morning warmth of 88 F.  We sped past the western part of the city and I glanced at the Yuma Territorial Prison…the topic of my last blog.  Ok, maybe misery, murder, death and forgotten graves may not have been the best choice for a Valentine’s Day post, but we were having WiFi issues and I needed to get something out before things got worse.  Note to those planning on RV’ing any serious distance all: Whatever the Resort tells you about how strong their signal is, don’t believe it.  There are some days you can forget email…you’d be better off mailing a letter through the USPS.  Nearly all my posts were composed and posted from Starbucks or McDonald’s (say what you want about the Double Cheese Macs, their WiFi smokes!).

We attended a real rodeo while we were in Yuma and I intended to write something about how excited I was to finally see one in person, for real.  I have to admit that it was impressive.  I’m including a few photos just to prove that we were really there.

RodeoYuma2

[This guy rode like the wind.]

MissSonoranDeserts

[In case you’re confused: The Happy Camper is on the left and the bored Miss Sonoran Deserts Queen is on the right.]

RodeoYuma1

[Woman rider]

Just across the California-Arizona state line were the Imperial Sand Dunes.  I parked in a kind of base camp for the dune buggy people.  I took a picture of one of the beautiful dunes and made it even more stark and raw by filtering it through my Instagram app.

B:WImperialDunes

[A lonely bush in the Imperial Sand Dune National Recreational Area]

After a few miles along I-8, we turned north on Rte. 86 and drove through some of the agricultural (and highly irrigated) parts of Southern California.  We passed truck loads of carrots, groves of date palms and vineyards.  I also caught glimpses of the smiling happy faces of the migrant workers as they leisurely picked cabbage and turnips.  They were so fortunate to have such jobs, out in the open fresh air, getting a tan…instead of being stuck inside some awful office building or factory.  I was tempted to stop and pick a bushel or two just to get the exercise, but we had places to go and I couldn’t see any convenient parking places.

So, is this the end of our trip?  Have we reached the farthest point from our home?  Well, no and yes.  The eastern slopes of the Rockies are still between us and home.  The prairies of Kansas are still ahead of us. (The last state in the Lower 48 I have yet to visit).  We still have to get home…and there is a place I must visit.  It’s not far from here and it is the magical and mythical destination of the trip…for me, anyway.

I’ve been dropping hints about this place since I first started posting these blogs.  It’s a real place.  Thousands of people came there to get healed…to get clean…to wash away sins, ancient and recent, that have darkened souls that were pure as snow at birth.

Water has been a healer for thousands of years.  Spas and hot springs have saved the lives and repaired the souls of countless individuals.

Now, it’s my turn.  Sometime next week, I will arrive at this strange place that has a strange name…and see if anything remains of the healing waters of seventy-five years ago.

Will I find sage and tumble weed and cracked concrete in the old pools.   Or, will the ghosts of those who came to find succor still roam about in the weedy driveways and dying palms?  If the spirits are walking around the now-empty fountain, will they take a moment to tell me their stories?

I’ll tell them mine.

So Near Yet So Far Away/The Three Hour Tour

Posing on the boat Day4

You’ve been waiting.  Waiting by your warm hearths sipping an extra strong egg nog.  You’ve posted your last holiday cards and only two remaining items are on your “to do” list.  You have to figure out who is going to get the re-gift this year.  But, what you’re really waiting for is the next chapter in the Tale of the Old Man and the Sea, the Ancient Mariner saga that has your friends and relatives making late-night phone calls and flooding your email accounts.

What happened to him?  Did he finish the sailing course in Fort Myers?  Or, did he give in to his insecurities and bail out in favor of scoring early tickets to Star Wars?

He’s resting now, but I just spoke with him and he gave me permission to announce the news we have all been awaiting.  His stomach was fluttery last night as he went through his stack of 3 x 5 index cards in a desperate attempt to make sense of the alien language of the sea.  Jibe.  Jib.  Cleat.  Luff and Tack (which has three different meanings).

He was sore in places he hasn’t felt soreness since 1964.  Should he take a Valium to help him sleep?  (He did).

The fourth day was to be a brief two-hour sail and then the written test!

He has been a teacher for over thirty years.  Now, he was expected to be the student.  He had to study.  He had to pass a test.  He had to make the monetary investment pay off.  What would his future be like if he walked away…a failure?  He’d spent too many years thinking of himself as a failure.  Was this going to end up with the girl leaving him in the parking lot of life beside a cheap after-hours bar?  Was he going to lose another election and chance to be the King of the Dance Classes (like he did in 1963)?

Was another manuscript going to come back from Random House with a sweet note of rejection?

He desperately needed to remember that port is left when you’re on a boat.

So, here’s your Holiday present, my friends! [I’ve switched to the First Person just now.  It’s me talking.]

I passed the test!  The one question I missed was the one that I debated over and went with my second choice.  Now, I have a nice certificate and a classy logbook.  When I get back home in April, there will be a stamp from the U. S. Sailboating Association (or whatever the name is, I don’t have the paper in front of me).  I will place this stamp in my logbook.

I will be officially certified as a person able to take out a sailboat up to thirty feet in length.

The logbook?  What will the future entries contain?  A trip out of a port in the British Virgin Islands?  A voyage into the Gulf of Mexico out of Key West?

There is a story that is yet to be written in this little book.  This story will be a record of where I go from here.  Will I file the book away and think no more about the salty air and the beam reach and the tacking?

I don’t think so.  I was thinking about the dynamics of sailing on Day 2 of my classes, around the time I wrote The Old Man and the Sea blog.  I can’t tell you the history of how the Phoenicians first used the sea beyond the sight of land, I can’t tell you of the ancient Greek fishermen.  I can’t speak to the spectacular technical achievement of Columbus, Magellan, and Cook.

But, I can tell you that it is truly humbling to hear such stories.  To be in a boat, upon the limitless sea, beyond landmarks, beyond the sight of your home port…out where the curvature of the earth can be seen.  To do this and use the stars to find your way back to the arms of your family, is a very intense and awesome concept to comprehend.

To sail into the wind is a contradiction in terms.  But, you can do it.  It’s always puzzled me how this can happen.  Now I know.

It’s a profound idea and now it is something I can do.

Like my passport, I intend to have entries in my logbook that say something about me.

That I tried to see as much of the world as I could.  It’s really a wonderful and a small world that we have been given.

And, it’s a Wonderful Life.

Sweet holiday wishes to all my friends and family….

LogbookCertificate