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.]

 

Good-bye Rosie

[Rosie. Photo is mine.]

My mother passed away in her sleep on a quiet Easter Sunday morning in 1992. A sad event indeed. Just days before on Holy Thursday, she sat in the living room of our home and told the priest that she was tired and was prepared. She was ready. She also told him she wanted to depart this life on Easter. She got her wish. This event put into motion a series of events, a journey of sorts, in my life, that of my wife, Mariam and Cracklin Rosie.

A day later my wife and I drove to Tioga Gardens Nursery to pick out a spray of flowers for the funeral home viewing. The nursery was owned, I believe, by my high school classmate, Ed Kuhlman. He commiserated his sorrow at my mother’s passing and took an order for a floral display.

“Wait;” he said as we were leaving. “I have a gift for you, Pat.”

He disappeared into the depths of the greenhouse and emerged a few minutes later with a small potted plant.

“Here, this is from me. No charge. It’s a Begonia and I’ve named it Cracklin Rosie. I love Neil Diamond. Take care of her and she will bring back memories of you mom.”

[For all my botanists readers: Begonia x corellina hybrid. The plant scientist who created the hybrid named it after the Neil Diamond song. For years I thought it was Ed Kuhlman’s favorite song.]

We took the plant and departed.  After the funeral and all the necessary things that had to be done, we headed back to New York City. I was a teacher and my wife was a nursing administrator at a major city hospital. We had to go forward to our lives. We put Cracklin Rosie in a nice place in our one bedroom apartment.

The years passed.  We grew older and Rosie (we dropped the Cracklin part) grew up and out. Then up and out some more until she became as prominent a part of our home as a sofa or a library.

In 2000, we bought a lake side house in Rainbow Lake, NY. We rented it out on a weekly basis for several years. It helped to pay the mortgage. Then in 2005, I retired from teaching. Over thirty years of pushing chalk was now to become a memory.

In 2011, we let ourselves be bought out and left the City for our home in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York State.

We brought Rosie with us. By now, she was the size of a china closet. Every time we travelled abroad we had to find someone to watch over her. It was like having a pet; but one that never crawled on to your lap or wagged a tail. In our dining room, she became a presence…a conversation starter…a center of attention. It was like having the skeleton of the Elephant Man watching you eat your pasta primavera.

Sadly, an era is about to close for us. My son, Brian and his fiancee, Kirstin are coming for a visit over Columbus Day weekend. They have agreed to take Rosie back to Queens and become her new owners.

I’m sitting here as I type this and staring at her in her floppy green glory. She has witnessed dinner parties, made way for a Christmas tree or two, watched us having a candle-lit dinner, an argument, a deep philosophical discussion and all the events of life that come with a happily married couple who live in the North Country.

Knowing how this plant/human relationship will eventually end, we gave cuttings to many of our friends. There are baby Rosies in many homes. And, when Mariam and I visit Brian and Kristin, we’ll meet up with Rosie and talk about old times.

She has felt us brush by her as we haul luggage out to the car or back into the living room from our travels. She sensed us. She welcomed us. I think she’ll miss us.

I’ll miss her just like I’d miss an old friend.

Just like I miss my mother.

 

 

A Cemetery With a View

[The grave of Sa Sa Na Loft. Evergreen Cemetery, Owego, NY.

Photo credit is my own.]

I’m back in my home town of Owego, NY for a reason.  I have no one to visit.  Nothing to purchase (I did buy two books at River Row Book Store), but I was there on an early September afternoon for a sad occasion.  I was there to attend a memorial service for a long time friend of mine, Teri Ware Bramlett.  It was held at the Hickories Park under a glorious sky.  The Susquehanna River flowed slowly behind my chair. It was the color of an olive.

But this post is not about that.  Perhaps I’ll post my memories of Teri at a later date.  I had errands to attend to.  The top of my list was going to TOPS and buying flowers for my family’s grave at St. Patrick’s Cemetery.  Then I had to center myself.  Find the place where I can take in the whole of my early life.  And there is no other place than the “Indian Girl’s Monument” on Cemetery Hill (Evergreen Cemetery).  From there I can scan the valley below.  I can oversee my hometown like a king rules from the highest castle tower.

Certain places are obvious, other less so.  The trees are still full and green block some of what I wanted to see.

I sit on the bench with my wife.  I can see St. Patrick’s Church…where I was baptized and where most of my family’s funerals were held.  I can’t make out my old home, too many trees.  I can barely see the backyard of my childhood girlfriend’s house.  I see the Susquehanna, entering the view from the far left and fading off toward Pennsylvania to the right. I can see the Court House.  There’s Lake Street where I hung out with my friends in the 50’s and 60’s.  All of us overwhelmed by the power of hormones we never knew about until we bacame adults.

It’s all below me, but so far out of reach.  My youth was spent on these streets.  Memories began to flood my mind.

It’s time to go.

I realize I’m no longer a physical presence in this village, but I can never fully find myself free from the chains of the past.

A Tale of Three Rings

[Antique wedding ring.  Price? About $5600. European Cut. Source: Google search.]

Eileen, a colleague of Mariam, wanted to meet us for a drink.  We were in New York City for the usual doctors appointments, meetings and our yearly Yankee game.

The three of us sat at the bar of Brendens Irish Pub on W. 35th Street.  I don’t know…maybe we were talking about Tolkein or circuses, but the topic turned to rings, specifically our wedding rings.

We each had a story about our wedding rings.  My story was probably the least interesting so I’ll start with me.  I wore my wedding ring for many years, removing it only for activities like kayaking and picking up hot babes in cheap bars (that was a joke).  Kayaking tends to cause my ring to rub against my finger.  But, for the last several years I’ve not worn my ring.  I began to lose weight and in the dry air of the North Country, my skin shrinks.  I performed a simple scientific test.  I shook my left hand several times onto the sheets of our bed.  The ring slipped off.  Not a good thing so I put it on Mariam’s jewelry tray where it sat until I decided it was time for action.  I needed to take the ring to a jeweler and have something put inside to hold the skin of my third finger.  This is what I got:

The nubs you see on the inside hold the ring securely in place.  I am now wearing the aforementioned ring 24/7.

Mariam’s story is a bit more interesting.  When we picked it out (Macy’s. circa early ’90’s), she chose a cubic zirconia.  It was a fine ring and fooled a jeweler once who commented on the quality of her “diamond”.  She worked at St. Vincent’s Hospital in those days as a Nursing Supervisor.  Often she would help in the bedside care…and that is how she damaged the facet of the cubic.  She continued to wear it for years, until we went to the jeweler on 86th Street and Broadway.  The woman behind the counter said it could be easily replaced with a new stone.  So we did it.

Here is her ring after the replacement:

But the real interesting story was the one told by Eileen, Mariam’s friend.

Eileen and her husband  are Filippino.  His grandmother had beautiful diamond earrings, given to her by her mother.  WWII brought the Japanese to the Philippines.  They weren’t a very friendly lot.  It is historical fact that the Japanese Army did some dispicable things to the Chinese and the citizens of the Philippines.  Knowing what was coming, his grandmother had the stones reset in nondescript (read ugly) metal earrings, which she wore throughout the war, hiding the precious heirloom in plain sight.  On her ears.

They survived the war.  His grandmother then had them reset as wedding rings.  One was lost.  The other was handed down to Eileen’s husband.  That is the one that resides on Eileen’s finger.  And she was sitting next to me.

I was taken by the story.  There are probably a thousand stories that are similar, but this ring…I was able to touch this ring.

As I did, I felt the weight of history, love, family, war and survival.

This is Eileen:

And, this is her ring:

Rings are real material objects.  You can touch them, lose them, pawn them, steal them or even throw them into the East River.  But, they are also symbols of things that endure…like love.

The No-Name Motel

[The motel with no name]

Most of the time I can erect a fence to contain the images and imaginations from escaping my brain.  Sometimes a little white picket fence with pink daisies in purple pots are enough to hold back the most innocent and decent imagery that my mind can create.  Then, there are times when a more sturdy wooden enclosure is necessary.  My thoughts have gotten a little darker and far-fetched.  At the end of the line, I need to put up a stockade of lichen-covered stone, dusty bricks or cement blocks…topped by razor wire.  These keep in the real demons; the ideas, thoughts, dreams, musings and nightmares that one finds along a dark path in the dark woods, deep ravines and foggy patches in misty churchyards.  These fences hold my odd thoughts where they belong…in my brain.  It works.

Most of the time.

I’m on Route 11, the main highway that crosses the North Country.  I’ve been on this road many times heading either west or east out of Malone.  This isn’t the first time I’ve spotted the old motel.  I pull over.  The weeds in the old lawn are chest high.  The welcome sign is getting loose around the hinges and bolts.  I don’t know how long this place will exist.  Perhaps the next time I drive this way, the whole structure may be replaced by a Tractor Supply, a Bowling Alley or a Car Wash.

To me, that would be a shame.  It’s obvious it will never again function as a motel…and that is why it attracts and charms me.  Here, in what may have been the driveway, I sit in my Honda and survey the old buildings.

The style of the buildings could be 1960’s, but I’m going to place it in the mid-1950’s.  It suits my narrative style better.

Then I close my eyes.  I can see the phantoms that once stayed here.  I can imagine their stories.  I can feel their history.  It’s happy and sad, tragic and fortunate.  The lives that passed through these rooms, pass through me now.

I see the shadows move about.

The traveling salesman, with his valise full of brushes and combs, slips into Room 2.  Once inside, he hangs his seersucker jacket on the door hook, kicks off his worn wing-tipped shoes and stretches out on the lumpy bed.  He unscrews the bottle of bourbon and takes a long pull.  He doesn’t want to go home.

A blushing teenage couple from Watertown just bluffed their way intro Room 9.  He has a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon that is slowly getting warm.  He uses his church key to open two.  They sit awkwardly on the sofa before moving to the bed.  In exactly ten months, she’ll give birth to a baby boy who will grow up to own his own auto repair shop outside of Burlington, VT.  His parents will each die in separate car accidents in 1974.

A cheap thug who just robbed a liquor store in Plattsburgh takes Room 5.  His girl has a bruise on her cheek, her arm and her thigh.  They will stay one night and then drive non-stop to Chicago. There she will leave him for a chiropractor.

A family is on their way into the heart of the Adirondacks.  They have driven south from Quebec City and will spend the next two weeks swimming at Golden Beach on Raquette Lake.  One child  will become an astronomer and the other will become a teacher.  Room 10 is their final night under a roof.  Tomorrow night the tent comes out.

A troubled couple from Binghamton will argue well into the night about in-law problems.  The wife will turn up the radio when Billie Holiday comes on.  Maybe the volume will drown out the threats from Room 14.

An insurance salesman from Buffalo will quickly enter Room 7.  He knows this motel well.  Room 7 is hidden from the office.  Following him through the door is his secretary, Helen.  He promised her many things during the long drive.  Anything, he thinks, as long as she gives me a night of pleasure that he can’t find at home with his lawful wife.

Two young men in their twenties passing themselves off as brothers on their way to visit family in Lake George walk boldly into Room 11.  Here they can be themselves and love each other like they have wished for the past three years.

Yes, the lawn is chest-high with Timothy grass, Ragweed and Queen Anne’s Lace.  Butterflies and black flies flit from flower to flower.  No more cars will be stopping here, ever.  The motel once had a name, but even the sign is gone.  A little VACANCY sign is visible.  Those who passed through this office, slept on creaky mattresses and used the stained toilet are long gone.  Some of the stories had happy endings while others ended with a broken heart or a bleeding nose.  These travelers have moved on.  Many are still alive, most are buried in some local cemetery or a burying ground a thousand miles away.  A few who laughed, drank, sinned and prayed in these rooms are possibly being sedated by an RN in a nursing home…somewhere.

I go back to my car after taking a few photos and I notice something that may seem ironic.

The empty motel with no name is directly across the road from a hospice.

Another flood of imaginings come rushing from my brain.

[All the lonely people.  All the empty rooms.]

 

 

A Sad Good-bye

[“Old Paint”. Now a part of history…ready for its final ride]

The white Casier truck backed down our driveway.  It was 10:30 on a muggy morning.  Before ten minutes had passed, we had brand new chairs in our living room.  The old L. L. Bean pair of overstuffed sofa-like seats were showing signs of aging.  Mariam’s was still in fair shape so a few hours later, a man came in a smaller truck and took hers away later in the day.

Casier (the chair merchant in Saranac Lake) agreed to take mine.

It was over quickly.

Before I had a chance to pull out my red bandana and wipe the stray tear from my cheek.

Before I had a quiet moment with my supportive friend to whisper a few last good-byes and reminisce about the past.

I felt like my Old Yeller was being taken out behind the barn by Fess Parker.  Life doesn’t get any harder.  Where do old chairs go when they have finished their duty to your weary body?  I’d really rather not know.  I can’t imagine my heartbreak if I drive out to the Franklin County Transfer Station one pleasant Saturday and see my chair upside-down next to two Barka Loungers, a wicker love seat and a chartreuse sectional.

We bought the chairs in 2000, when we acquired our Adirondack home.  In 2011, we moved to the North Country for real.  So many hours have been spent in those pale green chairs watching important historical events unfold before our eyes.  Several World Series (but don’t ask which ones or who won…I’ve no memory of those things).  A few Super Bowls (but we tend to avoid being here in mid-winter, so don’t ask which ones we saw).  The second inauguration of Obama.  The election of 2016 (again, don’t ask!).

It would be great to say we saw the moon landing, but that was thirty years earlier.  I would love to describe our interest at witnessing the Escape From Dannemora, but we were in France at the time.

We did sit through many sad and old films on TCM.  A few classic episodes of Hoaders, an intense season of the Bachelorette and two even more intense seasons of 90 Day Fiancee.

Mariam and I were glued to the TV to watch the rise and fall of Walter White in Breaking Bad.  And, most proudly, we didn’t run to our sets to check the connections when the black-out occurred at the end of The Sopranos.

All the while, our L. L. Bean chairs sat cheerfully beneath us.  My chair took the most wear, however.  Because of my dicey back, I can not sit normally.  I have to tuck one leg (the left) under the knee of the right.  That puts my socked foot against the arm rest…eventually exposing the fiber filling.  The tangle of my legs look like a yet un-named Yogi position.

All good things must come to an end…and our lives with our chairs are no exception.  So, now we have two new chairs in their place.  It’s sad, though, like a bad divorce.  Something new and fresh is taking the place of the old and worn out.

The time flew by so fast that I never had time to give my chair a name.  I’ve thought it over and decided to call it “Old Paint” after my trusty horse I had when I rode the West Texas range…back in the day.

But, I digress (and besides, that’s another blog).

[The new chair (it reclines)]

The Box of Treasures

[A sampling of Mariam’s head shots]

We have something over our heads, above the ceiling in the room where we binge watch Big Little Lies, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Doc Martin.  Some people would call it an attic.  Others might refer to it as a crawl space (one doesn’t need to crawl, really.  You can stand up straight unless you’re 2″ above the U. S. Norm of Healthy Heights.)  It’s accessible by a trap-door in our bedroom which allows folding wooden stairs to drop down.

I hardly ever go up there.  There is, perhaps, a two-week window of survival in our attic.  One is at the end of winter and the other is at the end of summer.  If you need to search for something in December, you’ll need an Arctic Expedition Parka and bib overalls, the kind the skiers wear.  The prowling about must be swift because hypothermia lurks in the corners.

If your needs take you up there in July, be aware that the ambient air temperature can approach the level that can melt lead, a little better than the surface of Mercury.

Like I said, I hardly ever go up there.

But, Mariam is a much stronger person that I am, so she ventures up the wooden stairs when she feels the need to get a box of something down.  We once stored many items in our attic but through the culling process, we have only a few items left there.

A few weeks ago, she decided to ascend into the heat and search for a box that might contain discardable items.  I stood at the bottom of the stairs and accepted the hand-me-downs.

Later, out on the coffee table of our porch, she opened one of the boxes.  What she found was ten pounds of memories.  She spread the items out on the table.  There were Playbills and Reviews of every opera and show she had ever done.  (In case you didn’t know, Mariam was a professional opera singer and performer years before she met me.)  She sang a solo at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City.

And then came the head shots.  Dozens of head shots, ready to send to agents.  Of course all were shot by a professional, but that extra touch wasn’t needed to bring out the glamorous features of my wife.

They were awesome.  Her short career was awesome.  The photo of her being hugged by Pavoratti was awesome…sadly, she couldn’t find that picture.

It’s probably in another box in the attic.

[The attic door to the Box of Treasures]