My 600th Blog: Lat. 24 N./Long. 81 W.

[Ernest Hemingway’s typewriter. Located at the Hemingway House Museum, Key West, Florida. Photo is mine.]

Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be.

~~Ernest Hemingway

I am sitting in the air-conditioned Monroe Country Public Library (Key West Branch). It’s quiet, cool and has a WiFi that takes no prisoners. I chose this place to celebrate the posting of my 600th blog. (Confused? See Title.)

So I posted my first real blog on July 18, 2012. It was an excerpt from my first published novel Standing Stone (2012). I was totally unsure as to whether I had the energy and ability to write real content. In truth, only a year before I had very little idea what a “blog” was. I’m still learning. If my math is correct, that’s close to eleven years ago. I was sixty-four years old. When I’m sixty-four, I probably thought at the time, where will I be in eleven years from now? It wouldn’t be telling lies if I said that in my most dazzling dreams, I’d still be pounding on the keys of my laptop (actually, today I’m using my iPad) and trying hard to amuse and inform and entertain. Time will tell if I’ve succeeded.

What follows is a short list of the various places and topics I’ve written about in the years after 2012. They are scatter-shot…in no particular order. Just a quick look back:

I’ve told you stories of Adirondack Trolls, my frustration with snow, ice and sub-zero weather, thermometers that never run a battery down. You’ve heard of the joys and hardships of living in Big Bad New York City. I’ve reposted a true story of my father’s youth, “Coal for Christmas” every December (does that throw my count of posts off??).

I shared my joys of visiting my daughter, Erin and her husband and my only grandchild, Elias from Orting, WA. You’ve read numerous complaints about my bad back and the health issues I’ve had (including my diagnosis of leukemia).

I wrote of my love for the desert and our wandering in Death Valley and the Mojave. Numerous tales were written from England, Ireland, Portugal and Paris. I told you how I celebrated several birthdays in recent year (i.e., when I turned sixty-eight, Mariam and I walked sixty-eight steps along the nave of Wells Cathedral and paused to kiss).

Sadly, I wrote too many posts of sad farewells of my family…and my very best friend of over sixty years, Greg Stella who passed in July, 2022. Rereading those posts still make me cry.

I’ve concocted outrageously silly stories of the demise of or moral failure of our favorite cartoon characters like Popeye, Dennis the Menace and Mr. Peanut.

I’ve shared ghost stories and posted ghost photographs (leaving you to be the judge of the real and the fanciful).

I wrote numerous recollections of my childhood sweetheart, my family home in Owego and my time-warping walks down Front Street in my aforementioned home town.

I described how, on a beautiful autumn afternoon (or was it in the spring?) of helping a cemetery caretaker dig a grave for a woman I never met.

There are many posts that told you of my love of the poetry of Bob Dylan. I even wrote a pre-death eulogy for him.

I’ve tried to celebrate my love for my wife, my children and my grandson. I told you how sad I got in Bruges, Belgium, Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and along a footpath in England.

I have played with different writing styles like noir and meta fiction. I’ve written short short stories.

And I did it all for you, my readers. I never wrote anything cruel, hateful or boastful. I was honest with you. I respect those of you who took a few moments out of your busy lives to read my efforts. Scrolling this page, I see that there are too many “I’s” and not enough “you”. I apologize.

I will close this rambling post with a photo and a microscopic story:

[The famous Key West Kapok Tree. Photo is mine. Taken by Mariam Voutsis.]

Legends about about the Kapok (native to Indonesia) Tree. One belief: The Devil entrapped a unwary carpenter inside the tree because he had the temerity to carve out rooms in the ginormous trunk. Another: The Tree is said to grow into the heavens (it is known to grow up to ten feet a year).

The Tree has many uses. It is soft so artists use the wood for carvings. It is used for dugout canoes and…caskets.

Good-bye for now. The beach beckons.

Be kind and never let anyone to be lonely or forgotten or be invisible.

Paradise Lost

[Sculpture from the MET. Photo is mine. Sadly, I failed to record the sculptor.]

No matter where you’re going it’s the wrong place.

~ ~Tobe Hooper

[BEFORE YOU CONTINUE: This blog post is not, in any way, an attempt to denigrate any staff, employees or anyone else who made every effort to make our short vacation enjoyable. Further, from Big Mama (that’s what her name tag read), to the housekeepers and food servers, they were more than helpful, friendly and eager to please. Any negative comments that follow are directed at the physical facility and the misrepresentations by the Travel Agency that apparently ran the raffle, that I won, that got us to the Bahamas. Think of this post as a kind of Yelp review.]

It’s a good thing I wasn’t even thinking about marijuana when I passed through Customs upon our arrival at Freeport in the Bahamas. I would never had made it through. But I wasn’t so I did. Once we stepped outside and into the warmth, I was very tempted to cross the taxi lane and peruse the souvenir booths. I had my eye on a “Tropical Shirt” or “Hawaiian Shirt” that had a color that made my eyes water. Your gaze needed to rest on the coconut trees to get any relief. Without even a chance to haggle the woman dropped the price to $25.00. I was sorely tempted, trust me. But I already own a respectable collection of those ‘retro’ shirts back home in New York. So I kindly declined and went back to where Mariam was guarding our luggage. I looked out at a few rusting sailboats and fishing boats. But before I knew it our taxi was pulling up to the curb. The taxi was loaded to capacity and we were off to our Resort hotel.

[Yet another stamp in my passport to brag about. Photo is mine.]

We stood for more time than I would have liked to get our room key. Then across the lobby to Big Mama’s desk. She was the concierge at the Taino Beach Resort & Club. I was handed the ferry schedule that would take us to Port Lucaya, where the shops and restaurants were located. We had a restaurant on the property but after being informed of the hours (11:00 am to 7:00 pm, with the last orders taken at 6:30. Lights were out at 7:00 pm.). I haven’t eaten dinner at 6:00 pm since the late ‘50’s, so it would mean stocking up on junk food from the hotel lobby to see me through the night. The hours the shop were somewhat unclear, because every time I went down to grab a bottle of fresh water, I was often met by darkness and locked doors.

But to return to Big Mama and our check-in and orientation: She keep telling us and everyone else about the necessity of having bottles of water. That was all I needed to hear. The red flags went up. I recalled a very good friend and former teaching colleague telling me about how he (even after many warnings) ordered a gin and tonic in Istanbul, Turkey with ice. He developed a case of Giardiasis. Let just say it was a nightmare for him and something that stuck in my mind.

So I mansplained to Mariam that it was only to be bottled water, even to wet a toothbrush while we stayed. It was only after a Google search to the World Health Organization that I learned that tap water in the Bahamas was safe.

Next, Big Mama snapped a wrist band on the two of us. Since there were only a relatively few people around, I wondered why the band? I thought of the following reasons:

—Glass Bottom Boat Excursion

—Deep-sea fishing

—Snorkeling

—Ocean swimming

—Capsizing

On that level it all made sense. But the band reminded me of the last overnight stay at a hospital. Wearing it around the Resort, I felt like an escapee from Bellevue.

[The infamous band. Photo is mine.]

I’m now looking at my watch. It’s 4:14 pm on Tuesday. We’re in a Marriott Courtyard in Fort Lauderdale and I so want to get to the roof-top pool and bask in the 82℉ and read.

So, I’ll speed things up a bit.

We arrived at Room 210. We opened the door. We saw what was essentially two single beds…not true singles, but not double. There were no beach/palm tree paintings on the wall. In fact, there was nothing on the wall. I went into the kitchen and flipped on the light. I opened the cabinet that contained one wine glass, one bowl, one coffee cup, two plates and zero utensils. I checked the bathroom. The water was loudly dripping into a tub with no stopper. I saw my soaking bath fly out of the Venetian blinds. I was momentarily conflicted. Should we accept this and tough it out or should we try to locate another room…or another hotel? I thought: We seasoned travelers and we are adaptable. The the housekeeper left. I flicked the switch on the wall. Nothing. There was no light in the living area. I even pulled the chain on the ceiling fan thinking there was a light up there. There was indeed a light, but the bulb was dead. I ran after the housekeeper who, after looking my panicked eyes, went to another room and returned with a table lamp. I hope the occupants of that room weren’t as needy as I was concerning light.

It wasn’t long before Mariam and I discovered that we were in WiFi Limbo.

Mariam: “I think I remember Big Mama saying that the WiFi was only available in the office, by the pool and in the restaurant. We did have a signal but it was so weak, a slight breeze would blow the WiFi signals out through the Venetian blinds.

We made two trips ($16.00 r/t) to Port Lucaya. The ride was a tediously unbearable six minutes long. On Sunday evening, we visited Port Lucaya for the last time…mostly for two reasons: To have dinner at a civilized late hour and to mail three postcards (one to a friend in the City and one to Brian and one to Erin). We’ll be back home planning our next trip before they get their cards.

So that’s about it. Our voyage back to Florida on the Margaritaville-at-Sea went uneventful save for last night howling nightmare I had. But that’s another story for another time.

I did love the beach at our Resort. Beautiful sand and that sea color I’ve never seen on any artist’s palette. I just wish the Travel Agency had been a little more honest about what we were getting into. Their descriptions were not outright lies. Rather they were grossly misleading and overstated.

We saw a young couple standing outside the office on our second day.

Me: “Enjoying things, so far?”

The Man: “We saw our room. We’ve booked another hotel.”

Me: “Really?”

The Man: “It’s a case of I worked too hard to settle for this.”

I took his point. But I lacked the energy to move out of a house that was very slowly burning down.

[Taken a few hours ago in the lobby of the Marriott Courtyard on N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. I have no idea what it means but I’m sure it has to do with sex. Photo is mine.]

To Elias on His 10th Birthday

May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung

And may you stay Forever Young

~~Bob Dylan Forever Young

Dear Elias,

You have been the very best grandson anyone could ask for. I remember when your mother called me with the news that she was expecting a child. It seems like yesterday. In the years that have passed we all are ten years older. Emmy and I were in our 60’s. Oh, where do the years go?

I came to Orting to visit you when you were an infant. Many people were in your mom and dad’s house to watch the Super Bowl. You fell asleep on my tummy…you slept until half-time. Then someone else took you so I could go to the bathroom! I would kiss your tiny head and I nearly cried when my lips touched your warm head. You were always warm.

[Elias has a treat.]

You grew up so fast, Elias, so fast I could hardly keep up with you when I visited you a few years later. I remember how you would always wait by the big window and wave at the man who drove the garbage truck down your street. He always waved back. Someday you may forget doing that, but the driver, I suspect, will never forget the little boy in the window.

Oh, where did the years go?

After you took your first steps, I was able to take walks with you, mommy and Emmy. My legs hurt so I had to try very hard to keep up. Little boys can walk fast.

[Three generations walking in the rain.]

Your father always seem to be taking pictures of you. I’ll bet you a nickel that his Elias Photo File is very full. Every year, in late October, your mom and dad would take you to pick out some pumpkins at a nearby farm. Every year your mom would put you up against a very big ruler. It was a perfect way to watch you grow.

I remember watching you take a very sudsy bath. Your mom would sit on the floor, put her feet up on the tub and play the ukulele and sing Wild Horses to you. When I think of you, sometimes it makes me sad to think how far away we live from each other.

[Elias at a playground in Orting, WA.]

You hiked in the mountains of the Cascades. Much of the time you rode in a backpack baby carrier on the shoulders of your mom or dad. You played in the sand at Cannon Beach, Oregon every holiday trip in many Decembers.

Oh, where do the years go.

[Elias at work on a toy truck.]

Your grandma and grandpa shared many special moments with you. And it makes us sad that we haven’t shared ALL of them. When you came to our house last summer you really enjoyed the Wild Center in Tupper Lake. You even crawled on the big spider web of ropes. I just sent you a microscope late last year. I hope you will get to know the tiny things we often don’t see with our own eyes.

[A new stereo microscope.]

So, I need to close this blog now. At the beginning I used a quote from my favorite poet and singer, Bob Dylan. Your mom and dad will tell you how powerful his words are.

Your are going to be a teenager in a few years. As you move up the grades in school you will learn many things. But remember this: You can grow up to be anything you want. A poet. A painter. A writer. A scientist. A doctor. A lawyer. An explorer. Maybe even a President. But whatever you do in life…make sure it’s your true passion.

But don’t grow up too fast. You are a superhero to your grandparents. Treat others with love and kindness and patience.

Stay true to yourself and please stay forever young.

To Chris: A Long Overdue Eulogy

[Taku Towers. Juneau Icefield, Alaska. Unknown Photographer.]

My older brother, Chris, would make slight cuts in an apple from our backyard in Owego, NY. This would allow the apple to shatter into bits of apple-shrapnel. No Surface-to-Surface missile would hit with such velocity, because he would mount the apple on the sharpened end of a sturdy stick. I would know. I was often the target during one of the Egan boys infamous “Apple Fights”.

But that’s another story for another time.

I can’t begin to enumerate the ways that Chris has influenced me. The photo above was one that either Chris or I could have taken. He was responsible for getting me a position on the Juneau Icefield Research Program in 1964. During those summer months on the glaciers Chris and I (and a few others) would camp in a remote region of the Gilkey Glacier, where we were confronted by an Alaskan Brown Bear. It was not a comfortable feeling to see a bear with a chain-link fence between us.

At the end of the season, several of us made a two-day hike off the Taku (or was it the adjacent Norris Glacier?). After a night bivouacing on a rocky ridge, I woke up inside a water-soaked sleeping bag. We had yet another to camp on the outwash plain at the terminus of the glacier. My bag was useless. So I slept with Chris inside his mummy bag. That’s what brothers do. I feel he saved my life that night.

I returned the favor when he and I got ‘turned around’ in the Adirondack forest. I found a way to locate our camp.

We spent our younger years family camping in the Adirondacks. Most often it was Golden Beach or Eighth Lake. Later, Chris found a booklet with the title: Trails to Marcy. The late ’60’s and into the early ’70’s were spent hiking in the High Peaks near Lake Placid. His back began to go bad. We took a few years off. Then, in 1980 or thereabouts, he discovered the St. Regis Wilderness Canoe Area. I joined him on many trips to Long Pond. He in the stern of his Guide Boat and I at the other end would silently row our way along the shoreline, exploring the bays and adjacent ponds.

1994 was our last trip to Long Pond. I would watch him sitting on his foam pad and staring into the campfire. He would live another year. Chris passed away on May 31, 1995 (…my birthday).

By my calculations, today would have been his 84th birthday. So, here’s to you, brother…

[L-R Chris, Denny, Danial and myself. Photo is mine. Date is unclear.]

[The first of four photos of me and my brothers. We recreated the poses three more times. Photo is mine]

[Lean-to camping in the early 1960’s. L-R My father, Greg Stella, Peter Gillette, Chris. Photo is mine.]

[Plaque at Heart Lake, Adirondac Loj. Photo is mine.]

I could write 500 pages and more about the adventures we had, but this one page will have to do for now.

This the best place to end this post. The Plaque inscription says it all.

I miss all my family. But Chris shared a dry sleeping bag with his little brother once. Happy Birthday, Chris.

Coal For Christmas

[My regular readers will recognize this story. I republish it every holiday season with a tweak here and there. This story is true and I am passing it down to new readers and my two children and my grandson. I hope you enjoy it. Have a great and meaningful holiday.]

[Winter scene by Paul Egan. Watercolor]

I am a grandfather now, feeling every ache and sadness of my seventy-fifth year.  The stories that my father told me about his father have taken on new meanings.  I’m the old one now, the last of the Owego Egan family.  I am the carrier of the family history.  When a recollection of a family event comes to mind, be it a birthday party, a funeral, a wedding or a birth, I get my journal and I write with haste, in case I might forget something, get a name wrong or a date incorrect.  Or, forget the event entirely. This is especially true when the snow falls and the Christmas tree decorations are brought down from wherever my parents lived  during any particular winter.  There is a certain melancholy mood that comes with the wintertime holidays.  The sentiment of A Christmas Carol comes to mind.  It is a time to listen to the winter wind blow, put a log on the fire, pour a little more wine and to recall and celebrate the memory of those who have passed on.

It’s time for a Christmas story.  It’s time to think again about your family (and mine) and how they lived their lives so many decades ago. 

I was raised in the post-war years.  My parents were not saying anything original when they would tell me, or my brothers, that we had to be good…very good…or Santa would not leave us any brightly wrapped present, red-ribboned and as big a box as a boy could hold.  No, Santa would not leave such a wondrous thing.  But he wasn’t so vengeful to leave nothing in our stocking.  No, he would leave a lump of coal…if you deserved nothing more.

My father grew up poor.  Not the kind of poor where he would walk barefoot through ten inches of snow to attend school or go from house to house asking for bread.  It was just the kind of poor that would keep his father only one step ahead of the rent collector.  Dad would often make a joke about poor he was as a child.

“I was so poor that I would get roller skates for Christmas but I would have to wait until the next year to get the key,” he would say with a sly smile.  It was a joke of course…wasn’t it?

His parents provided the best they could, but, by his own admission, he was raised in the poverty that was common in rural America in the 1920’s.  My grandfather and my grandmother should be telling this story.  Instead, it came to me from my own dad and it was usually told to his four sons around the time it came to bundle up and go out, find and cut a Christmas tree.  I heard this story more than once when it was cold and snowy in the 1950’s.  In the years when my father was a child, the winters were probably much colder and the snow ever deeper.

It was northeastern Pennsylvania. It was coal country and my grandfather was Irish.  Two generations went down into the mines.  Down into the shaft they would go, every day before dawn, only to resurface again long after the sun had set.  On his only day off, Sunday, he would sleep the sleep of bones that were weary beyond words. 

Because of some misguided decision on his part, my grandfather was demoted from mine foreman to a more obscure job somewhere else at the pit.  Later in life, he fell on even harder times and became depressed about his inability to keep his family, two boys, Paul and Jack and two girls, Jane and Nelda comfortable and warm.  It all came crashing down, literally, when their simple farmhouse burned to the foundation.  After seeing his family safely out, the only item my grandfather could salvage was a Hoover.  My father could describe in minute detail how he stood next to his dad and watched him physically shrink, slump and then become quiet.  He rarely broke the silence after that and died in a hospital while staring mutely at a wall.

But all this happened years after that special Christmas Eve that took place in my father’s boyhood.

It was in the early 1920’s.  The four children were asleep in a remote farmhouse my grandparents rented.  Sometime after mid-night, my father woke up to a silence that was unusual and worrisome.  It was too quiet.  There were no thoughts of Santa Claus in my father’s mind that night—the reality of their lives erased those kinds of dreams from his childhood hopes.  There was no fireplace for Santa to slide down.

He pulled on a heavy shirt and pushed his cold feet into cold shoes that were five sizes too large, and went down stairs to the kitchen where he knew his parents would be sitting up and keeping warm beside the coal stove.  But the room was empty and the coal fire was nearly out. My father managed to find three lumps of fist size coal hidden or forgotten behind the bin. The only light was from a single electric bulb, hanging from the ceiling on a thin chain.  My father noticed the steam of his breath each time he exhaled.  He called out.

“Mom? Dad?”

He heard nothing.  Shuffling over to the door, he cracked it open to a numbing flow of frigid outside air.  In the snow there were two sets of footprints leading down the steps and then behind the house.  He draped a heavier coat over his shoulders and began to follow the tracks.  A pale moon helped light the way.  The tracks led across a small pasture and through a gate.  From there the trail went up a low hill and faded from his sight.  He followed the trail.  Looking down at the footprints he noticed that they were slowly being covered by the wind driving the snow into the impressions.  A child’s fear swept over him.  Were the young kids being abandoned?  It was not an uncommon occurrence in the pre-Depression years of rural America.

In his young and innocent mind, he prayed that the hard times hadn’t become that hard.  But deep within, he knew of his parents’ unconditional love and concern.  He knew he and his brother and sisters were cherished and loved.

He caught his fears before they had a chance to surface.  His parents were on a midnight walk, that’s all. A nearly full moon shining off the snow gave the landscape a light that helped him keep on the trail of the four footprints.

In his anxiety my father had forgotten it was Christmas Eve.

At the top of the hill, he saw a faint light from a lantern coming from a hole near the side of the next slope.  He slowed his pace and went to the edge of the pit not knowing what he would see.  He looked down.

He knew this pit from summertime games, but it was a place to be avoided in the winter.  The walls were steep and it would be easy to slip in the snow and fall the eight feet to an icy bottom.  The children never went into that field after the hay was cut and the autumn leaves had fallen.

He dropped to his knees and peered over the edge.

At the bottom of the small hole were his parents, picking various-sized lumps of coal from a seam that was exposed on the hillside.  They had nearly filled a bucket with the chunks of black rock.  They looked up, quite surprised, and saw my father standing a few feet above them.  They looked back at each other with a sadness that was heart-breaking.  They certainly didn’t want to be caught doing this in front of one of the kids, not on Christmas Eve.  They stared at each other and then up at my dad.

“Boy,” my grandfather said, “The stove is empty.  Come on down and help us get a few more lumps, will ya?”

My father was helped down and after only a few minutes his hands were black from the coal.  The bucket was filled.  They helped each other out of the pit and walked back to the house together.  My father and his father carried the bucket between them.

In a very short time the coal stove was warming up again.  My father sat up with his parents until they finished their coffee and the house was warmed a few degrees.  Dad kissed his mother and father and went upstairs to bed.  He fell asleep, he always would say, with a smile on his face.

Twenty some years after that midnight trip to the coal pit, my family moved to Owego, New York.  I was born two years later, in 1947.

. . .

When I was a young boy, my father took me aside one Christmas Eve.  I had not been a very good boy that day, and I was afraid. Neither of my parents, however, had mentioned the threat that would be used to punish a child if you were naughty and not nice.

My fear left me.  Father’s voice was warm and full of understanding.

“Pat,” he said, “If anyone tells you that you will get a lump of coal in your stocking if you’re not a good boy. Tell them: ‘I hope so,’ then wish them a very Merry Christmas.”

[Winter scene by Paul Egan. Watercolor.]

A Song. An Image. A Tear

“Sometimes,” said Pooh, “the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

~~ Winnie the Pooh

I am a fan of talent shows. I don’t mean the kind we used to see on the Miss America Contest from Atlantic City. Bert Parks standing off to the side and singing “There She Is, Miss America” would make the whole event worthwhile to me. No, I’m talking about the County Fairs, School Events…perhaps even an open-mike night at a small Irish Pub. The talent is usually young people…a new dance routine learned at Maggie’s Dancing Studio down on Main Street. I’m envious of those who can stand up before a bleacher full of strangers (and some family). The thirteen year old girl on the school stage singing “Am I Blue?” or a nine year old singing “Both Sides Now“. Whatever is lacking in true talent is made up for in pure guts. I could never do it.

But I digress.

Every so often I spend a few minutes surfing Facebook for clips of Steve Martin’s first time on The Tonight Show, or an ‘official’ music video of Bob Dylan’s latest release. This is my time to catch up and upgrade my cultural literacy.

Several weeks ago I happened upon a collection of postings from America’s Got Talent. It was here that I first heard a pre-pubescent yodeler from Iowa or a darkly frightful young woman illusionist from Indonesia. But I paused on a segment featuring a ten year old autistic boy (who is also blind!). His foster father held his hand and did the introduction while the boy rocked back and forth, holding his cane. His name is Christopher Duffley. The clip is eight years old but I had never seen it before. The dad said the boy would be singing “I Want To See You“. I googled the song and found a tune by that name written and preformed by Boz Scaggs. I’m not totally certain it’s the same song…but it’s a moot point. The point is that I was very moved by what I was watching. The boy’s first faltering notes. His unease apparent.

(I have a vested interested in this topic. My daughter, Erin, teaches a couple of autistic boys in Orting, WA. And my grandson is approximately the same age as the boy on stage.)

But he gave up the cane, grabbed the mike and sang. The live music behind him on stage adjusted the pace and tempo to fit the child’s tiny voice.

But such bravery.

I felt a warm tear rolling down my cheek.

And, as fathers sometimes do, I saw my own son (now thirty-five years old) as that boy. I tried to climb into the father’s head. I couldn’t.

I could not do much of anything but watch, watch until the next tear fell.

[Note: For further information on autism, go to the link below:]

https://nationalautismassociation.org/

Dan & Daughter At Rest

My father is hidden behind everything I am.

–Adrienne Egan “Danny Boy” (From a high school essay)

[Long Pond with Long Pond Mountain in the distance. Photo Courtesy of Terri Mendelson]

I have long dreaded what was about to take place. As I approached the shore of Long Pond, the memories began to weigh heavy on my heart. How often had I stood in the sand since the early 1980’s when my older brother, Chris, discovered the St. Regis Wilderness Canoe Area? A group of friends followed me to the beach. My son, Brian, carried a backpack that held a black box. I was about to say a final goodbye to my brother, Dan. He was the last of my brothers…the last Egan from Owego…except me. I was alone now. I thought of a phone call in 2019.

Mariam and I were in a pub in Dorset, England. The establishment was closed except for several dozen locals. It was Christmas Day. The dinner was for those who had nowhere else to go for the holiday. Mariam had located the small square in the pub where cell phone reception was weak but present. She punched in the number. It was a phone call I wish didn’t have to happen.

I spoke (or tried to with a broken signal) to my brother, Dan. He was in a hospice bed and he had about forty hours or so to live. I managed to say “I love you” but I don’t think he could make out the words.

Two days later, while we were settling in for dinner at the White Lion Inn, Mariam’s cell rang. The message was simple. The message was clear…and final. Dan had passed away.

I signed a paper to allow for Dan’s cremation.

Years later, in early August, 2022 I sat up in bed and realized that I was the one responsible for the cremains. I chose August 27 for the day to fulfill Dan’s will and have his ashes left in Long Pond.

~ ~ ~

Many years ago, back in 1991, just after I arrived in New York City to take a new teaching job, my phone rang. It was my father. What he told me sent shivers down my spine and tears to my eyes. Dan, who had been badly injured in Viet Nam, was told by the doctors that a) he would never walk again and b) he would never father a child. He proved the good doctors wrong. He walked with a limp…but he walked. And, he had a daughter by a young woman named Diana. The child’s name was Adrienne.

All was well until it wasn’t.

Adrienne and other college mates were having a party event on the roof of Adrienne’s dormitory. The facts are vague in my mind. The others left the roof…left the roof for Adrienne. She fell asleep. She rolled to the roof edge. She fell. She died.

Something died in my brother that day. His personality darkened. But he pushed through much of the grief…as much as one can…and he began to age. We all aged. But Adrienne was destined to be the teenager that lived in Dan’s memory. For the rest of his days.

Dan has been reunited with his daughter in the urn.

They both will enjoy the sunsets and storms that roll over Long Pond. The ice of winter. The buzz of mosquitos and black flies will fill their ears. The wind will howl in the dark nights of winter. The burning sun of summer. The meteor showers and the Aurora. The rainbows and the woodsmoke. These are all the things that Long Pond will offer them as it welcomes the new arrivals.

[For the Memorial Service. Photo courtesy of Bart Durkin]

Out Of The Woods

Goodbye’s too good a word, babe

So I’ll just say “Fare thee well”

–Bob Dylan “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”

[Our front yard on July 10, 2022. Photo is mine.]

Look close. It’s hard to see. If you’re reading this post on a laptop, you’re out of luck. On a mobile device you can use your fingers to enlarge the photo. See the sign in the background? The one that reads: Tir Na Nog. It refers to a very old Irish legend. Tir Na Nog is (was) the Land of Eternal Youth. If you lived there, you would never grow old. If you left that place, and touched the ground in the ‘outside’ world…you could never return. And you would grow old and eventually die. This was the name of our camp in the Adirondacks. The whole spell worked for a time, and then it didn’t. I grew old.

The sign in the foreground speaks for itself.

A small bit of backstory here.

I have been coming to these mountains since I was five years old. Seventy years of family camping, canoeing, hiking, climbing and building sand castles became part of my DNA. As a teenager I first had the feeling that living in these glorious hills was a dream to be wished. Time passes. Hiking partners, several dear friends and a brother or two…fellows who shared a cramped lean-to, built campfires, swam and sweated together began to move on (a sweet euphemism for death), leaving me alone without the motivation to climb just one more summit or paddle to just one more lake.

Did I mention that I have a deep fear of being alone? Loneliness most often brings me to tears.

A hiatus set in for several years. Then I met the woman who would be my wife. Even though she was born and raised in Queens, she took to camping like a bird takes to the clouds. She loved it. She often said that the Adirondacks were “soul satisfying”. So we bought a house in the woods where deer and bears roam, by a lake with a dozen loons, under skies that rang out with thunder and the rain fell by the pailful. We moved from our apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Rainbow Lake in November, 2011. We decorated with gusto, bought a wood stove, hung Adirondack posters, bought several kayaks and a new pair of hiking boots. We were happy…until we weren’t.

[Our house is nearly hidden by the trees. Photo is mine.]

Those of you who have followed me on WordPress have read my many posts highlighting my many complaints about the harsh weather, the length of winter and the incessant presence of mosquitoes, gnats and black flies. A winter or two ago we had a week of frigid arctic air. The high temperature for that week never rose above -9° F. But make no mistake. I have also celebrated the quiet snowfalls, the early summer wildflowers and the jaw-dropping autumn colors.

So, I’m turning another page in the book of my life. Pending any financial issues, we have found a buyer. Boxes are already filled and labelled: BOOKS FROM PAT’S OFFICE. TO NYC. Eleven years of memories are going with us…but just as many are staying…for the new owners and for a few friends.

Not an hour ago I said a tearful farewell to my daughter, Erin, her husband, Bob and to my precious grandson. Elias got to see where grandpa has spent the last decade. I’m so thankful for that. The next time he visits, I’ll be taking him to the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.

I will be trading the tall pines that surround our house with skyscrapers of glass and steel. Some of my friends don’t care for urban life but I thrive on the buzz, the convenience and the lack of isolation. As I wrote a few lines ago, the wilderness (the Adirondacks have lost the real sense of wilderness experience to the masses of hikers seeking this very isolation…ironic, but true), breeds loneliness in my soul. Where I once found solace and quiet, I now find sadness. The ghosts of my brothers and close friends lurk around alder thickets and shadowy forests. I can not escape them.

[Manhattan skyline. Photo is mine.]
[Our front yard. Photo is mine.]

But the Adirondacks haven’t seen the last of me. I will surely be back to take care of the items still resting at the bottom of my bucket list. I’ll return on a glacially cold day in a future January and ski the slope on Whiteface Mountain where the Men’s Downhill was held in 1932 and again in 1980. Then I intend to learn the intricate moves of curling and join a pick-up team.

Or maybe I won’t.

I already have a plan. Once we’re settled in an apartment, I’m going to order Chinese take-out. Or perhaps I’ll take a walk in Central Park to experience nature.

I will have the freedom to choose.

Four Impossible Things Before 11:30 am

After every dark night, there is a bright day.

–Anon. [Source: Google search]

[Sunrise in the Prairie/Desert]

The Butterfly Effect

Two mornings ago I woke up with an overwhelming feeling that I was immersed up to my neck in a bad case of The Butterfly Effect. I definitely felt I had a sensitive dependence on the fact that even a small change in one’s state in a deterministic nonlinear system could result in a large difference in a later state. Putting it differently, I had work to do. Of course I had several hours of restless legs and overall ill ease that I was lucky to get a few hours in the arms of Hypnos. But, when I made my last stop at the urinal and another sip of tonic water, I felt like I was the bees knees.

During the night, while waiting for sleep to kiss my fair forehead, I made a TO DO list. I always wanted such a list. All my friends have them. I wanted one, so I wrote one out around 3:17 am. What follows is an illustrated picture show on what owning a house, preparing the said house for sale and cleaning in areas where Swiffers are strangers.

The Tasks

The first thing I decided to attack were the numerous spider/cob webs that show up on the exterior walls. The spiders here seen to have an innate sense of ownership and living. You own the house. The spiders thinks the house belongs to them. A conflict arises out of such a treaty. I looked at the Adirondack chairs. There are so many slots and cracks that needed brooming out with my trusty whisk-broom.

[The whisk broom, a former spider web and me]

[Author’s Aside: Like duct tape, a good whisk-broom is an absolutely necessity for any D.I.Y. kind of guy like myself.]

When I stood closer to the chair, I noticed cobwebs and pollen. I did the same to the wall below our picture window. I stared at the cobwebs and counted an endless number of places they would go. There, on our deck, I stood and looked. I felt as though I had an Albatross tied around my neck. The burden and endless toil of homeownership…I felt I was barking up the wrong tree. My wife glanced at me and said I looked like a deer in the headlights.

My next deck project was relatively easy. My job, as I saw it, was to check the status of the BBQ. I approached with caution. There was no way to know what manner of small furry animals may have chosen to make our BBQ a summer home.

[BBQ checking method]

I moved inside the screened-in-porch, feeling like there was an elephant in the room and I was the elephant. This was the hardest task of all. My plan was to remove two of the plexiglass panels to provide the usually chilly breezes to ventilate the room.

Me: “Mariam I need a large flat-head screwdriver.”

Me: “Mariam I need the orange extension cord put in over there.”

Me: “Mariam, I need a hand!”

I felt exhausted when it was all over.

Feeling like a mutton dresses like a lamb, I made my final stop in the kitchen.

[Removing the interior screen panel from the kitchen. I took it out into the front yard and aimed the JET setting on the nozzle. Boy, did that pollen fly. There’s no way to ‘tag’ pollen so I gather that the pollen had quite a ride.]

So, my tasks for the morning. My back is sore so I think I’ll have a bit of a lie-down. I am deep into another task of completing In Search Of Lost Time by Proust. I began reading the book before Reagan was POTUS. I’m making progress, though. I don’t feel like I’m flogging a dead horse.

Heaven forbid.

[Reading Proust]

[Notes: All photos are mine with the exception of the lead-in picture.]


Paying It Forward: More Late Night Thoughts on Greg

“And when I come to the dim trail-end,

I who have been Life’s rover,

This is all I would ask, my friend,

Over and over and over:

//

Stars that gleam on a moss-grey stone

Graven by those who love me–

There would I lie alone, alone,

With a single pine above me;

Pine that the north wind whinnys through–

Oh, I have been Life’s lover!

But there I’d lie and listen to

Eternity passing over.”

–Robert Service Heart O’ The North

[Greg just outside Owego. February, 1960]

A Labatts Blue in his right hand, a left hand on my shoulder. We were arguing in an Owego tavern that if I would just give him fifteen minutes he would prove to me how cell phones were going to ruin my life. I deftly avoided the conversation. Greg was set in his ways. Not only was he mistaken, but without cell phones, I would never have to take his call and tell him how to get to our Adirondack home so many times in the early days of 2011.

I was privileged to be given the opportunity to delivery his eulogy. I regret nothing of what I said. My major failure was what I had left out.

So, gather the grandchildren, the aunts, sisters, brothers, a wife, and his sons. Gather his friends alongside his family. We are now the Flame Keepers, the storytellers and the sources of one man’s history. It must live on and on. Say it all loud and with conviction. Make no apologizes for a flawed human. Tell his life like it was. Hold nothing back. Don’t leave the painting half-finished. Future generation not yet born will thank you.

[Greg on Avalanche Lake at the base of Mt. Colden]

The day will come when the younger generations will be asking those who lived back in those days: “I wonder what Grandpa would say about that?”

If only he were still by my side. I knew him well but still have as many questions as the stars in the sky.

Yesterday morning I was walking a wooded path. The trail headed east so I had to squint and shade my eyes against the sun. I saw him. I’m sure it was him. He was standing on a mountaintop with the rising sun ahead of him. The morning mist was slowly being burned away by the sun.

[Greg on the summit of Mt. Colden. Temperature was about -10° F. Year was 1960-61]

Was he waiting for me? He beckoned. To me? He pointed to the east. Did he want me? Did he need me?

Then, somehow I was near him. His eyes were filled with tears of contentment. There was a hint of sadness for those he left behind. But he seemed filled with joy that he had at last reached his final destination. His final summit.

I heard his voice clearly in my mind: “There is no end to this, Pat. There are more trailheads and beginnings than I ever thought existed.”

He took a step away…distancing himself. “Don’t be long. I don’t like waiting.” These were his last audible words to me. “Let’s have one more cup of coffee till we go to the valley below.”

Thanks again, Greg. This time for teaching me how to enjoy ‘nuclear’ wings at Rattigan’s and how to savor a Lupo’s Spiedie.

We each learned from the other. But I doubt he ever fully understood what an Emoji was. Then again, maybe he did.

[Me in an alpine valley, Alaska. 1967]