Dorset of My Dreams

“Oh, to be in England…”

–Robert Browning

[The chalk coast of Dorset. Photo: Google Search]

It all started on a late winter morning of 1984. I was walking to my office at King & Low-Heywood Thomas School (KLHT) in Stamford, Connecticut. Walking with me was a teacher/administrator. She was going through her teacher-mail regarding microscope sales and Petri dish discounts. She held on to an envelope and after a few moments glanced at the contents, she turned to me and said: “Here, maybe you will find this interesting.” She handed me a letter. I took a quick look and put it on my desk. I had a first period class.

Later, after my ninth cup of Faculty Room Coffee I looked over the letter. It was from a business office in New York City. The company arranged Teacher Exchanges. I put it on my desk again and went off to meet with a student. As the Fates would have it, the British teacher who was seeking an exchange was right there in the office. We talked. He took the Amtrak to Stamford where I met him and took him to the school for a tour.

To make a long story short, this guy, Chris, really wanted to do the exchange. The Headmaster was not so enthusiastic. But, it all worked out in the end. Early August of 1984 found me on an late evening flight to Heathrow.

[Corfe Hills School, Corfe Mullen, Dorset. Photo: Source CHS webside]

A year is a long time to distill my experiences into a few paragraphs. Simply put, I had a few rocky days getting to know the ‘system’, meeting my colleagues, learning the names of my students and attempting to find my various classrooms. I was hired as a Geography teacher, a subject I love. I was happy. What was difficult was the number of courses they gave me to teach. I taught fifth and sixth form geography, General Studies and Religious Studies. They gave it all to me.

“Face it. You’re bloody irrelevant being here only a year,” some administrator told me on my second or third day.

[Last day of school. Two of my favorite students who helped me and gave me sage advice. Sally in the white blouse and Yzanne is to my right. Photo: Photo is mine]

I was never bored. When the weekends approached, I was faced with two choices (mostly): Take a hike on a Footpath in Thomas Hardy country or go to BritRail, buy a return and spend the weekend in a Cathedral city like Wells or Salisbury. I couldn’t get enough of the countryside, the dramatic coast of Dorset, the small villages that had little more than a pub. My ‘local’ pub was the Barley Mow. I can’t tell you how many pints and Steak & Kidney Pie I’ve eaten in that very old thatched building.

[A hillside with a copse of trees on the summit. Photo is mine]

I found some walks that went through some of the most picturesque locations. The sunken path below is near Shaftesbury. Madonna had a house nearby.

[One of my favorite footpaths. The trail itself is sunken about ten feet. Photo is mine]

The places I travelled are all marked off in my dozens of hiking guides. My personal best is a nine-mile walk that began in the parking lot of a pub called A Brace of Pheasants. I was exhausted at the end of the day. The Ploughman’s Lunch and two pints of Guinness helped me start out but didn’t help me finish. I had a Steak & Kidney Pie. It was a Sunday so I went home, took a shower and turned on Radio 4 to listen to a drama. Later, when I was a bit too hyped-up to sleep, I would tune to the station that carried “Prime Minister’s Question Time”. You can image how interesting that show was.

[Footpath signage. Photo is mine]

I have been back to Dorset many times since the mid ’80’s. I made every effort to share what my past was like by going on footpaths with Mariam. My favorite hill to climb is the Glastonbury Tor.

[Mariam on top of the Glastonbury Tor. Beneath her feet, King Arthur is said to await a return to save England. Photo is mine]

Mariam and I spent one Christmas (just before Covid) at a ancient northern Dorset pub called the White Lion Inn. A cozy room. A friendly bar downstairs and a garden eating area.

[The White Lion Inn. Photo is mine]
[A typical narrow back lane in Cornwall. Photo is mine]

Each trip Mariam and I make, we try to explore a different region. Above is our trip to Cornwall. We’ve been to The Lake District, Cornwall, Yorkshire, Dartmoor, the east coast and London, of course.

[Our close friends. They live in north Dorset. Anna is destined to be a great ballerina. Photo is mine.]

I’ve only picked out a minute part of the things I did while in Dorset. But, like all good adventures, I got a book out of it.

[So go out and buy yourself this book. It contains all my adventures (mostly). And it has color illustrations. A great holiday gift. Photo is mine]

A Young Man’s Backpack

“To travel, to experience and learn: that is to live.”

–Tenzing Norgay

[The Kelty Pack. Photo is mine.]

Stuff has to go. Lots of stuff has to go. When you relocate from a 3-bedroom lakeside house to a 1-bedroom apartment on Riverside Drive in New York, you soon realize how easy it was to gather stuff. And now, much of the stuff has to go.

Over the last few months, I’ve given away books that are precious to me, books I have had on my shelves for decades. These were important books that I must now live without. A great deal of other stuff has walked out of our door. Lots of furniture, clothes, kayaks, a piano, two telescopes and several posters to mention only a few. I hope the new owners of these objects will treat them with care…and love them as I did.

One item (that I had lost track of) surfaced in the attic. It was a packframe. But it was more than that, really.

When I first began hiking in the Adirondacks, back in the dark ages of the late 1950’s, I used an Army surplus packframe. It was wooden and probably issued during the Korean War. I used it for years. I hated it. I may as well have been carrying my gear in my hands. The frame hurt my back and made enjoyable hiking adventures much less so.

What to do? I was offered a summer job with the U. S. Geological Survey to be a field assistant on the Juneau Icefield in Alaska. The wooden frame was never going to cut the mustard as they say. So, I began saving my nickels and saving my dimes. I was going to have happier times. Soon I was able to purchase a Kelty Pack. I gazed at it. It wasn’t much to look at. It was crumply and stained. I hiked for several days in Alaska carrying at least sixty pounds. It squeaked and creaked every time I hefted it onto my back.

A little backstory:

It was the early days of the hiking craze (that is still with us). Not much really good equipment was available to the average backpacker. These days, one would have to mortgage the farm to afford the best stuff. Walmart sells very serviceable goods for the hiker. However, if you happen to be an Everest or El Capitan Big Wall Climber, then be nice to your wife because you will be needing a lot of $$$ to afford the latest technology.

There were better packs than the Kelty, but not many. It’s not the Ferrari of packs, but it was miles ahead of the rest.

It is my hope that, whomever ends up with my Kelty will treat it with respect and love. I also hope that they have as many adventures that I did with it. I can only hope.

One afternoon in the future:

I happened to feel the need for a beer. I know it was late, nearly time for the “Time Gentleman” bell. As I pushed open the screen door to the Red Dog Saloon I brushed against the person leaving. I stopped to apologize. It was my old friend, Kelty. He looked liked he had seen better times.

“It’s you,” I said.

“Yeah, and it’s you,” said Kelty.

“How have you been? It’s been quite a few years.”

“I’m fine. Not that you really care.”

“Whatever do you mean?” I asked with trepidation.

“You left me for a newer model. How can I ever trust you again?”

“But…”

“No buts here bud. We’re through.”

“Let me buy you a drink, pal,” I said with little hope.

“No thanks. I’ve got places to go. People to meet.”

Kelty moved out into the street.

“Don’t bother looking for me. Don’t ruin my life. I’m being carried around by someone who has a much better back than you, my ex-friend.”

“Is it over between us?” I asked.

“I’m afraid so, buddy. This good-bye is our last good-bye. Don’t shed a tear. We had our day in the sun and the rain. I guess I really don’t blame you. I was getting a bit creaky lately.”

“I guess it’s so-long then.”

“Yeah. Maybe we’ll pass on some trail someday in the future. But, do me a favor. Don’t mention our life together. Let’s keep it our little secret.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m seeing this hot little rucksack I met on the Appalachian Trail. If she knew we had a past, it might ruin everything. I want to take her to a Youth Hostel and, you know…get a little private room and then perhaps, in the future, we can start our own little family of Fanny Packs.”

“Not to worry,” I said. “I won’t give us away.”

“You always said the right things.”

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]

Farewell Marcel

[Volumn #1]

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.

–Marcel Proust

As I strolled through the Parisian gardens of Luxembourg I paused and watched the people absorbing the sun’s warmth which was peeking, like a cat burglar, through the sweet gate in the sky made possible by the slowly drifting clouds that often looked dark and menacing at times and light, dazzling and adamantine at others. I opened a package of Madelines I was never without and dipped one in a small cup of tea I had purchased from a portly gentleman with a bushy mustache and a pocket that sagged with the spare francs he had earned that day. The scent of the tea on the little cookie entered into my every senses. I began to think of my youth, the girls I loved who had by now become stately women. I touched my beard, newly trimmed, and could feel the grayness of my hair. I was old. What happened to all those Lost Years, the years of my older youth, my early middle age and now my late middle age? I had yet to taste of the fruits of old age with its wrinkles, gray hair and painful legs. I had yet failed in my attempts to rediscover the Lost Time of my life. My memories were fading and I must learn ways to regain the imagery and sensations of the questionable choices I had made in the heat of my youth when my blood ran hot in my veins and laughter came easy. But along with the cheers and smiles I am beginning to recall how hard and fast my heart breaks. I have loved but my love was too dear for the women I most desired.

I brought the Madeline to my nose again. I drew in an olfactory sensation that brought back my most elusive memories. I closed my eyes and somewhere, behind my eyes and between my ears were the smells of burning leaves along Front Street of Owego in the state of New York, the town where my childhood was played out like a Shakespearian play, sometimes a tragedy sometimes a comedy. The leaves gave way to the sweet fragrance of a newly mown lawn along Main Street. The old river town has changed over the years, I am told, into a boutique village of cafes and antique shops selling the latest of the old town’s ephemera. One can sit in the sun and watch the slowly drifting Susquehanna River as it winds its way to the Chesapeake Bay. Up on Cemetery Hill, the moss grows over the lettering of the graves of young men and women I played with in sandy baseball fields and snowy hills that seem to exist only to provide gravity to an eight-year-old boy on a sled. How many languid afternoons has seen me at The Fair Grounds, eating sloppy cheesesteak sandwiches and watching the horses race the oval track. On the back row of seats in the grandstand is where I may have tasted my first Madeline.

I shall set a goal for myself. Some people are driven by their need for achieving certain goals. Driven to do such picaresque actions these goals are sometimes achievable and sometimes not. Some people have the ability to set recording devices in order to never miss an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians or the Hoarders. Some set themselves on arduous journeys to summit Everest or Denali or the Matterhorn. Others will bike their way across Iowa. Many jump out of airplanes (on purpose) to feel the rush of the wind as they free fall a thousand feet. I set my goal several years ago (I’m not saying when) to read what is arguably the longest novel ever written (not counting the Game of Thrones books). I was going to read Proust’s magnum opus: A La Recherche du Temps Perdu or otherwise referred to in English as In Search of Lost Time. It will be a daunting task. The book (depending on the edition) runs from 3,000 to 4,000 pages. My eyes must look at and understand 1,267,069 words. The books are six in number. I must search for and find the longest sentence ever written. That sentence clocks in at 847 words.

I am proud and somewhat amazed that I have only fifty pages left to complete this gargantuan task. At times the book can be like sucking fudge through a straw. The exquisite power of the language, the depth of the writing, the scope of the descriptions, the insights into love, death, grief, loneliness, lust, desire and dreams of men and women. I truly believe that if one calls him or herself a lover of books, then reading Proust is a must do action.

I have read many books in my life (so far) but none of them can stand up under the blazing light of Proust. If you like challenges…read these books. You’ll never see another book, your life and your dreams and memories the same way again…ever.

[Proust had little need for paragraph breaks, commas and pictures.]

[All photos are mine.]

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.

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]

Greg’s Solar Powered Gift To Me

When you read this title, don’t think that my greatly missed friend had bought me a next generation Tesla. Or a new GPS with the capacity to accurately locate me and help me find my destination. Or a drone to provide me with a high definition photo of the top of my Honda Fit. No. This is not where I’m going with this post.

I’m here to celebrate Greg’s generosity about many things. Perhaps the most important is the differences between the Irish and Italian flags. It’s really a small difference but handled by someone (me) not in the flag waving mood lately, can lead to trouble. Both flags consist of three colors…and this where things can get ugly.

The Italian flag is shown below:

[The Italian Flag]

They look similar don’t they? For the uninformed geographer, a comment might be:

“Golly Gee. How can two countries have the same flag? What if they go to war against each other? The answer to that is really quite simple. A conflict between Italy and Ireland is extremely remote. Oh, they might bicker at one of the many pubs inside the European Parliament Building over who gets the aisle seat in the assembly hall. And of course Ireland will always have a need for various pastas, not to mention the number of “Irish Pubs” in Verona.

But I digress.

Let’s get back to the flag business. Unless you suffer from Achromatopsia you will see that both banners are composed of three colors: Green, White and…Red. There’s the rub. The Italian flag is distinctly red on it’s end panel. The Irish flag is not red, but a version of orange. Both pennants have green on the pole side and white in the middle. A discerning eyes is needed to see the orange tinge on the Irish flag. All of this is rather patriotic but not troublesome, unless one happens to be carrying the Italian flag down Fifth Avenue in New York City on March 17. This may, just may cause some issues with all the NYPD that have strong roots in Donegal. Although you may elicit a cheer from the six people in the crowd that have deep roots in Solerno. Even I never made that mistake.

[The Irish Flag]

But I digress again.

This post is really not about flags. I went into it only because I found it interesting. And if you think my fascination with banner colors id odd, well, I do have a life. Trying to unpack our house and have potential buyers and agents stopping by…well, it’s not easy.

This post is really about food. You see that my friend Greg never was shy about sharing his favorite Italian dishes whenever he and Patti came for a visit. With glee he would prepare (or have Patti prepare) a mouth-watering dish of sorrento spinach and semolina. Or perhaps a meatless Italian sausage roasted with mushrooms, onions, potatoes and peas. But one recipe he guarded with an iron hand. He would never reveal the secrets of finocchio and cotechino with sides of fieri di zucchini finishing with la zupp inglese as dessert. Maybe it was me. Zucchini is the only ingredient I recognized.

But all of the above is really a side issue. His ultimate gift to me, more or less in the culinary mode, was the making of Sun Tea.

We all enjoy a tasty glass of zero calorie iced tea. I know I do. On a very warm day, it goes down better that a Double Lime Rickey (whatever that is). But since we have only seven warms days each year in the Adirondacks…I really would’t know.

So be like Bill McKibben and Greta Thunberg…think green. Turn off your GE, your Kenmore your Bosch your Kitchen Aide and your Amana. Go in haste to your nearest Walmart, Costco, Lowes or Macy’s (there’s a few left) and purchase a glass liter container. No Plastic!. Fill with clean tap water (not Poland Springs…too much plastic again) and head to your favorite health food store. Ours is Nori’s in Saranac Lake but you don’t have to drive all the way up here to visit Nori’s. Just go to the Whore of Babylon, Amazon and order away. And never, never leave a Walmart without checking out the specials on knitted toilet paper covers.

Back to the tea. Buy a box of a good flavorful iced tea. I usually prefer Celestial Seasonings Wild Berry Zinger. Wild Berry Zinger sounds like a drink with a tiny umbrella that you buy at a beach bar in Aruba, but it’s Caffeine Free. As the box says: “It’s a luscious Berry blend with the distinctive ‘zing’ of tart and tangy hibiscus.” And who doesn’t love a zingy tart? I knew one in Paris, back in the day, but that’s another blog for another time. Find a place in the sun and leave unattended for a few hours. There you have it. Solar Powered Iced Tea.

For those of you who are visual learners like me, here’s a few photos to help you:

[Rasberry Zinger is nearly as good as Wild Berry Zinger]

Step 1–Place glass container in full sun. Temperatures are not too important. This one was put on the deck railing when it was 48.9° F.

[Oh, use two teabags]

Step 2–Go away and find something useful to do for about three hours (like reading a few of my earlier blogs.)

[In the next few minutes it will be done]

So, there you have it. I’ve taken you through a story about flags, food and iced tea. What more do you want from me? I have a life you know.

Thanks Greg ! Missing you a lot…

[In the interest of full disclosure: I really don’t think Greg knew how to cook the exotic Italian dishes described above. Maybe he did. I’ll never know. I am indebted to Elaine Natalicchi, a dear friend from NYC in helping me come up with those tasty Italian names.]

[All photos are mine with the exception of the flags. They are from Google search. Where else?]

I know the whole thing was a bit long, but hey, think of it as having read a short novel for free.

A Spadeful of Earth

Grief is the price we pay for love.

–Queen Elizabeth II

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.

–Abraham Lincoln

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’

–Erma Bombeck

[The High Peaks of the Adirondacks]

The photo above is the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. My friend, Greg Stella and I used this beautiful region as our playground. Every peak, every valley had our boot prints in the mud and the rocky summits felt the back of our heads as we daydreamed away the hours after an ascent. After the ascent. Such a misnomer. It implied a “last ascent.” There was never really a last ascent. There would be another, and then another…and another. In the area shown in the photo were the majority of the oft-mentioned ADK 46. Other peaks were found outside the frame. There were 46 peaks (according to the original survey) that were 4,000′ or higher. If one climbed all of them, he or she would be eligible to join the “46 er’s” and get a patch to proudly wear on your parka or rucksack. Greg and I climbed about twenty or twenty-five of these peaks. We decided, sometime in the 1980’s that ‘bagging’ the summits wasn’t what we were searching. It became less about the numbers and more about re-climbing our favorites…some many times over.

The room in the funeral home in Owego, NY, set aside for the service was filling up fast. I was going to give the eulogy, but I had to wait until a full military service was complete. Then the priest said the words that were so often spoken at funerals. He spoke of God’s mysterious ways and equally mysterious reasons to bring down upon us congregants the unspeakable grief of an unbearable loss. Then it was my turn. I positioned myself at the podium, away from the slide show of my friend’s life. If I looked at them, I knew in my heart I would not be able to string two sentences together without a box or two of Kleenex or even better, Angel Soft. I had to focus on my note cards and pretend my heart was still whole and not cracked open with grief.

We climbed in the rain, the snow and the sleet. We slept in lean-tos when it thundered like an angry Greek God over our heads. We curled up in our cheap sleeping bags when the ambient air temperature was -30° F. And, yes it’s true. If you left your hot chocolate out beyond the roaring fire, it would freeze over in about four minutes. We slept on bare rock summits on balmy summer nights. If it was during the New Moon, we would drift into sleep under unnumbered, uncountable myriads of stars and distant planets that made the midnight hour almost bright enough a time to read a book…or a poem. But hiking wasn’t our only shared experience. We rock climbed in the ‘gunks near New Paltz, NY, entered and competed in the General Clinton Canoe Regatta. Cooperstown to Bainbridge on the lazy Susquehanna. For that we were given a small trophy and a patch for our anoraks. This was in 1976 and we came across the finish line 74th out of a field of over two hundred. Not bad for two canoeists with no training.

I completed the eulogy and held my composure better than I thought I was capable. I knew I had to be strong for his family and other relatives. I took several quick glances at Greg’s urn. It was beautiful. I wondered how they put his cremains and his spirit, talent and humor into such a small square container. If I sound like I’m bragging about all the amazing adventures Greg and I shared, nothing could be further from the truth. I felt humble and insignificant beside such a grand person, larger than life and now silent for a very long time.

We’re at the graveside. There are his parents. Over further are his neighbors. Further on are my parents. In between are our childhood friends who never walked off a plane after a tour of duty in Viet Nam. There were old girlfriends and so many others that we walked past on the streets of Owego in years gone by. Someday, I will mingle with the soil of this hallowed ground not too far from my friend. The priest said his final words. We all stood and began to slowly drift away to get on with our lives. Someone said my name. I was handed a shovel. The small hole was nearly half filled already. I scooped a spade full and let the earth fall on the top of the urn, covering two cloth patches. A green Adirondack Mountain Club patch and a red “FINISHER” patch that I had given to Patti before the service. Soon the grounds person laid the final sod clumps and tamped it down.

It was over, the ceremony that is. What was just beginning was the flood of memories so many of us spoke.

Good-bye my dear friend. I know we will meet again, on a new trail, in another place. This will happen sometime on a sunny day, when the clouds won’t be hanging so low and seem so impenetrably grey.

[Greg and I climbing a mountain in the High Peaks]
[Photo courtesy of Brad Brett]

It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,

It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

–Robert Service

[All photos are mine unless otherwise indicated]

Into The Woods

[The Adirondack Forest. Photo courtesy of Brad Brett]

“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people.”

–Carl Jung

In the rearview mirror of the last three weeks of my life, I see I’ve left behind many things and added many memories. I’ve left behind the heat and sand of Florida, the peaches and boiled peanuts of Georgia, a friend and his wife in North Carolina, the breathtaking vistas and overlooks of the Blue Ridge Parkway and later, Skyline Drive. Mariam and I sat in a restaurant in Lebanon, Pennsylvania and played music bingo. We passed Carlisle where my daughter went to college so many years ago. We drove apace with the trucks and cars across New Jersey and plunged straight into the Holland Tunnel.

The Grateful Dead: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Once we were settled in a generous friend’s apartment, we began to search for a place of our own. Both of us want to come back to New York City to live. But it’s proving to be harder than we expected. One place is too small, another lacks outdoor space. One might be a walk-up. I can’t do four floors as well as I once could. No, not now.

Why move? you might ask. You have waterfront, kayaks, canoes, snowshoes and bikes. The answer is simple and complex at the same time. We love the quiet woods. We love the sound of our paddles as we glide along on Rainbow Lake. But, so much of what the ‘dacks provides are activities that are fit for a younger man (I speak here for myself). We miss people. The quiet can be overwhelming sometimes and brings with it the loneliness of the North Woods. As a person who has struggled with insomnia since childhood, I dread the dark nights, those dark nights when the wind shifts in strange ways and the moon struggles to peek out from behind a dark cloud.

I don’t want to shovel another millimeter of snow. I don’t want to get into my car just to get our mail. I want something of a social life. I want to be able to order in Mexican or Chinese food. I want company.

Bob Dylan: “I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea. Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, at times it’s only me.”

With the exception of my mother (she never took to the camping), my entire family had strong ties to the Adirondacks. They made Eighth Lake, Raquette Lake and Long Lake special places. But these people have passed on. Around every corner I turn, behind every tree, on any lake, along any trail…there are ghosts lurking…not to harm me, but to remind me of the many great times I had among the mountains. One spirit, however, follows me. He was a good friend. I took him on his first trip to the High Peaks. On a chilly November night…I remember the gibbous moon…this friend died, not in my arms but very nearly so. I’ve told this story before. His presence, his souI and his life have followed me for forty-eight years. My memories of the night he died are dark and are the stuff of my nightmares.

Gordon Lightfoot: “Like brave mountaineers, we aren’t bothered much by time.”

I’m heading headlong toward a milestone birthday…and I am fearful. There are so many years behind me and not very many left to me. I accept that. But I don’t have to like it.

I’m not done yet.

I can only hope.

But, in the end, I will never totally forget my love of the mountains, even though they are now beyond my grasp.

‘There is beauty in everything. Even in silence and darkness.”

–Helen Keller

A Beautiful Day in My Neighborhood: Then & Now

You can take the guy out of the neighborhood but you can’t take the neighborhood out of the guy.

–Frankie Valli

[My first apartment house in NYC]

It was a spectacular day in my old neighborhood. A mild May day, breezy and comfortable with the sun splashing the sidewalks with a warm glow. I decided to take a short walk and check things out…

I was a new resident in a great building on the Upper West Side. I came to the City to teach again after an 18-month hiatus from the classroom. A difficult divorce behind me, I was determined to make the most of what the City had to offer. I stood on the corner of W. 92nd Street and gazed at my new home. My mind was overflowing with plans, ideas and questions. I stood for a long time looking at the front entrance. How will this turn out? I thought. How long will I be here? Will I meet someone soon? I felt I was on the cusp of something very different from what I was used to. City living is not for everyone, but I didn’t see myself being overwhelmed by it all. I was ready. Little did I know…

I walked up the street and turned left, downtown, on Columbus Avenue. The crowds, the crates of bottled water and delivery guys at Trader Joe’s blocked my way. This was new since the days I lived here. I reached the corner of W. 92nd St. There was a young man standing and staring at the building across the street. He needed a beard trim and perhaps a new haircut. He was mumbling to himself. As I passed him he crossed the street and entered the apartment house. I snapped a photo with my iPhone. That was my old place, I thought. Such memories of my two years there. And the rent was more than reasonable…$450/mo. for a studio on the 26th floor. How I came to live here is the stuff of another blog.

I met my wife shortly after arriving in the City. I barely had time to settle in. She lived on W. 93rd. Take all the five boroughs and the millions of residents…what an extraordinary coincidence. We used to be somewhat beleaguered by the nighttime basketball playing in the next door school yard. And the car alarms…well forget it. I once walked the entire block in an effort to silence a particularly persistent car horn. I clutched a raw egg in my right pocket. I was going to ‘do’ his windshield. Just as I got to the car, just as my grip on the egg firmed and i began to pull it from my pocket, a police car from the 24th Precinct pulled up. New York’s finest was there to silence the alarm…much to relief of several hundred residents.

I walked west on 91st. About halfway to Amsterdam Avenue I passed the same young man I had seen earlier. His hand was in his right pocket of his jacket. He looked nervous. I decided to lean against the rails of an apartment building. I looked up at the old place I had called home. I counted three floors from the 29th and two from the left. I saw two figures standing in the window. One person was pointing downtown.

[My apartment was three floors down and one in from the left]

It was a cozy L-shaped studio. I had a nice table from IKEA and an old desk from my family’s house. Early on, I scored a visit from my father, my son Brian and my older brother, Chris. I remember one night when we sat by my window and looked to the south, the view was quite spectacular. Chris, who always noticed things before I did, pointed to the lights in the sky: “Planes approaching JFK or LaGuardia,” he said. I looked and saw a half dozen lights following the Hudson River to the north. He found his spare mattress and prepared for bed. I stared at the slowly approaching lights.

I made it around the block but felt restless. I walked into a Sushi restaurant on the corner of Amsterdam and 93rd. I went in and ordered a mug of Sapporo. It was after my first sip that I noticed the same young man I had seen earlier. He was sitting next to me. I looked at the mirror behind the liquor bottles. I looked into his eyes. They displayed an eagerness…an energy that was unusual. Should I say something to him? I sat and thought about what I would say. In the end, I watched him close the door behind him as he headed toward 92nd St. What could I possibly say to the young man that I already didn’t know.

[Once my home for over two decades]

Somehow I felt like I knew this young man, as well as I knew myself. Yet I let him walk out of the restaurant. I yelled after him, in my mind:

“My friend,” I would have said aloud. “I have a very strong feeling that a great many experiences are going to happen to you. Some of them will be happy and bring tears of joy and some will be heartbreaking and difficult and bring tears of sadness…but embrace them all, all of them. It’ll be an awesome ride and you only have one ticket…for one ride.