Late Night Thoughts On Milkweed Pods

[Milkweed seed pod. Photo source: Me]

I’m not a collector, really.  I do have quite a few paperclips but I wouldn’t call it a collection.  My fondness for fountain pens and Moleskin notebooks is legendary, but I practice self-control…most of the time.  My grandmother’s barn was filled with a mountain of old tires, but they weren’t hers.  They belonged to my step-grandfather who was convinced that he was going “make a killing” in the rubber market when the next World War broke out.  Now, he was a collector.  I don’t think I own even one baseball card.  I do have several Bob Dylan concert tee-shirts, but they are never to be worn.  Somewhere among the many items I have from my father’s house is a Vote For Ike and Dick button.  I don’t know how we came about owning it since my parents were New Deal Democrats.  I don’t have a shadow box filled with butterflies stuck through with pins. (More on that later.) I have a fair number of CD’s but not nearly as many as my son-in-law, Bob.  He could open one of those booths in the court of a Seattle mall and make a fortune.

Bottom line here: you won’t see me on any episodes of Hoarders.

On one of our road trips I chanced to buy a rubber band ball.  I’ve spent way too much time trying to figure out how this ball was put together.  It continues to baffle me.  If any of my readers know how they’re made, please text me.  If your explanation has to do with having a double life in Honduras or China, the secret will stay with me.

[My rubber band ball. Photo credit: Me]

But, I digress.

A few nights ago I was in my office/library pencil editing a chapter of my next novel.  I was tired and my creative juices were running dry.  (Actually, they’ve been running dry since 1959.)  It was then that I noticed something behind my Staples pencil holder.  It had been there, semi-hidden, for about six years.  I pulled it out and parts of it flew away.  It was a milkweed pod (Asclepias sp.) that I found in a field a year or so after we moved here.  I’ve always found the milkweed seeds and their bounty of fluff a miracle of nature.  Perfect dispersal method.  The wind.  These little puffs will drift about on the slightest breeze seeking a new home to grow up in.

One reason I brought the pod home was to give me a chance to look at the seeds through my new binocular microscope that I nagged Mariam enough into buying.  Hey, I was a Science Teacher for 35 years!  You can’t turn that off by relocating to the middle of nowhere in the Adirondacks. (Note to husbands: if you nag her enough, your wife will get it for you.  Just don’t start with 1953 MG’s, Adirondack Guideboats or any kind of sailboat that sleeps 6.  Work up.)

[My binocular microscope. Photo source: Me]

I began to ruminate.  By my taking this one pod home that day six years ago, I had prevented the growth of a large number of new milkweed.  How many?  Well, I went straight to Google, of course.  I found that the average pod contains an average of 226 seeds (Wilson and Rathcke, 1974).  One doesn’t have to be Stephen Hawking (God Rest His Soul) to calculate that, if all the seeds were viable, I had prevented 1,356 potential milkweed plants from taking root.

The implications depressed me.  I had broken a natural chain of events.  I had disrupted a cycle of nature, a small one to be fair, but still I had to own the sin.

So, what’s the big deal? you may very well ask.

Well, once inside Google, you must stay inside Google.  Follow the paths of limitless information and you might be surprised where it leads you.

Who doesn’t love the Monarch butterfly?  Nature Centers around the country celebrate.  4-H clubs, Scouting groups of all kinds have Monarch activities.  (My daughter made a special study of them in her elementary school science class). And, here’s the bit that will haunt my dreams for years: the milkweed is essential to the life cycle of the Monarch!  The caterpillar stage eats only milkweed.  They can not survive without those little seeds.

And, (I can’t cite references on this) the Monarch butterfly is listed “at risk” on some nature websites.

My story, then, ends here on a dark note.  Have I contributed to the “at risk” factor of the Monarchs?

In some minuscule way, I did.  And, if my actions were repeated by even 1% of the rural population of the Northeast, the beautiful butterfly will find less to eat and more to die from.

The Monarch butterfly; the name by the way, in Homeric Greek means “one who urges on horses”.

That’s another blog post for another time.

[A Monarch butterfly. Photo source: Wikipedia]

But, there is something you can do to help right my wrongs.  Go to www.monarchjointventure.org and explore.

 

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Reading Lamp

[The Ideal Reading Lamp.  Photo source: Me.]

Other than a wind storm that blew in a window in our screened-in porch, downed branches and howled like a demon on Bald Mountain, there really isn’t very much to write about these days.  I should note that the aforementioned window has not been removed, for cleaning or otherwise, by us in several summers.  It was simply too stuck to remove.  Perhaps the house has shifted on its foundation over the years moving the windows (plastic inserts, really) into misalignment.

Whatever.  The wind took care of all that last night.  To make matters even more difficult, the power went out while we were struggling in the frigid porch.  At one point, I felt like Captain Blood battling with the mainsail in a typhoon off the coast of Tasmania.  I felt like Heathcliff on the Yorkshire Moors.  I felt like Scott in the Antarctic.  I felt like Sir Edmund on the summit of Everest.  I felt like Dorothy during the tornado in Kansas.

I felt like all these people, but it was only me and Mariam on a freezing evening in April.

Life in the North Country.

Life in the North Country. There is the ever-present darkness, arriving early in the winter but not soon enough in the early spring.  A very fine segue, if I say so myself, to bring up and write about reading lamps.

Go ahead.  Google “Reading Light”.  You will come up with hundreds of choices from places like Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, Amazon and L.L.Bean.  And the lights themselves?  The designs will look like something from Captain Kirk’s room, a toddler’s bedside stand, a bordello in New Orleans or from a dark corner in the recesses of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

All of those models shown are functional, to a point.  Most of them are of fine quality.  Some, absolute works of art.  But it’s what they have in common that’s interesting.

They dispel the darkness and allow you to pull a Kindle, iPhone or even, heaven forbid, a book made of paper up to your chest and put you in touch with the written word.

For me, there’s an added factor.  I have an innate fear of the dark.  My reading lamp allows me to exist in a cone of light where I am safe.  Where nothing can get to me from under the bed.  Where I can doze and wake and still see around me…into the dark corners where dark things of all sorts and sizes dwell.

I can lean into my latest New Yorker magazine, my newest copy of a Jo Nesbo mystery.  Perhaps I’ll read a few more pages of Proust (I’m determined to read The Book while I can still breath).  Maybe I’ll dig deep enough into the pile beside my bed and find the second book of the Hornblower series.

During the course of my reading life, I’ve gone through dozens of lamps.  It’s hard to believe, but I’ve only found a handful that suit me and my needs.  As I grow older, I find I need more light, but I can’t use the large lamp on my nightstand…Mariam is asleep only a few inches away.

There’s always the old stand-by, my headlamp.  It’s the way I read when I’m camping and don’t want to risk the more romantic candle in a tent with down sleeping-bags.  And who can really read by candlelight, anyway?  Maybe Abraham Lincoln…and look where it got him.  Besides, a headlamp leaves a reddish mark around my forehead.  I can’t get up and wander to the bathroom at 3:30 am looking like I just had a cranial tattoo done in a shop off Sunset Strip.

The lamp I am presently using is an older high-intensity light. These lights pre-dated the LED’s that are so commonplace today.  The only drawback to this lamp (it provides great illumination) is that it gets hot.  So hot, that if I accidentally touch the area near the bulb with oven mittens, I will burn off three layers of my epidermis.  And, I can tell you from experience that one will have trouble sleeping with the odor of burnt human flesh in the bedroom.

This is the lamp I now use:

[My reading lamp.  I had to turn the build away to keep it from blowing out the camera in my iPhone.  Photo source: It is obviously mine.  Do you think I would let some stranger in to take a picture of my light at 12:39 am?]

In our guest bedroom is a typical Adirondack-themed reading lamp.  I have no idea if any of our house guests read at night…but we provide one anyway.  For me, the cone of light is too small to fully illuminate my book.  It looks cute but I would rate its functionality at 4/10.

[Guest bedroom reading lamp.  Photo source: Me.]

To put the light out on this blog post, I can say that my favorite reading lamp (pictured at the top of this post) is both esthetically beautiful, functional, simple and gentle on my eyes.

The problem is: it’s located in a small hotel in Knowlton, Quebec, Canada.

And, I don’t steal things.

 

BREAKING NEWS: Cartoon “bad boy” Goes Berserk–Pictures At Eleven

[Source: Google search. Copyright:North American Syndicate]

So, this will likely be the last story I will file in my so-called stellar career as a reporter.  I pulled the night shift of all things…at my age!  I’m standing in the drizzle on the safe side of the police crime scene tape.  It’s yellow, just like in all those crimes shows on TV (which is where I get most of my action these days).  As I approached the back-end of the small neighborhood crowd, I noticed my left shoe was having problems of its own in making a smooth step a reality.  I leaned against a dead elm tree, actually the only tree left on the block, and hiked my foot up to see my sole.  Just as I suspected.  I had stepped on a well done wad of Bazooka chewing gum.  I scraped my shoe against the broken cement of the sidewalk but it just made the situation worse.  I gave up and turned my attention to the modest white single family house at 2251 Pine Street.  This section of Wichita had seen better days, even for Kansas.

I sidled up to a guy I used to work with at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans back in the day.

“So, wudda we got here, Sid?”

“Hey Clyde,” he said, “nice to see you in these parts.  Way too hot in the Big Easy, don’t you think?”

“August in Kansas is no Spring-time in England,” I replied wearily.  “So, wudda we got?”

“You got lucky tonight, Clyde.  That’s him inside.  He just came to the window and yelled something like: “I can’t take it anymore…it’s too crazy a world for a kid like me.”

“Whose ‘him’? I asked yawningly.

“It’s Dennis ‘the menace’ Mitchell in there.  He’s holding his parents hostage.  Apparently he has a jazzed up sling-shot.  He’s sixty-eight now.  His poor parents are in their nineties.”

[The only known photo of the Mitchell family. (ca. The Good Old Days). Source: Google search & Wikipedia]

“THE Dennis ‘the menace’? Bad boy of our youth?  I used to follow his antics every day in the whatever paper I was working.  This is the kid with the yellow hair, right?”

“There’s only one Dennis The Menace, Clyde.  You know that.”

Sid looked back at the house that was now flooded with police lights.  It looked like a movie site in Levittown.

I noticed some action behind one of the patrol cars.  A slightly heavy-set man with gray hair was being handed a bullhorn.  He pulled the trigger like the cop told him and he spoke into the back-end of the handheld megaphone.

“Dennis! It’s Mr. Wilson, your old neighbor.  Please end this now and come out.  Nobody will hurt you.  You won’t be made to sit in the corner any more.  Come out!  Put the sling-shot down and step away from the window.  They have sharpshooters out here.  I don’t want you to get hurt.  You can call me lazy as much as you’d like.  Just come out.  It’ll be like the old days, all over again.”

Mr. Wilson seemed out of breath when he lowered the speaker.

“It’ll never be like the old days…again.  It’s been too long.”

I turned to the voice behind me.  In the glare of the floodlights I saw a middle-aged woman wearing a clear plastic raincoat and a tattered babushka over her gray hair.  She was lighting a new Marlboro from the fading glowing ash of an old Marlboro that had been smoked to within 2 mm’s of the filter.  I turned away from Sid and approached the woman.  She leaned against the dead elm and blew a perfect smoke ring through the rain.

“Hey, I know you,” I said as I got so close to her I felt like I was back on the Marlboro wagon again, except I preferred Lucky’s myself.  “Yeah, I know you.  You’re Margaret.  Margaret Wade.  You and the kid in there used to be childhood friends.  He thought you were a bit too ‘uppity’ for him but you always told him you two would be married when you grew up.”

She looked me over like an odds maker at Aqueduct and I was the underdog.  (Guess I still am but that’s another story).

[Artists rendering of Dennis in the corner.  Source: Google & Wikipedia]

“Yeah, we was gonna be together one of these years but things just didn’t work out.  After I got knocked-up in high school and had to drop out things went down hill faster than a Buick going over the edge of El Cap in Yosemite.  Ever see Thelma and Louise?”

I shrugged.  “Who were they? A vaudeville act?” I asked.

“Forget it,” she said resigningly.  “Besides, he preferred the Mediterranean type.  He got serious with Gina Gillotti but she called off the engagement when she met a guy who owned an auto upholstery dealership in Fresno.”

She looked toward the house.

“I shudda waited, played for time, waited for his hurt to heal.  Then maybe we could have made some kind of life together.  But, no.  I had to be me.  I had to have the biggest sedans and the best Chianti any kind of money could buy.  Now, it’s too late.  They’ll talk him into coming out.  Then they’ll send him to an institution where he can play with his invisible dog, Ruff and that strange cat, Hot Dog.  They’ll let him eat all the cookies and drink all the Root Beer he wants.  They won’t force him to choke down any carrots or even take any baths.  That’s the way it’ll be.”

I kept the eye contact.

“Was he really that bad?  I mean he was just being a little kid full of mischief, right?”

“You got it, stranger.  Nobody really understood him…except me.  And now he’ll never know that.”

She took a long drag on the Marlboro.  I noticed a bit of moisture on her eyelid.  It wasn’t the rain.

“You know, he meant well, he really did.  I felt sorry for the trouble he caused his folks.  Henry, his dad, was forced out of the aerospace engineering work he did when his company outsourced all that talent.  His poor mother, Alice left Henry once.  Nobody knows that.  She went back to the farm she was raised on to take care of her father.  She stayed after his funeral.  She had a mini-breakdown when she thought of going back to that rascal boy of hers…and this ‘hood.”

“Well, it’s been nice talking to you, Mr. Whatever.  I gotta make it over to the Pink Slipper before happy hour is over.  Happy Hour. What a laugh.  The Good Old Days.  Real funny.  I need some me-time right now.  Like I haven’t had enough of me all these years.  Yeah, I gotta go and have a chat with some ghosts I know.”

She tossed the butt to the broken cement that passed for a sidewalk and twisted it out with the ball of her red stilettos.

“Hey, you don’t have too much gray hair, care to join me for a high-ball?”

I looked at her and then back at the floodlit house.

I let her slide her arm through mine.  We felt brave and walked through a puddle without going all the way around.  I guess that’s my life…going around the long way and never being brave.

Behind me I heard cheering and applause.

“He’s coming out.  Stand down everyone!” shouted the Captain.  “He’s not going to be any trouble to anyone anymore.”

From somewhere, far away and faint, I would swear to this day that I heard a small boy cry out.  I heard:

“Maggie! Come back!”

But, I knew Maggie wasn’t going back.  There’s no going back for any of us.  All those years…all those calendars are  gone now.

[The sketch that may have started the hostage incident. Source: Google & Wikipedia]

 

 

 

 

Cabin Fever 101

 

[A view from the front door.  Photo is unfortunately mine.]

 

Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan!

[Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!]

–Francois Villon

I can tell you where the snows of yesteryear are.  I can also tell you where the snows of today are…and I can tell you where the snows of tomorrow, next week or two months from now are going to be.  They’re on my front deck, my back deck and three feet deep in our tiny yard.

I wonder why the oceans of the world still contain water.  Most of the moisture of our blue planet seems to be covering the 1.3 acres that surround our home.  In the last week, I’ve shoveled enough of the solid form of water to fill the Erie Canal.

Which brings me to the topic of this post.  Cabin fever.

In legend and lore, in story and in song, the subject of cabin fever is quite common.  It is a well-known condition that affects those in the North Country.  From the gold miners of the Yukon to the fur trappers of Manitoba, grizzled men with beards and red suspenders have been known to lose their minds when confined to a lonely cabin…while the snow falls relentlessly.  Some simply open the door and walk out into the frigid swirling blizzard and are never seen again.  Some crawl under their Hudson Bay point blankets and fall asleep while their wood stove burns low and then turns to embers and then goes out.  Someone will find the body in the Spring time. Others have been known to take their own lives, once the bottle of hooch is empty.  And, others have turned to their fairest friends and best buddies and put a bullet into an unsuspecting brain pan.

I, myself, was driven by near insanity to simply walk out the front door and into the Adirondack forest.  But, the screen door wouldn’t open because of the snow accumulation.  Besides, it wasn’t nearly cold enough…it was only -18 F.

I have been driven to violence.  Two days ago I took a Macy’s carving knife (with a serrated blade) and hacked at a leftover breakfast burrito from the local health food store.

My misery knew no limits.  It puzzled me because, well, we don’t live in a cabin, we live in a house with a number of rooms and a fair library in my den.  There’s always cable television (something the gold seekers of ’49 didn’t have).  No, we have Spectrum with 200+ channels but nothing worth watching.  We have the internet, but how many anti-Trump postings can one person click “like” on?  And, one gets weary of playing Spider solitaire 377 times a day.

So, what to do?  Go out and shovel?  No, we’re expecting 6-9″ this afternoon.  Go to Whiteface and ski?  The lift tickets are too pricey.  Pay $90+ for a chance to get frostbite and/or a compound fracture of my left leg?  Don’t think so.

I think I’ll find a comfortable position on the sofa by the picture window and begin to count the snowflakes as they fall, minute by minute and day by day for the next three months.

 

 

Adirondack Angst

[After the shovel and before the car door incident.  Photo is mine.]

Once upon a time not so very long ago, there was a man who lived in a house, with his faithful and patient wife, in the Great Wilderness known as the Adirondack Mountains.  These mountains are located in the far reaches of upstate New York.

This man was sore of back and gray of hair.  He had recently spent five weeks in the high desert of California.  He went there looking for solitude and warmth, but instead he found himself surround by neighbors with strange cars and small barking Chihuahuas.  He also wore fleece nearly every day, until it was time to leave…of course.

The man’s eyes stung from the smoke of distant fires and he went through five and a half boxes of tissues, so frightful were his allergies.

Upon returning to his home in the North Country, there was a January thaw that put his limbs at risk with the ice and constant dripping of masses of snow that had recently befallen the countryside.  Then two days ago, his weather app on his iPhone bespoke of a new storm that promised a foot of snow followed by thumb-numbing cold.

When this man awoke this morning, he put off looking out of the bedroom window for fear of what he would behold.  But, he also had another app on his iPhone that told him how much daylight was left in the day.  He checked the temperature.  It was 4 F.  He saw that 75% of the day had passed.  He decided he should get out of bed and shovel a path to the car and clean the snow from the car and try to start the car.

The first two tasks were accomplished with sweat, frost on his mustache and a lower back that had pleaded with him to stop the punishment.

Now to start the car.  But, alas, he found all four doors frozen shut.  Not to worry, he thought.  I have a can of de-icer in the garage.  He pushed the button and the garage door creaked open.  He found the de-icer and pushed the button to close the door.  It didn’t move.  He tried to spray the little button but nothing but a faint hiss came from the spray hole. He shook the can and determined it was full, but not a molecule of de-icer was to be found.

[The frozen car. Photo is unfortunately mine.]

He returned to the house with the spray can, but he was broken of heart and frustration welled up in his soul like a backed-up toilet.

Why have the gods of the North Country forsaken him?  Why did he feel as alone as a Democrat in Mississippi or a Quaker at a Microsoft convention?

Why didn’t he stay in California and buy more tissue boxes?  What had he done in this life or any other life to deserve such anguish?

He checked the weather app on his iPhone and saw that the forecast predicted a low of -22 F for the overnight hours.

The old man poured a cold beer and sat waiting for the bathtub to fill.  He had added about two cups of blue crystals that promised muscle relaxation.  (It never worked before, but tonight would be different).

But this man had a plan.  He would build a fire in the downstairs stove and he and his wife would have a dinner of hot soup.

All will be well tomorrow, he thought.  After all, tomorrow is another day.

He sipped his beer and considered how existentially alone one is in the Universe.  Or, at least in the North Country.

The Day Bob Dylan Dies

[Source: Google search.]

This is not an obituary.  It’s not a eulogy.  It’s a foreshowding.

I’m a sensitive guy.  I’m seventy years old and I cry at the final scene of Casablanca, several times during Dr. Zhivago, and at the end of Sleepless in Seattle.

I make no apologies.

But, lately, my generation (mostly the Boomers)  have lost more than our fair share of rock stars (or musical artists, if you prefer).  Music defined the Boomers.  We grew up with the Beatles.  Yet, years ago we lost George Harrison, John Lennon.  More recently,  David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Fats Domino…and more than I can remember or even want to think about because it saddens me so much.

I’ve seen him in concert, perhaps twenty times, and even if the show seemed “phoned in”, I still walked away from the theater or the arena with a deep respect.  Respect for a man who is spending his later years on a “never-ending tour”.  According to BobDylan.com, he has sang Like a Rolling Stone well over 2,000 times!

But, there is a date, as yet to be determined by the gods, when my ultimate favorite poet/rock star and Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan will join his comrades.

Dylan (as of this writing on December 10, 2017) is seventy-six years old.  His death could come in three days, seven months, nine years…but the way our musical icons are leaving us so fast, I am dreading the day when Dylan’s number comes up.

Some morning I will wake up and read on the front page of the New York Times that he had died.  Some people who don’t know how valued this poet is to me will not understand why I will cry.

I guarantee that I will cry,  I will weep.  I will sob.  I will mourn.

My sadness will be blowing in the wind.

 

The Quiet Feast/The Great Cycle

I felt the breeze…

I stumbled on a tree root when…

Finally, we reached the pond…

Concentrate.  Start over.

When I was a teacher I was often given the dubious privilege of  “lunch duty”.  A room, nearly the size of a gym, filled with 5th & 6th graders…or 9th & 10th graders, and a hand full of teachers produced a noise level that made it impossible to carry on a conversation or to even think about the hour before you.  Sometimes on days when I didn’t have duty, I would retreat to the faculty lunch room.  Even there, teachers talked about the students, the administration or their Valium prescription.  Still, no time to think.

As a last resort, I would take my tray to my empty home room and eat alone.  It occurred to me that I would appear antisocial…but at least I could think.

Once, perhaps a decade or so ago, I found a guidebook to monasteries, close to our home in Manhattan, that opened their doors to travelers…like a B & B with stained glass.  Mariam and I found one, run by the Episcopal church, on the western side of the Hudson River.  It was a large estate-like building that sat high above the river in the Hudson Highlands.  It happened that we booked our room on a “quiet” weekend.

No talking allowed.

During the meals, all I could hear was the clinking of forks and spoons on the china plates.  A whisper here and there…but otherwise, silence.

I could think.

A year ago, in October, along with our great friends, D’Arcy and Judy,  Mariam and I took a walk along the Silver Lake Bog trail.  The sky was azure.  The foliage was at a peak.  Brilliant reds, yellows, copper and scarlet leaves mixed with the green conifers.

I hung back and walked alone.  I stopped to listen.  The gently falling leaves sounded like a light rain.  I looked around me and realized that I had walked into a grand feast, a forested restaurant, a silent meal.

Nearly everything I looked at was in the process of dying…or already dead.  What was alive was consuming what was dead.  This was considered to be a fairly dry summer, but you would never have guessed that from that bog or our front yard.  My copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Mushrooms was used more than the previous decade.

It was like watching “The Walking Dead” with the roles reversed.  Of course I have lived a life-time of seeing this every autumn, but on that day, the Big Picture came into focus more clearly and gave me the urge to put all this into words.  I was a witness to the Great Cycle of Life.  I know it’s a cliché, but there it was, all around me.  The ground itself was covered by a blanket of moss and lichen that were feeding and consuming the organic material.  The dead logs, many cleared from the trail by a chainsaw, were helpless to resist the countless fungi, moss, bacteria and water that was breaking a once tall and stately beech or maple or oak into mere molecules.

And, all this was done in total silence and  would continue even under three feet of snow and ice and temperatures of -37 degrees.

In six months, a small spore, a seed, a dormant larvae of a black fly would begin to revive and then bloom and the green would return.

And, that fly would find out where I lived.