It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

~~A.A.Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh

So, what brought you back to me, Moxie? I watched you wandering around the pool, and you looked intent. You found me back here among the palms, in the cool air. The sun was getting too intense for me. And I needed this quiet space…away from the chatter and the waterfall that makes a bit too much water music. Soothing, I know, but I need the quiet. But you know that already, don’t you? This is where you found me on that first day. Now you’re back. Are you here to say goodbye? Did you want a farewell kiss on your forehead? Did you want to brush my grey hair once more with your tanned fingers? A hug? Why did you seek me, Moxie?

You: I want to hear the rest of your story. I want to hear about how it all ends for you and your lovely wife.

Me: Well, come closer. My throat is a little rough today. But the story won’t be really over until we are seated on American Flight #AA4555 tomorrow afternoon. I suppose you could argue that the real end is when we deplane at LaGuardia and wait for the Uber in 41℉ weather. In case you’re curious Moxie, where we sit it’s 76℉. Sorry, my friend, I got sidetracked. I’m an old science teacher remember.

You: The story, Patrick. How does it end beneath these palms? LaGuardia will have to be your problem. I’m only here for you when you are here.

Me: Well, I finally got to sail again. It’s one thing that I can say I truly love. Mariam and I sat at the stern. The winds blew strong. I heard the Captain say that we were doing 8 knots. Then I heard him mumble, ‘that’s fast for this ship.’ We watched a glorious sunset to the west and the Full Moon rising in the east. I was in my element, Moxie. The wind. The sun. The sea.

Let me tell you a story within my story. Do you have to be anywhere? No? Good. Move a little closer. Mariam and I made the required pilgrimage to the Hemingway House. (I stood behind the velvet rope holding the tourists from his writing studio.) There was his typewriter. His desk, books, cot, chairs and open windows. Our guide said that if you stood long enough you might channel Ernest’s spirit. I think he spoke quietly to me. He said something like ‘you’ve got a long way to go, friend, to catch up to me’. I’m sure he meant it with all respect. But, I dunno, Moxie. The man put a shotgun in his mouth when he was sixty-one. Curious. It was in 1961.

You: But that’s not the story is it? It’s kind of depressing.

Me: He was a depressed man, Mox, from a line of depressed family. But you’re right, it’s too sad to dwell on. So the rest of the story…He went abroad to cover the Spanish Civil War. His second wife stayed behind, here at his house in Key West. The guy was quite macho to say the least. Hunting. Fishing. Boxing. Yes, he had a small boxing ring built beside his house. His wife (the 2nd remember) got wind that he was traveling in the company of a certain female correspondent. The man was a lot like me. He fell in love quickly and often. So, his wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, had the boxing ring torn down and put a full size swimming pool in its place. Out of spite.

When he returned from Spain Pauline met him at the front gate. She had a surprise for him. She led him around the corner, through the palms, scattering the polydactyl cats and brought his to the poolside. He took one look.

“Where the hell is my boxing ring? How much did this…this pool cost anyway?

“$20,000, she said.” I’m sure there was not a great deal of love in her eyes.

The famous author reached into his pocket and pulled out a new, shiny penny.

“If you’re going to take $20,000 from me, you might as well take my last red cent. He threw it on the ground and stormed away, most likely to Sloppy Joe’s to drown his sorrows. Pauline had the penny embedded in a patch of cement.

[And here is the penny.]

Me: So that’s my story inside my story. There’s not much else to say. We bar hopped and listened to Wagon Wheel played well by a 3-piece band. We ate great seafood. We swam in our pool. Mariam sipped Chardonnay. We began packing this afternoon. I will pull out my fleece jacket and ready it for New York City.

I guess the time is approaching when we have to say our goodbyes. We may never meet again, Moxie. But we will stay close in each other’s memories. We’ll at least be in the same Time Zone. I will think of you when the summer wind blows. I’ll think of you when I walk barefoot on the beach of Coney Island. I’d send you a message in a bottle, tossing it into the Hudson River when the tide is going out. I would, you know that. But, alas, the ocean currents would take that bottle and deposit it on a lonely stretch of the Irish Coast. Whoever would read it would have no idea of who you are or who I am.

Maybe that’s all for the best.

If I see you standing in the moonlight tonight in the middle of Fleming Street. I may walk out and give your damp curls a brief innocent kiss. Maybe.

But maybe it’s all for the best if I didn’t. I will always remember how you were eager to hear my stories.

It’s about stories…

A few extra photographs for you.

[An olive oil jug. The rectangular tiled piece was once a men’s urinal. Now it’s a drinking trough for Hemingway’s cats.]

[A note to my readers: I used yet another quote of Bob Dylan for the title. All photos are mine.]

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.

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.

My 75th New Year

[Source: Google search]

Some of you will be reading this post late on Sunday afternoon…after several Alka-Seltzer tablets. Some will be reading this tonight, before the Ball Drops in Times Square. Some of you will see who the blog is from and move on without a glance. “Oh, him again.” Some will see my name and say: “Patrick Egan, oooh he’s good. Another gem of unparalleled literary brillance.”

I’m thinking back on many December 31 nights. My brothers and I would have Dick Clark’s New Years Rocking Eve. My father, perhaps in his fifties or sixties would go to bed around 9:30 pm. Now, here I am at 75 and waiting for 11:30 or so to watch Anderson Cooper in the fog and rain. Hopefully Lady Ga Ga will perform. Maybe Bob Dylan will pop a few confetti-filled balloons after getting the thousands of people in Times Square all excited and elated by singing Desolation Row.

Yes. It’s finally over. 2022 was a, let’s say, interesting year. My best friend passed away and we moved to Manhattan. That’s a lot to deal with.

[Photo is mine.]

I love metaphors (and similes), even when I sometimes can’t tell the difference. I know the rule: Like vs Is, but I’m easily confused about a lot of things. So, I offer this simple metaphor to you, my wonderful readers:

This is a once-a-year event and a chance to reinvent yourself. But you have a rare gift in your lap right now. You have been given a crisp new map, neatly folded and sharply creased. When you open the map and spread it out on a table you will be alarmed for a second. This map has so many trails, paths and byways you’re confused. That’s the point. You can choose any path now. It’s all going to be new. It’s your choice how 2023 will go. But it takes a first step. There may be sadness in the months to come. Perhaps unlimited joy. You may cry but when the tears ebb, laugh your beautiful heart out.

[Photo is mine. Taken somewhere in England.]

Remember to close the gate behind you and keep your eye on the distant and beautiful hills.

The best of luck and Happy New Year!

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]

The Troll Who Cried

[Heading off to the Barnum Brook Bridge]

I began my walk to the Barnum Brook Bridge carrying an emotional load that nearly broke my already painful back. It was a warm and very muggy afternoon. There were grey clouds in the hazy sky. There were grey clouds in my mind, my soul and my heart. I was not dreading the Bridge like I once did. In fact, I was looking forward to visiting an old friend…sort of. I walked slowly because I needed the extra minutes to think. At the same time, I was formulating my words. It’s not every day that one has to say farewell to a friend. For me, now was that time. I must make this my finest hour.

I walked on, pausing to photograph a wildflower for a later post on Facebook.

[The Trail to the Barnum Brook Bridge]

I had arrived. I put my foot down hard on the first plank, making more noise than usual. Sure enough, out pops The Troll. He looked about and disappeared beneath the bridge when he spotted me.

“Who is passing over my bridge?” he asked.

“I am passing over your bridge,” I said. “Let’s get this over with. I need to sit down.

He emerged from under the wooden planks and said: “I know you. Listen up. Keep your distance.”

“Why?”

“The Covid thing, remember. Are you still in lock-down mode?”

“Not really,” I said. “Things aren’t as bad as they were when I last came this way. Now it’s the Monkey Pox.”

“Just in case, don’t come any closer. I’m packing a can of Mace.”

“Let’s get the riddle thing over, shall we. I need to have a talk with you.”

[The Bridge. If you look closely for a long enough time, you may see a bit of Troll’s head peeping out]

“Okay. Okay. Here’s the first riddle:

What is dirty when it’s white?”

I pondered the question for about forty-five seconds when it came to me. “A Blackboard.”

“One down and two biggies to go, Patrick.

What goes from Z to A?”

Another new one. Where did he get these riddles? I thought. This time I was really puzzled…for about a minute. “Zebra”, I almost shouted.

“Whoa. Who’s on a roll today?”

“I am. Let me have the third one, Sir Troll.”

“Don’t get cheeky, my friend. You know what fate awaits you if you miss one. I cringe to even contemplate…”

“Spill it,” I demanded.

He looked smug. He thought he was going to get me on the last one.

He spoke with a twinkle in his large eyes: “What is the saddest fruit?”

Now I was worried. I had no idea. This wasn’t in the Big Book of Riddles I study before every trip to the VIC. And no mention of any of these new puzzles in the Ultimate Book of Norse Mythology. The newer edition that has a new forward by the author, Dr. Sven Sunquist.

“The clock is ticking, Patrick.”

“Go ahead, grind my bones or whatever you do when someone misses a riddle. I give up.”

He stared long and hard at me: “You look like a beaten donkey. I see damage in your eyes. I’m going to give you a pass. The answer, appropriately, is Blueberries. You can pass, but you owe me one.”

“I owe you a riddle?”

“Figure of speech,” he said. “Don’t get anal on me.”

I sat down on the wooden bench near the bridge: “I’ve got something to tell you, Troll.”

“You won the Mega Millions.”

“Don’t I wish. No, it’s…it’s that we’re going away. We’re moving. We’re going back to New York City, I do believe I’ve had enough woods and winter and slush and bugs.”

He looked deep into my eyes again. No words came to his lips. He just looked at me. His eyes were moist. He sighed.

“How long are you gonna be gone?” he asked slowly while trying to swallow. “When can I expect to visit with my favorite human again?”

[A rare image of The Troll]

I chocked at my following words: “That’s just it, Troll. We’re moving away for good. It’s possible that we may never see each other again. Don’t think for a moment that I won’t miss you because I will. You see Troll, these last few months have been very hard on me. I lost my closest friend. I wish he had just moved somewhere, but he didn’t. He passed away. I have only a few real friends. You could count them on two of your three fingers. I’m lonely up here in the North Country. You, Troll, are the only real friend I have left…besides my wife, of course.”

He had one hand in his pocket and the other one rested on the planks of the bridge. He was drumming his fingers on the dried wood. He said: “Funny thing. I don’t have many real and true friends either. We’re both the same here, are we not?”

He turned away and began to cry. He didn’t just cry, he sobbed and wailed. I’d never seen him like this before.

“Please Troll, don’t make this any harder. It’s not you, it’s me. You have your little place under the bridge. I’m a restless guy. I need a change. I need something new. I don’t know how many years I have left.”

“Hah, I can see right through you. You’re leaving me for some Big City Troll, right? I knew it. Those Big City Trolls are different than ones like me. They wear the traditional outfits. They look like they just got off a photo shoot with National Geographic Magazine.”

“No, there’s nobody else, in New York or anywhere. Come here. Let me shake your hand and wish you farewell.”

“Oh, but that’s against the Rules. You can’t touch me. Strange things might happen.”

“There are no such Rules out here, Troll. Here, give me your hand.”

As he placed his very large hand in mine I felt a jolt. I swear a bolt of lightening hit my arm. I closed my eyes. I had visions. Troll standing in the rain and waving at me, or standing in a foot of snow and grinning up with those big cow-like eyes. Or wiping away the sweat on days like this. I remember how he played the Pan Flute and made me see the different Adirondack seasons squeezed into one short vision. He was a treasure trove of wisdom and I’d be crazy to let him go out of my life for good. No. I would return someday…some sunny day. I will be older, more feeble, more pained and maybe just a little bit wiser. But Troll, he will never age. He has all the time in the world. I don’t.

I withdrew my hand: “I have to go now. Be good, my friend. It’s not forever, it’s just for awhile. I’ll be back.”

“That’s what the little girl said in Poltergeist.”

I turned and began the walk back to my car.

“I see your son was in Iceland for a few days. He loved it, didn’t he?”

“Yes, but how did you know?”

“My Icelandic cousin. And, oh, I see your daughter, her husband and your grandson came for a visit. I bet you loved that.”

“I did.”

“Oh, by the way. I know you used a photo of Fluffy to hawk your books. That’s shameful.”

“Little Lambs Eat Ivy.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re the Riddle King. Figure it out.”

The trail curved to the left. I looked back for one more wave. I saw him blowing his large nose with a red bandana.

[Note: All photos are mine with the exception of the Troll image. That was a result of a Google search.]


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]

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]