Kissing The Moon

[Source: Google search.]

So, there is a story.  It goes something like this:

A certain Chinese poet, Li Po, was said to have tried to kiss the reflection of the moon from his boat.  He leaned to plant the kiss…fell overboard  and drowned.  What is the moral of the story?

I am fascinated by the moon.  The werewolves, in legend, were dictated by the full moon.  The moon’s 28 day cycle has been linked with the monthly cycle  of a woman.

The moon.

I may have had my first kiss on a night of the Full Moon. I just don’t remember…I was moon struck. I walked home from a date one night when I was in high school.  My readers will know who the girl was.  I stepped into the playground of the elementary school where I attended for eight years.  It was a Catholic school.  There was a cross on the peak of the ‘tower’…I don’t know what else to call it.  I aligned the cross with the full moon that was rising over the Susquehanna River.  I looked across the street where, earlier, I had been sitting with my girlfriend on a stone bench…still there along Front Street…watching the moon rise over the ripples of the slow-moving river.

But, after my session with the moon and the cross, I walked home strangely altered…how? I can not say, but the experience stays with me.

Did we really walk on the moon?  I gaze at it often and wonder how, when a laptop crashes, we mustered the technology to go all the way there and come back…a dozen times.

As a science teacher,  I once had a plexiglass disk with a moon rock in my hands.  It was unreal.

I used to talk to my fading sweetheart, when I was in college, from a pay phone…I could see the moon through the glass…I asked her if she would look out of her window, 1,200 miles away to see the same moon.

The same moon that shed it’s light on all of history.

So, what is the real story I’m trying to tell?  I’m not sure, I guess it’s about dreaming, night and desiring something that may be the last fatal desire.

Don’t try to kiss the moon…kiss the one you love…or love the one you’re with.

The moon.

[A Full Moon in Paris. My photograph.]

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Roadside Attractions From The Rearview Mirror

compassRose

I feel like I’ve driven half-way around the earth’s diameter.  Actually, according to the odometer on the red Ford Escape, we did indeed travel that far.

Our total distance driven, including side trips for sight-seeing, came to an astounding 13,589 miles!  If you’re into engine care and maintenance, that’s would be three oil changes (and filter, of course).  And, as we pulled into our driveway, we were overdue for a fourth change.

I walked into the kitchen and saw the calendar next to our Samsung refrigerator.  Take a look:

2015Calendar

That was our departure date, October 15.  I see it was a Thursday.  I took the calendar down (I was thinking there was something superstitious about leaving old calendars on the wall.  I only see them in Auto Repair Shops and they have Betty Page photos and the dates are around 1956 and the guys that work in some of these places often have seen times of hard luck).  It took me a day to locate the 2016 calendar I bought (20% off) at a Barnes & Noble store in Texas.  The theme is Circus “Freaks”.  Changing calendar themes from Vintage England Travel Posters to The Circus Sideshow must say something about my change in tastes.  The sideshows are vanishing from America…but there will always be an England.

Unusual things and marginalized people have always fascinated me.

Don’t ask.

So, here’s the new calendar:

AprilCalendar2016

In case you can’t read the dates very well, we got home on April 1.  I was so exhausted and sore from driving that I didn’t find anyone or anything to play a prank on.

But, the Tattooed Girl will brighten that corner of the kitchen until May 1!  This brings up an interesting thought…this sideshow girl was once considered an oddity…she made her living exhibiting herself in a circus.  At least half the baristas in the Starbucks I visited had tats far more artistic, exotic and erotic than our Miss April, 2016.

Culture changes…but, as I said, there will always be an England.

So, let me run the numbers.  Using the above dates, we spent 169 days out there…somewhere out there, driving, camping, hiking or just sitting on a beach.  This come out to 40.6% of a year.  Nearly 41% of a year of my life has just been spent looking at things.

We emptied the r-pod (we’re going to sell it, but it needs a few repairs first) and I piled our guides and maps and memorabilia on the floor.  Of course, I arranged everything to look haphazard and casual, but every pamphlet and sticker and book and CD is carefully placed to give you an idea what we accomplished.  I probably should mention that I couldn’t find most of the guide books and National Park maps and tee-shirts that we purchased along the way.  They’ll show up sometime in late July.

GuidesOnfloorFromTrip

I even re-highlighted my route on our Rand McNally.  Here it is:

Atlas

I’m aware that it’s hard to see clearly, but you only need to see the orange line and the green/blue line.  The orange line was our route to Palm Desert, California.  This is where we made a turn on a highway that was surrounded by wind-mills, and began to set our course eastward.  That’s the green/blue line.

Far be it for me to brag, but I do think we took in a pretty good chunk of the lower part of the Lower 48.

If you’ve been following the many blogs I sweated and struggled to produce for your entertainment, you will know that I did accomplish quite a bit more than just fill up the memory chip in my digital camera.

I became certified in sailing (any keel boat up to 30′).  I posed with Miss Sonoran Desert Queen (and she put her arm around me willingly and eagerly…as she thought of her long deceased grandfather).  I saw my first rodeo, an American child’s dream (if you were raised in the 1950’s).  I saw the graves of dead outlaws and B & B’s that were former brothels.

I drank Tequila in a bar in Juarez, Mexico…the same bar where Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Steve McQueen drank.  I tried to feel their spiritual entities, but looking for the nooks where they sat and kissed and drank, only led me to the men’s room.  We crossed the International Bridge from El Paso.  I looked down at the line of defense our government has built to deter (read ‘keep out’) illegals.  The trenches, fences, walls and razor wire reminded me of the Berlin Wall or the Maginot Line.  I was struck by the seven inches you unknowingly step across that separates two cultures that are so close yet so far apart.  I also did this on a day when I was in constant FB messaging with my son Brian.  I pleaded with him to dig into his iTunes for Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues”, so he could, somehow in the cyber-world, be connected with me as I walked across the border bridge…and he would, at that same moment be listening to:

When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez and it’s Eastertime too.  And your gravity fails and negativity don’t pull you through, don’t put on any airs when you’re down on Rue Morgue Avenue, they got some hungry women there, and they really make a mess outta you.”

We crossed the bridge.  Brian said he listened.  But it wasn’t raining and there’s no Rue Morgue Avenue in Juarez.  I did find a Mexican busker who sang Cielito Lindo for us, but no hungry women.  But, I’m not such a dreamer to believe that there are really no hungry women in Juarez…or hungry children…or hungry old men who sit and smoke and drink and think.

Sometimes facts get in the way of a good story.  For me, I have to immerse myself in a landscape, get my hands dirty, my mouth full of dust, get pricked by a cactus or bitten by a scorpion to fully understand where it is that I am standing. If I’m in Mississippi, I listen to Delta blues, if I’m in Texas, Bob Wills goes into the CD player.

Anytime on this trip, “Happy Trails” would be a welcome tune.

I drank a Lone Star beer at the Broken Spoke in Austin when Mariam, my friend William McHone and myself took lessons in the Texas 2-Step.  I even bought a pair of cheap cowboy boots for that night.  I didn’t do very well.  I have no sense of rhythm…only the desire to move around the dance floor to the sound of Texas Swing…and hold my honey in my arms.  I still have the boots, but I still can’t dance the Texas 2-Step.

I saw things that made me cry.

I saw acres of cattle, with no place to graze, penned and waiting to be herded to the killing rooms.  The miles I drove past these death-camps smelled of cow shit.  I wondered if it was their diet…or their fear.

I saw shanty-towns of the most squalid poverty and hopelessness.  I saw Native Americans reduced to playing “Indians” for the tourists…like me.

When we entered a National Park, I flashed my Golden Pass, which allowed us, as seniors, free entry.  I pondered the situation of an average family with four kids paying close to $100 to see the extraordinary landscapes that really belong to all of us.

I laid a flower at the grave of a prostitute in Dodge City, Kansas…a luckless young woman (somehow, I prefer the term “Soiled Dove”) who died from an infection caused by bar-room brawl over a cowboy, or was it Bat Masterson, or a banker, or a lover.

I placed another flower at the grave of an old friend of mine who died forty-some years ago.  He died and I lived.  We were hiking the same trail in the High Peaks.  I lived to return to his grave and place that Adirondack wildflower I had picked months earlier.  Now it was dried and withered from months on the road.  A flower from the mountains that were his last views of his life on this earth.

I saw an elderly man after he tripped on the curb outside a 7-Eleven.  He was bleeding.  The EMT’s were all over the situation.  But…was I seeing myself in fifteen years?

I saw a woman crying while she sat an outside table at one of the thousand Starbucks we visited.  She was alone in whatever sorrow had overcome her.  It took me days to get the image of her heartbreak out of my head.

I saw another woman crying in a bar.  She was with a male friend.  What happened?  Was she leaving him?  He leaving her?  I couldn’t tell, but the scene made me turn away.  I sat in her seat more than once in my life.

I cried one afternoon in the countryside outside of Dallas.  It didn’t have to do with the trip, directly.  I was driving to visit a large cemetery about fifteen miles southwest of the city.  I was listening to NPR and I sat up straight in the seat of the red Ford when the radio host announced that David Bowie had died.  I mulled this over for a few miles.  I realized I didn’t have any Bowie music on any of my playlists.  Then it happened.  They began a segment of “All Things Considered” with the opening riffs…the soaring chords of  “Let’s Dance”.

I didn’t dance.  I pulled over onto the shoulder and wept.  I wept for the lost talent, the lost beauty, the lost art…and another lost member of my generation’s music.

But, I saw sights of jaw-dropping beauty.  Rainbows that lasted over an hour.  Rock colors I never knew existed.  Canyons and valleys and washes and rivers, many that are famous and many that are unnamed.  Actually, I think nearly everything in the world has a name, I just didn’t have the right map.

When you travel, always have the right map.  It doesn’t have to be of any place you’re planning on visiting, but it’s good to have the map anyway.

There are maps of the wild and empty deserts of Arizona and California.  And, there are maps that exist only inside one’s mind.  These are usually the most interesting ones to use as guides.  Landscapes, towns, roads, Interstates, trails and horse paths can change with a sudden rainstorm.

But, the map that has your heart and soul and restless spirit as the compass rose…those are the maps to carry.

You can’t buy them on Amazon.  You were born with them deep in your chromosomes.

FinalPicAtEndOfTrip

The End Of The Line

PalmDesertSunset

Like, wow…I can’t believe we’re in California.

What a magical and special state this is.  It’s no wonder that all the famous people live here.  It’s the “land of opportunity”, where an anybody like me can become a somebody like…George Clooney.  We weren’t here an hour when I drove to a service station to get a bag of ice and fill the tank.  On a whim, I bought two $2.00 scratch-off lottery tickets.  Would you believe I won $25.00 from those two tickets?  I was elated and felt that my time had come, until I paid for the gas.  When we filled up the tank one afternoon back in Tucson, AZ, it cost me $1.43/gal.  I nearly spilled my Starbucks Latte when I saw the California price (at this particular station) was $2.79/gal.  I thought there were oil wells out here??  I think I saw a Clark Gable movie once and he got soaked from the gushing crude from a well.

Maybe that was Texas…I can’t remember.

lottery

[This probably isn’t legal to post winning lottery tickets online, but I’m from New York…]

This is as far west as our journey is taking us.  If you’re a faithful reader and you’ve paid attention and taken notes, pick up that Rand McNally Atlas that’s sitting on your coffee table…the one with coffee stains and rings left by the condensation of the Bud Lite cans during the Super Bowl.  Turn to page 15 (I’m using the 2013 edition).  We are at the Emerald RV Resort located on the map page at coordinates “15/SJ”.

I feel so…so important being here in the Golden State.  Our RV Resort is located on Frank Sinatra Drive, which is separated from Dinah Shore Drive by Gerald Ford Drive.  (If you don’t believe all this, just Google this place).

We had a long hard drive behind us today.  We left Yuma in the late morning warmth of 88 F.  We sped past the western part of the city and I glanced at the Yuma Territorial Prison…the topic of my last blog.  Ok, maybe misery, murder, death and forgotten graves may not have been the best choice for a Valentine’s Day post, but we were having WiFi issues and I needed to get something out before things got worse.  Note to those planning on RV’ing any serious distance all: Whatever the Resort tells you about how strong their signal is, don’t believe it.  There are some days you can forget email…you’d be better off mailing a letter through the USPS.  Nearly all my posts were composed and posted from Starbucks or McDonald’s (say what you want about the Double Cheese Macs, their WiFi smokes!).

We attended a real rodeo while we were in Yuma and I intended to write something about how excited I was to finally see one in person, for real.  I have to admit that it was impressive.  I’m including a few photos just to prove that we were really there.

RodeoYuma2

[This guy rode like the wind.]

MissSonoranDeserts

[In case you’re confused: The Happy Camper is on the left and the bored Miss Sonoran Deserts Queen is on the right.]

RodeoYuma1

[Woman rider]

Just across the California-Arizona state line were the Imperial Sand Dunes.  I parked in a kind of base camp for the dune buggy people.  I took a picture of one of the beautiful dunes and made it even more stark and raw by filtering it through my Instagram app.

B:WImperialDunes

[A lonely bush in the Imperial Sand Dune National Recreational Area]

After a few miles along I-8, we turned north on Rte. 86 and drove through some of the agricultural (and highly irrigated) parts of Southern California.  We passed truck loads of carrots, groves of date palms and vineyards.  I also caught glimpses of the smiling happy faces of the migrant workers as they leisurely picked cabbage and turnips.  They were so fortunate to have such jobs, out in the open fresh air, getting a tan…instead of being stuck inside some awful office building or factory.  I was tempted to stop and pick a bushel or two just to get the exercise, but we had places to go and I couldn’t see any convenient parking places.

So, is this the end of our trip?  Have we reached the farthest point from our home?  Well, no and yes.  The eastern slopes of the Rockies are still between us and home.  The prairies of Kansas are still ahead of us. (The last state in the Lower 48 I have yet to visit).  We still have to get home…and there is a place I must visit.  It’s not far from here and it is the magical and mythical destination of the trip…for me, anyway.

I’ve been dropping hints about this place since I first started posting these blogs.  It’s a real place.  Thousands of people came there to get healed…to get clean…to wash away sins, ancient and recent, that have darkened souls that were pure as snow at birth.

Water has been a healer for thousands of years.  Spas and hot springs have saved the lives and repaired the souls of countless individuals.

Now, it’s my turn.  Sometime next week, I will arrive at this strange place that has a strange name…and see if anything remains of the healing waters of seventy-five years ago.

Will I find sage and tumble weed and cracked concrete in the old pools.   Or, will the ghosts of those who came to find succor still roam about in the weedy driveways and dying palms?  If the spirits are walking around the now-empty fountain, will they take a moment to tell me their stories?

I’ll tell them mine.

The Big Empty: Where Nothing Is Everything

YumaFoothills

If you have a mind to go someplace where you can think without distraction, pray without a preacher, sin without a society to judge, see the night sky in its true black star-filled glory, see a snake, an ant, a spider or a bird…then come to The Big Empty.  One thing you may not see, is another human, perhaps for days at a time…unless that person is seeking what you are seeking.

Solitude.

I’m on a road trip.  I’m only passing through this odd and bewildering moonscape of the desert Southwest.  We were driving from Tucson to Yuma along I-8.  I had a vague idea about the land we were traveling through.  That’s unusual for me, normally I like to prepare my self…immerse myself in the country I will be sleeping and walking in.  I had finally obtained a copy of American Nomads by Richard Grant.  This amazing book is a history, as the cover states, of travels with mountain men, cowboys, Indians, hoboes and truckers.  I was learning as I went, a page ahead or a page or two too late.

We stopped at one of the few gas stations on this section of I-8.  I looked around.  I saw the closest thing to nothing I had seen in my two cross-country road trips.  I wandered a few hundred yards through the sage and sand and scrub brush.  It was early February, so I had little chance of dropping from dehydration and heat stroke.  I’m Irish.  I’m prone to heat strokes when the mercury climbs above 81 F.  I drink plenty of water as a rule of life.  When I was a teacher, I constantly sipped from my Poland Springs bottle to keep my throat wet and prevent that Bill Clinton raspiness.

I stood and looked at the blue and gray mountains in the distance.  I turned a full circle.  In nearly all directions, there were mountains.  Before I left the car, I had seen that I was on the edge of the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range.  The town we had just passed was Gila Bend.  The last sign I saw was Dateland.  (It sounded like the name of a 1962 Roller Rink).  But, here I was alone.

Truly alone.  I thought about whether or not I could live in an RV out here.  Bottled water.  An outdoor privy.  The constant awareness of snakes (I don’t do snakes, if I haven’t mentioned that before).

Mariam was back in a cool diner, sipping coffee and checking her email.  Oddly, the WiFi signal was strong out here…out here in The Big Empty.  (It must be because of all the military installations in this part of the country.  Why else erect towers to serve the twenty-seven people who made their homes out here?

I closed my eyes and tried to feel the emptiness of this Great Void.  I heard the distant trucks on the highway.  But, filtering that out, there was…nothing.

It was almost like being lost at sea.  A survivor sits in a life boat and floats, thinking they can be seen, visible and blatant, like a circus balloon, from a rescue plane flying 1,000 feet above the water.  But, in reality, they are a mere ripple, a white cap, a dark splotch in a vast expanse of blue.

I tried to imagine myself lost out here in The Big Empty…I tried to see myself from above.  High above, where the planes and helicopters flew, and I realized I would be mistaken for a dead cactus or a thick sage brush.  No, I was only visible to the Ancient Gods of the Desert, the spirits of the Hopi, the Comanche, the Apache…the Mother Goddess of the Earth.  I was nothing to any human…out there.  To paraphrase Dylan, I could die out there and be just another accident statistic.

What I felt was humbling without being degrading.  It was similar to the feelings I get when I stand in the nave of a Gothic cathedral, like Salisbury or Winchester.

Out in The Big Empty you’re nothing and you’re everything.  In those few minutes I was alone, I understood more clearly the Native Americans relationship with Nature and the totems, spirit guides and memories of the Ancients.  You mean little to the land itself, but your respect and reverence to the sand and burnt rocks, means a great deal to the gods that oversee the wanderings of a mere mortal.

It is a land that doesn’t allow for ego.  Ego can kill you in a place like Yuma, where the average yearly rainfall is 3.36″.  Ego can kill you when the average temperature in July is 107 F.

If, when you read these words, you find that I have not described the land in proper clarity, then do yourself a favor.  Don’t go to a prayer-book and read about the Sinai Desert.  Open an atlas of the United States and find the pages that cover west Arizona and Southern California.  Run you fingers along the blue line of the Colorado River.  Trace the Smoke Tree Wash.  Locate the Mohawk Valley, the Castle Dome Plain, the Chocolate Mountains, the Kofa Mountains, the Gila Mountains, the Yuma Desert and the Picacho Peak Wilderness.  Say these names out loud, like chanting a prayer or reading a poem.

YumaMap

Something evocative will happen.  You don’t have to be standing in the sand to feel this ancient earth and hear the ghosts ride behind you.  Another amazing thought: All of you who read this, at one time sat in a classroom that was covered by a map of the United States, all 48 of them (back in the 1950’s).  I confess that I would let the nun’s lesson on the past participles fade away while I roamed the map…I knew the coasts, the odd finger of Florida, the large blue oddly shaped Great Lakes, the Great Divider of the Mississippi River…but I never paid a lot of attention to that lower left corner of the map.  I did read the names of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico but they were simply “out west” somewhere.  In that land of the cactus and Indians.  My greatest possession as a child was a rotating night-light.  It had a western scene of Saguaro and cowboys chasing Indians.  Skulls of Long-Horned steer.  Coiled snakes.  The heat of the light bulb would pass through a louvered top and the convection would make the illustrated plastic scenery spin slowly around my room. I fell asleep every night of my childhood to that scene…the specters circling my room like a dervish.  These lamps are very hard to find these days.  Couple that drama played out on my bedroom wall, with the night train passing through Owego, NY on its way to Chicago or New York City, the clicking and clacking of the steel wheels on the seams of the rails…is it a wonder that right now I feel like I’m living in a childhood dream?

It’s a land of contradictions.  It’s imaginary and dreamy, but it’s as real as a sunburn or a grain of wind-blown dust in your eye.

sunsetyuma

 

 

 

I Heard The Secrets Of The Grackle’s Song

grackle

[Image: Google search]

A short time ago, perhaps a week, maybe more, I spent a few days in Austin, Texas.  We were visiting with a gentleman, William, that I had met during a writers workshop in Westport, New York in October, 2012.  He has been a good friend and faithful follower of my blogs since I began posting them.

Austin.  The home of the long-running pbs music show, Austin City Limits, the Skylark Lounge, a great blues club, a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan that stands on the banks of the Colorado River (not the Colorado River).  Arguably the most famous dance hall in Texas, The Broken Spoke, is in Austin.  It’s where I “learned” to do the Texas 2-step and when my bones and legs couldn’t keep time with the music, I could sit and sip a Lone Star beer and watch the real dudes and drug-store cowboy’s do the dance the way it should be done.  Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys played this city, while virtually inventing Texas Swing music.  A statue of Willie Nelson stands outside the theater where Austin City Limits is recorded.

Austin.  A town where the hills glow violet in the setting sun.  A vermillion hue in the afternoon sky.  And, in that afternoon sky are thousands of birds.  The Grackles of Austin.

The Grackle is considered by many to be a disease-carrying bird that is a genuine pest.  Cannons have been used to keep them from clustering in various city parks.  On my first afternoon, a late afternoon, when the sky had begun to redden, I saw black objects clinging to the power lines near the exit ramp of I-35.  I could make out that they were birds…but the numbers were staggering.  I can say one thing straight away: I have never seen such flocks of these starling-like, black-hued avians roosting on power lines in my life.  When they took flight from the trees, shrubs and high wires, they would fill the air and darken the sky.  When they moved, when they were on the wing, they moved as one.  I described this sudden turn of direction in my first novel, Standing Stone, as “one shared soul.”

GracklesInWaco

[The swarming Grackles in Waco, Texas. Image: Google search]

These are birds of legend.  To a person unfamiliar with large flocks of crow-like creatures, these looked like something that was left on the cutting-room floor after Alfred Hitchcock decided he had gone too far.

Birds of Legend?

I was familiar with the real birds of legend.  The Phoenix, rising from the ashes.  The Ibis of Ancient Egypt.  The Dove of Noah.  The Eagle of American power and might.

But, the Grackle?  What legend?  What was it about this Raven-like bird that inspired such mystery and admiration…and contempt?

It seems that in the ancient days, back in the time when even dust was old, the Grackle did not make a sound…it had no call.  It was mute.  But, birds need a song to sing…to communicate a message of warning, spread the word about where water could be found…or to call to one another, to seek a mate…to make a nest…to pass on a new generation of life.  For nothing lives forever…

The Legend begins:

In Mexico, the bird were called zantes.  In Pre-Columbian times, it has been said, the mute birds began to seek a voice. They found a Sea Turtle and the zantes stole their voice from him.  They stole the archaic song of the Sea Turtle.  That was the mystical Song of the Seven Passions.  They now had their voice…their song.

800px-Zanate-Sea_turtle_artifact_icon

[Image: Google search]

For eons, they have sung this most sacred of songs.  But, to the modern ear, it sounds like a common cackle.  The sound and the name stuck…hence, the Grackle.

Annoying and obtrusive to most people these days, I found myself alone in a quiet park one afternoon.  I listened to the cackling.  I listened for the song.  It began to clarify in my head.  I could make out intonation, nuance, emotion and meaning.

I began to hear the Seven Songs of Passion.

I heard LOVE…and I thought of my childhood.  My mother, my father, my brothers, my elders, my girlfriend, my lovers, my wife.  I thought of those I never knew… never knew I really loved them, and those who I never realized, once loved me.

I heard HATE…and I thought of killing in the name of God, killing those who are different, killing those who chose to love those we don’t think they have a right to love.  I thought of those killed by others who believe in another God than the One of our birth.  I thought of the death of the spirit in a child by withholding love, by hurting their tiny hearts and bodies.  I thought of those who hate because…they hate.

I heard FEAR…and I thought of a lonely snow-covered trail in the Northern Forest and the fear that I was losing a dear friend.  I recalled a phone call, and then another, followed by yet another, telling me that a parent or sibling was near death.  I thought of the fear that a woman I loved would simply walk out the door.  I thought of the fear of abandonment and the fear of being unloved.  I thought of the fear of dying, the fear of pain, the fear of being afraid.

I heard COURAGE…and I thought of the brave who have died for their beliefs, not for a flag or a symbol, but for  human dignity and the freedom from being a slave of any kind.

I heard JOY…and I thought of how I felt when my children were born.  How I love and respect my daughter, Erin and how she and her husband, Bob are raising my grandson, Elias, to be an inquisitive and curious and kind child.  I thought of how much fun I have when I sit and have a talk with my son, Brian, who is smart, witty and has the heart as big as Texas (with New Mexico and a good deal of Utah thrown in).

I heard ANGER…and I thought of the misspoken words between a married couple, between a child and a parent, between lovers, between nations, between religions, with oneself for not being able to accomplish something creative and meaningful, lasting and full of beauty.

I heard SADNESS…and I feel a billion tears from a million people crying, at a graveside for the soul of someone they will never see or touch again, at a wedding when a father says farewell to a daughter or a son, in an office when a husband or wife hears of the loss of a spouse or child in a misbegotten war, in the heart of a student when the teacher implies he or she can’t do something, in the doorway of a family home when a parent watches their child walk away into the life of adulthood, never to be a child again.  The sadness of those losses are overwhelming.

MourningFigure

[Source: Pinterest]

I heard all these passions from the beak of that dark bird, the Grackle.  I was overwhelmed by this ability to hear these things.  It’s too much for one person to handle.  If more people just stopped and listened to the zantes, perhaps the burden would be spread out…and lighten the load for the few who stop to listen, not just to this one bird of Austin, but to all life.

WatercolorTears

[Image: Google Search]

 

 

Crossing Whiskey Creek To The Banyan Tree

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I had my plastic cup of iced coffee from the Java Cafe nestled nicely in the container holder next to the gear shift knob on the red Ford Escape.  This time I was going to try something different.  I was going to locate and take the rear entrance (or is an exit when you’re leaving?) of the Outlet Mall.

Soon I was on McGregor Blvd and listening to the country radio station.  The song was “Shall I Go Home or Shall I Go Crazy?”  Apparently the singer had some serious issues with his girl friend at home.  I wonder how things turned out for him.

I worry about people.

But this was not a day to just drive around Fort Myers looking for a Starbucks (remember I already had a coffee).  No, I had a destination.  I was going to Fort Myers Cemetery to visit the grave of Edgar “Bloody” Watson.  You may wonder what is drawing me to see this alleged murderers burial plot.  Well, I’m reading Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen.  It is over 900 pages of a fictional treatment of the “Legend of Chokoloskee”.  Watson was an interesting character but there is a fog of doubt about who he really was and what he really did.

Details?  You can Google Watson if you’re desperate, but I would suggest waiting for my blog on him and…well, it’ll be far more entertaining and fascinating than the Wikipedia entry.  Or, go buy the book by Matthiessen.  But don’t expect to rejoin the family and the real world until sometime after Easter.  It’s a serious read.  Trust me.

So, I was driving north on McGregor, passing the walled enclaves of the moderately rich people.  The really wealthy folks are about thirty miles south, in Naples.  There is a small bridge ahead.  I’m passing an Irish Pub on the right.  I’m crossing Whiskey Creek.  I had just read an advertisement about the Whiskey Creek Country Club.  Membership?  For a single golfer for one season, the fee is just shy of $1,500.  If I had that kind of money to spare, I’d join just so I could carry a card that had that name on it.

Whiskey Creek.  It begs to be a metaphor.

“I overturned the kayak of my life and I swam in Whiskey River for too many years.”

I think I have the beginning of a country song.  Or, maybe a dark Irish short story of misspent youth.  I don’t know a thing about writing country songs, but I’m Irish and I over spent my allowance of my younger years.

I make a few turns before I find Michigan Ave.  Another two miles and I’m turning into the cemetery.  The old headstones, from the early 1900’s are mostly under oak trees that are draped with Spanish Moss.  Nothing makes a southern cemetery more spooky and sad and lonely than Spanish Moss.  It’s the essence of southern gothic.

There is a fellow riding around on a backhoe.  I stop him and ask where “Bloody” Watson’s grave is located.  He says he’s only been there a week and doesn’t know where anything would be.  I troll the narrow drives.  Acorns pop under my tires.  Just because I felt like it, I make a left turn.  There is a large gray stone: WATSON.  I get out and walk around the car.  There is Edgar’s stone.  Someone had placed an old penny on top.  I thought it was a strange thing to leave at the grave of a guy with the nickname of “Bloody”, but, hey, I was here.

As I was driving back to Michigan Ave. a pickup truck blocked my way.  On the door was City of Fort Myers.  A cemetery worker, a genial black man with salt and pepper hair got out.  He knew where Watson was buried, but I told him I already found it.  It didn’t matter to him–he wanted to talk.  Fifteen minutes later, he points to the beads of sweat on his forehead and says: “It’s too hot out here for me.  I’m going back to the AC in the truck.  Good luck.”

He told me a great deal about his life in those fifteen minutes.  I should have been expecting it.  After all, he spends his working day in a field of dead people.  Who do you talk to?

Just before he slammed his door, he called out: “Did you see the Banyan tree?”  I said that I did, which wasn’t a lie.  I just didn’t know what the tree was when I first saw it.  I drove back to it to get a photo.  I stood looking at a tree that I thought was really five trees.  You wouldn’t believe the size of this enormous plant!  A person could live inside it’s base. I found out later that it was the “sister tree” to the one on the Edison and Ford estates.  It seems that Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were good friends and each had a very large home in Fort Myers.  The two historic houses are side by side.  Edison planted the first Banyan tree in America on his property.  Ford thought it would be a cheaper way to produce rubber for tires.  They planted the tree as an experiment.  It was only four feet tall.  Today, the one tree covers an entire acre.

I need to see this tree.

In Hindu myth, the god Shiva (in the incarnation of Dakshinamurthy) is always depicted sitting quietly beneath a Banyan tree.  The confusing tangle of its extended root system are thought to be symbolic of eternity.  It just keeps growing.

The afternoon sun was getting intense.  I decided to drive back to the Siesta Bay Resort and take a swim.  It was 89 F.

It’s December 2.  What else could you do on this winter day?

It was a good day.  The grave of an alleged killer, a gentleman who dug graves on hot days and a mind numbing tree the size of Rhode Island.  It was only 2:49 pm.  I had plenty of time.  Perhaps I’d find the public library where I could write and post this blog.

But first, I had to cross Whiskey Creek again.

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[The Banyan Tree at the Edison House. Source: Google search]

 

The Albatross And The Vulture

Albatross

What’s it like to float upon misty air?

Way up there upon winds of turbulence,

where your wings tame them, 

as a cowboy does the wild Stallion.

–Dara Reidyr from “On Flying

Four hours ago, I was finishing my iced coffee at the Java Cafe in the Outlet Mall.  Even with the AC, the plastic cup was dripping on the article in the local Fort Myers newspaper.  I was totally absorbed in a breaking story about an 18-year old guy who was arrested for roughing up his girl friend because she refused to go out and buy him some “clean” urine.  He was on probation and he apparently needed to pass a random drug test.  The water drops from my coffee obliterated some of the story, but not the part where he pushed her head and then threw bananas and a metal comb at her.  More wet newsprint.  Then the story ended with his breaking down in the kitchen, crying, and grabbing a carving knife, threatened to kill himself.  It seems that a friend captured the whole thing on a cell phone.

It’s good to have friends.

Now, I was in the pool at the RV Resort where we are staying.  I was leaning back with my head against the rim.  I was intent on getting some exercise one way or another, and since its way too hot to go bicycling, the decision to go to the pool wasn’t hard.  I was doing a peddling motion with my legs and practicing the scissors kick.  Nearby, at the shallow end, there were a dozen seniors doing water exercises.  A woman’s voice was telling them what to do.

“Now, turn around and lift your left leg–that’s right, just like that.”

“Okay, now run in place–do the best you can.”

I looked at each person in the group trying to identify the speaker with the tiny headset microphone.  I couldn’t find her.  She seemed to be joking with someone in the group.  I looked again and still couldn’t find her.  Then I spotted a cable from an outlet.  It led to a small boom-box that was placed on a pool chair.  Everyone was listening to a tape.  But, how could she banter with the group?

I was puzzling over this when I looked directly across the water and noticed that a man was staring at me.  He had on sunglasses, so I couldn’t be sure it was me he was watching.  He looked exactly like Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC.  Same hat.  Same white goatee.  I would have bet my last fiver that it was the Colonel himself.  I didn’t place any bet– there was no one to place it with and besides I remember that Colonel Harland D. Sanders died of leukemia in 1980.

The clouds were slowly thickening.  The forecast called for late afternoon showers.

I looked up.  There, in the pale blue of the sky was a soaring bird.  I looked at its wings.  It wasn’t an eagle–it was a turkey vulture.   Both are built for soaring.  Both are symbols–metaphors to us.  So is the Albatross.TurkeyVulture

I looked over at the seniors who were busy treading water and then back to the turkey vulture, making slow circles above my head.

You do not want to know what goes through my head at times like these.

I’ve always found the Albatross very interesting and enigmatic.  I’ve never seen one in the wild but from photos, they have an outstanding appearance.  But, the poor bird is cursed by being a symbol of  “a burden”.

“Oh, he has to carry that Albatross around his neck–too bad for him”.

We have Samuel Taylor Coleridge to thank for that.  One of my favorite poems is “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.  In case you don’t remember your 10th grade English class, a sailor shoots an arrow into the sky and kills an Albatross.  This brings really bad luck to him and his crew.  He is condemned to carrying the dead bird around his neck while the voyage of his ship wanders the seas.

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He is the ancient mariner who stoppeth one of three…

Sometimes, I feel like I am like the pitiful sailor–condemned forever to carry the wrongs and sins of my youth around my neck.  It can depress a recovered good Catholic altar boy like me.

AncientMariner

However, there are many times in my life that I’ve felt more like the Albatross and not the archer/sailor who killed without thinking.  These great birds (some with a wing span of twelve feet) are designed to soar–to ride the thermals–for unbelievable lengths of time.  Some say that these birds can go weeks (or longer) without landing.  They eat by swooping and catching the unfortunate fish who came too close to the surface.  They don’t need much food because they don’t expend much energy.  Their wings are engineered by nature to lock in place.  When you watch a skein of migrating geese, they flap their way from horizon to horizon.  The Albatross hardly ever uses its wings, except to stay aloft.

It has also been said that they only land to rest briefly, on a calm portion of ocean.  And, more importantly, they need to alight on a solid surface to find a mate and procreate.  The Albatross generally mates for life.

But, to soar above it all–only coming to the ground when necessary–seems like an amazing way to spend a life.  I feel the need to wander, sometimes far from home (like Florida), but I’m held by gravity to the surface of the earth.  Yes, I can take American Airlines to Puerto Rico, if I choose, but you get my point.

To soar above the aches and pains and heartbreak of life–to dream with your eyes open–of faraway lands and people who fill this world.  To soar and day-dream about the minute life below me and the sky, so blue and intense, above me, is enviable.  I would make an extra circle high above that red-haired woman who is crying on the empty beach.  I would make two extra circles around the Eiffel Tower and hear the cries of the Parisians.  I would soar above the lonely man, broken by war, meandering a boardwalk and thinking of ending his life.

But, I would make sure that I soared low enough so that the dim eyes of an old person could see me.  I would soar slow enough so the children, playing in the fields, would stop and point at me.

All this I would do, If I had the wings of an Albatross.  I wonder if that is what death is like–we can soar around the heads of the loved ones left behind?

All this I would do, even knowing that I would never be totally unencumbered and without the dreams that live in the living.

Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?

–Bob Dylan

[Images: Google search]