The Tragedy of the Commons

[The High Peaks.]

But the darkest scriptures of the mountains are illumined with bright passages of love that never fail to make themselves felt when one is alone.

–John Muir

There is irony lurking just below the surface of this blog. Irony, youth, pleasant times and not so pleasant times. There’s quietness and beauty sublime. And, dogs.

It is a blog that truthfully depicts two divergent paths. My own and that of a geological ancient mountain range. Neither narrative ends well. Unless you are gifted with a perception so delicate and deep, you can feel the moods of mountains. Alternatively, the other track is owned by me. That’s not so difficult to read…for you or me.

The photo shown above is the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. Nestled in the skyline is Mount Marcy, the highest peak in New York State. Now for the irony part…every mountain you can see has been climbed by me, at least once. I’ve summited Marcy at least twenty times. I began my quest to be a 46’er in the fall of 1959. I climbed about half of the required peaks…then decided my efforts were akin to earning a Boy Scout Merit Badge. I simply lost interest in accumulating mountains so that I could wear the coveted patch proving I “knew all about climbing.” I must say that I had unforgettably great times back in the day. My friend, Greg Stella and I once spent the night on Marcy’s summit…illegally. It was great fun to count endless stars and to wake up to an ice storm. Ah, we were young and strong. As Gordon Lightfoot puts it:

We were brave mountaineers we never were bothered by time.

Now for the irony part. Back in the day, we indeed were brave mountaineers…and then, somehow, the years caught up with us. Greg is now battling an illness and I can hardly walk the breath of our living room without pain…low in my spine and spectacularly painful.

One moment we were arguing over whether to climb two or three peaks before the sun set. A few blinks later, I’m reaching for a cane and waiting for a new injection in my L-2 and L-3 section of my spine. Irony. The thing I loved the most is the thing I cannot have.

Jump to the early 1960’s. Two events colluded to make my love of the High Peaks begin to evaporate like a late morning mist.

Lake Placid (and New York State) decided that the joys of hiking would convert to commercial success. That, along with the rapidly growing interest in hiking resulted in several elements (mostly negative). The crowds came and they never stopped arriving. Essex County is now faced with a traffic situation worthy of Manhattan. Permits are being tested. The groups of hikers have no place to camp. And the dogs are more often than not, off leash. It’s a perfect example of The Tragedy of the Commons. A village in the Alps decided to allow the sheep, etc to graze on a common pasture. Within a few years, the overuse of the land and the hungry sheep rendered the commons useless.

I was lucky. Once I hiked the heart of the High Peaks for five days without encountering a soul.

One has to look long and hard to find anyplace in the Park that can deliver a modicum of a true wilderness experience.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a Forest Ranger. Not anymore. I don’t want to spend my precious time rescuing hikers who have no idea about this once-special environment and who don’t have the mind-set to appreciate the quiet times that we all need now and forever.

Adulthood Rising

I have a hard time learning languages. Some people have an ability to pick up German, Portuguese, Farsi or Russian with ease. High School French was the first of my stumbling blocks. I used to “get sick” in the morning to avoid Mrs. Lowe’s first period freshman French class. I tried…I really tried…to understand the conjugation of verbs, but found only limited success. As an adult I can order dinner in Paris and get a hotel room arranged. That’s about it. Then again that’s about all a guy really needs to know.

In the 1980’s I asked the French teacher at the school I was teaching in (I was a possible chaperone for a trip to Paris with the French Club) how to say “Hi Cupcake, can I buy you a drink?” Petite gateau is a far as her suggestion went. I never chaperoned the trip.

But I digress.

I didn’t cut all of Mrs. Lowe’s classes however. Every so often she would abandon her grammar lessons and show us a film about French culture. That was very cool because no one is as cultured as the French. One day she ran a documentary about Maurice Utrillo, the French painter (1883-1955). I was fascinated by his work. He became one of my favorite artists. There was something about his style…

An Utrillo Painting
[Source: Google Search]

Something changed in me that day. I was suddenly alert to nature in a way that was new and fresh. I had grown up a little after that film. I grew up more than I was expected. I took a renewed interest in our backyard. It was in the Spring. I would lay on my stomach in some hidden corner of our yard and would begin to believe I could watch the grass grow and the flowers bloom. All this before any Cannabis was in the picture.

The air smelled different and clouds took on meanings and shapes I never noticed before. Teenage love permeated every cell in my young body. The whole wide world had crossed the threshold of my early timid feelings of adulthood. Yes, teenage love had its grip on me. But, being me and being full of self-doubt and insecurity I was unsure of everything–even love.

I spotted a daisy. I knew the drill, that age old practice of using a daisy to find out if she loved me. I never gave much thought to the idea of raping a daisy to learn the fate of my love. I see it now as akin to a Native American killing a buffalo or a deer. You apologized to it and thanked it for giving up its life and aiding in your survival. So, there I sat in the grass and plucked the petals…one by one.

“She loves me. She loves me not.”

As I was approaching the final half-dozen petals I could see ahead. It was going to end in a resoundingly quiet “She loves me not”. I had to think fast. I feigned pulling the white petal and continued the countdown.

In the end, she loved me. Ultimately I should have continued my count if you get my subtext.

Now I sit, an old man, musing and missing my early life before I knew real pain. That’s what old men do…they sit and think. My daughter is now riding a heat wave from Hell in distant Seattle. My son will soon be married and will rely less on “Pops” as the years move on.

Yes, I sit and think. I gathered a small bunch of daisies today during a short walk and put them in a pale green vase. I thought of that daisy from my backyard.

And thanks to Mrs. Lowe, I have an abiding love of Maurice Utrillo.

Shadows

[Above the clouds as they cast shadows on the earth below. Source: Google search]

Like the wallpaper sticks to the wall

Like the seashore clings to the sea

Like you’ll never get rid of your shadow

You’ll never get rid of me

–Al Jolson & Billy Rose

Fast. Fast I ran, as fast as my little legs could carry me. I glanced over my shoulder. It was still behind me. I slowed and it slowed. It mimicked me when I jumped to the left and then to my right. I thought I would fool it so I turned around and began running. This time it was in front of me. I had discovered my shadow. I was young and there was much more of life to learn about. It was all ahead of me. Now, there’s still more to learn but time is not on my side.

Yes, I found my shadow and it’s still with me. It even got bigger as I grew to be an adult. I only once lost my shadow but a pretty girl sewed it back onto the bottom of my feet (but that episode belongs to another story.)

Like clouds, I’ve never taken shadows for granted. I do believe that most adults have forgotten the significance of this phenomenon. The sun (I’ll call it the shadow-maker) is sometimes annoying. One cups their hand to block out the sun on a beach while trying to have a simple conversation. A guy named Phil folds and repositions his cap while sitting in the afternoon glare in a seat off first or third base at Yankee Stadium. Alternatively, a young man and his girlfriend walking in a park want to speak of important matters. We all know this can only be done in the shade of an old Sycamore tree…or perhaps an apple tree blooming small white flowers.

But I digress.

I’m taking an on-line water color painting course. (Many of my friends are accomplished artists in that medium. They can skip a few paragraphs here. They can find something more important to do, like taking a few minutes to finish their whittling project or check the suet cage). So the subject of shadows came up. Someone wanted to know what color to make a tree on snow. I shot a photograph, shown below on a frozen pond. I looked and noticed the shadows are bluish…grading to gray. Yet that shadow that still follows me is more or less black.

[The Frozen Pond. My photo]

Shadows. I’ve spent over thirty years as a science teacher and never heard about many aspects of shadows. I won’t tell you about the umbra, penumbra and antumbra, fascinating as they are. I was quite surprised to find out that shadows have three dimensions. But wait. I look down at the ground in front of me and I see only length and width. That’s two dimensions. Where is the third dimension in the dark shape in front of me? It turns out that if you see your shadow when its foggy, you’re looking at the third dimension. The whole concept sounds like the basis of a science fiction story.

It’s 23.2 degrees outside right. It’s cold but I think I’ll put on my L.L Bean down jacket (probably on sale now since the new Spring/Summer line is out) and go out to any part of our front deck that doesn’t have a mountain of snow, and study my life-long friend…my shadow.

[Wonderment for the child. Source: Google search]

[Is she walking toward love…or away. Does she know she’s being followed? Source: Google search]

The Toboggan

It’s not really a wedding gift…it’s a gift for the future beyond that.

[In the garage]

When I was growing up in Owego, NY we had a garage that my father built using spare lumber he had accumulated since the late 1940’s. I cannot locate a proper photograph because I, more than likely, never took one. The whole structure leaned at a dangerous angle. It was never painted but it had many uses, mostly storing old oil cans, ladders, a canoe or two and a lawnmower. If you stood half-way along our driveway one could see a snarl of yellow plastic rope handing from the rafters. This was our toboggan. We rarely used it because we lacked proper slopes. You would have to drive to the IBM Country Club and find joy and thrills on the snow-covered golf course. I only took my girlfriend out for a few runs. Other than that, the toboggan waited patiently in the rafter of the old garage. My father probably acquired the sled sometime in the 1940’s.

I grew up and went to college, forgetting the old toboggan. It lay upside-down, above our ever changing cars. As my dad aged, he urged his four sons to begin claiming and cleaning the objects of our childhood. I spoke up and said I wanted the toboggan so it was handed down to me. Only in the 1970’s did I actually remove the sled from it’s resting place and took it to Pennsylvania. There it got well-used, fulfilling its function, when I took my young daughter, Erin for many pulls.

I relocated to Connecticut. I was getting older and Erin was getting heavier. The toboggan went back to it’s little home on the rafter of the garage at 420 Front St. in Owego. There it waited out many winters and watched the snow come and go.

Now, I am a father again. I have a son in his mid thirties. On October 9, 2021 he will be marrying the woman he loves. Perhaps they will choose to raise a family…perhaps not. But I could think of no better gift than to restore the old toboggan. That way, regardless of whether they have a family or not, they will get a lovingly new old toboggan to hang on their wall or hang from the rafter of a garage.

During the restoring process, I found myself challenged by a knot in the old plastic rope. It was so well tied, I needed scissors to cut the rope.

[Clipping the old knot]

In a way it was like cutting old ties to objects of my youth. The snip that broke the knot broke something in my heart.

[All done]
[Appropriate Title]

My Way Home

This morning, about an hour after dawn (6:45 am locally), I was lying in bed, propped up by my three pillows, checking on the responses from my last blog. Beside me, Mariam dozed, probably dreaming of new mask designs. More than likely, she was exhausted from walking me around the living room to help alleviate cramps and the horrid agony of restless leg syndrome, both of which I suffer from. We stopped when the cramps began to ease. I took advantage to rest and get several small carrots. An hour ago the snowplow came by, making noise that reminded me of a Delta airliner landing without the wheels down. Beyond that, all was quiet like the deep woods after a snowfall, which would be just about every night for the last month and a half.

Falling to sleep last night was problematic. I had written an outline for my next novel a week ago. The outline took me hours to get my thoughts and plans into the computer. We printed it out so I could use it as a guide to continue working. I needed to flesh out the story line, enhance the drama and tension and make the narrative clearer. The print out came to 23 pages. Fair enough I thought, that’s a great start. So I took the pages back to the computer and began to add, subtract and fill in gaps. I wrote for about a week. With satisfaction we printed it out. The number of pages came to 23!

What happened? Where was all that writing?

I guess that anger and agitation led to the cramps.

But, I digress.

There I was, thinking odd thoughts when a movement caught my eye. I put down my iPhone and listened. Again there a movement. This time I noted that it was coming from outside…

I quietly slipped off my side of the bed and crept to the window which was only a foot or two from Mariam’s soft breathing. I edged myself close enough to the glass I could almost see my own breath’s fog. I saw nothing at first except a small mountain of snow. But, there, right before my eyes was where the sound came from. It was a drop. A drop of water from one of hundreds of icicles. It was a small sign of melting. Soon there would be more I hoped.

As soon as Mariam was awake and sipping her coffee, I excitedly told her about the drop of water and what it could mean for us. She looked at me like I was speaking about something crazy, like a cloned black-footed ferret.

“Have some camomile,” she said. “You’ve had a hard night.”

I told her I was going to drive to the post office and get our catalogues.

“Take the recycles out to the bins,” she said as she made a successful move on Words with Friends. As I walked across the front deck I took care to not cause a mini avalanche. I walked with pride to the garage, nudged the door open and reached in to push the button to open the large front door. I closed it immediately and covered my ears. The noise from the automatic door opener is loud and screechy enough to make ones ears bleed. I emptied a can of WD-40 on the track, but it only made the door louder. Perhaps I had picked up a can of WD-39 instead.

As I walked back from the garage, with the door noise still vibrating in my middle ear, I paused and looked at the canyon-like path the led to our front door. I looked down at where the ‘salt’ had melted some ice. That was enough to settle a long-standing disagreement between Mariam and myself as to what our deck was made of. As usual, she won. It was wood.

I noted the deck shovel, the plastic sled that we move our groceries from the car.

I also noted the metal sunburst house decoration. That, in a way, helped me find my way home.

[Note from author: All photos are mine, but more importantly, if anyone out there has a method to relieve restless leg syndrome, please email me at: pegan7@roadrunner.com]

Dealing With It?

I’ve been through a lot of situations in my life thus far. I fell into a glacial crevasse, got lost in Alaska, got lost in the Adirondacks, capsized a canoe in the Susquehanna River and visited a grave on Cemetery Hill at midnight.

But I could deal with it.

I spent nearly a week in a hotel room in New York City (see previous blog), pacing the well-worn rug, waiting for results of an MRI. The results were good. Barring accidents, I’d live. But boredom set in and I lost the desire to read. I play Words With Friends until well past my usual bed time while trying to think of what names to give my two hernias. On or about midnight I would take my sleep medications but the strong diuretic from the afternoon was still on board. This meant hourly trips to the bathroom.

But I could deal with it.

Back home we spent money on a suet feeder that was double caged “to deter squirrels”. Within a day, one red squirrel figured out a way to enter the feeder…this animal is eating well and doing a great job at keeping out the wrens, chickadees and finches. There was a moment when I thought of finding something in my shop and attacking the feeder like a piƱata.

[The squirrel-proof suet feeder.]

My shop door is next to a certain red snowblower. It’s been used twice. I never knew how difficult those blowers can be until I tried to use it. My back pain told me that this is something for younger men or women to do. I was disappointed but I listened to my back. I’ll find some neighbor kid to handle all that. The only problem is that there are no kids, teenagers or otherwise on our block.

But I can deal with it.

For the three hour trip from Albany (we break the trip in half) I sat or rather squirmed in our Honda Fit. Took my pills after Albany and went to bed around midnight. Then came the urge to urinate. I made several unsuccessful attempts. Nothing. Something was wrong. On each attempt, the pain increased. I cried out in pain. Mariam came to help. Suddenly, at 4:15 am, I passed a bladder stone the size of a Buick. Then came the peaceful sleep.

But I can deal with it.

What I can’t deal with is another curse thrown my way. Insomnia. Couple that with restless leg syndrome and you have a combination of pure pain. Insomnia. What should I think about to bring on sleep. Everywhere in my mind was a place I didn’t want to go. My boyhood? My schooldays? My so-called fond memories of my so-called adventures just reminded me of how terrified I was at the time. I have to face the fact that I’m afraid of the dark.

I can’t deal with that.

While fighting off insomnia, I close my eyes and try to envision this:

But this is what I see:

When all is said and done, I want spring to come early and surprise me. This I can deal with.

[All photos are mine with the exception of the green mossy one. Source: Pinterest]

A Winter’s Drive

[Source: Google Search]

The elderly couple had the kind neighbor woman to help in loading their car. It was late morning and the temperature bounced around the zero level. When they first pulled the car down the drive, it was -0 F. Then it climbed to +0 F. What a difference.

Their car was a Honda Fit, dazzling blue on a dazzling day, but now it was white with dried road salt, reflecting the overcast black and white world of snow and more snow. Every time the elderly man brushed against the car, a part of his down coat or new L.L.Bean cargo pants would turn white. The last bag went in and the couple drove off. Their destination was Albany, about 150 miles away when you consider driving through Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. Time was the last concern on their minds. It was just one of several drives to New York City for doctors. This time it was important, no, essential that they were at Mount Sinai on Monday afternoon for tests.

He had a Starbucks thermos of cold brew so the first real stop was the High Peaks Visitors Center at the beginning of the 100 mile stretch to Albany.

“I’ll drop you close to the door”, the wife said. Near the curb was a crunch and a scrape. The man got out, checked the car (everything seemed well) and went inside to relieve himself.

Twenty miles further south, the wife asked if he heard anything coming from the right rear tire. She pulled over at the shuttered gate of the old Schroon Lake rest stop. He got out and to add to his mountain of other worries saw that the tire was flat. That’s when he smelled the burnt rubber.

Out came the AAA roadside assistance card. A call was made. The wife was put on hold and the call was cut off.

The elderly man looked around. Only a few cars and a semi or two roared passed (probably from Canada). All else…nothing.

They were very luck to have the flat in a zone that had cell phone service. Some stretches along I-87 were dead zones. Being a worrisome sort, the man began to imagine the worst case scenarios. Just then he felt the need to urinate (he’s on a diuretic). The minutes passed in silence. The couple discussed the situation. The man suggested calling AAA back when the wife said:

“Call 911.”

The man checked the south bound lane. Empty. Just as he was approaching the snow bank to empty his bladder, he saw the State Police cruiser about a mile away and the lights were flashing, The trooper had located us. The old man stood next to the once-blue Honda as the couple explained the situation. He knew there was a spare (a donut) in a pit under 300 pounds of luggage. He realized he hadn’t changed a tire since the late 1970’s. Despite the pain of two hernias, the trooper talked the man into the proper jack position and began to change the tire. The man had to ask for help in getting the spare up and out of the car.

“This is one of those baby spares, right?” he asked the officer.

“Yes.”

“The kind you’re not supposed to drive very far?”

“Yup.”

“So how far is recommended?”

“About fifty miles.”

“How far is it to Albany?”

“Ninety miles, but you’ll be okay if you don’t speed. Keep it at 65 mph.”

The trooper drove off. The old man felt like he had just earned a Merit Badge. Should they head to the Honda dealer in Albany or find a tire store? Minutes passed in silence. Honda closed at five. Firestone at six. So many decisions. They went to the Firestone store, they had the tire we needed and they checked to make sure the rim wasn’t damaged, then we had it aligned. While listening to power tools and phone calls, the old fellow realized he hadn’t urniated. That was ninety miles ago. He wandered off to the mens room. After he was done he settled back in the waiting room to watch a few more minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Watching it rain heavily on Tom Hanks, he realized he hadn’t taken his medicine for the day. You know, the box of pills which contained a serious diuretic. He swallowed his dosage and awaited the first urges in his bladder.

Soon the stressed-out and exhausted elderly couple were in their hotel room.

They had all day sunday to get to New York for the old guys monday afternoon tests. Except for the final challenge. The parking lot closed at four.

They turned on the giant hotel TV and watched an NCIS rerun. Then, thinking all was well with the world, the elderly man checked his weather app on his iPhone. Monday was to be the height of a major weather warning. The accumulation was expected to be 23″.

The old man put a bottle of leg cramp lotion at his bedside and looked forward to a night of pain, as exhausted as he was. The diuretic kicked in.

He was not disappointed.

Recipes For Disaster

It’s long been known that shoveling snow can kill people. Consider the picture below:

[Recipe for disaster.]

When I was a little boy, I’d see an elder (usually a man) struggling with the foot or two of snow on his sidewalk.

I figured the guy had to be really old…in his sixties at least. That was old. It didn’t occur to me to lend a helping hand. “He’s a goner, I thought.”

Then I saw an article in HuffPost by A. Marc Gillinov, MD. He states that the culprit is cardiovascular disease. It seems that cold weather increases ones blood clotting.

He also mentioned back and neck pain. I have both. He claims he hasn’t picked up a shovel since his last back operation. That word from a doctor is good enough for me.

I thought I had it all figured out. I had a brand new (red) snowblower safely sitting in a secure spot under our screened in porch. First I had to determine which language was the correct one from the Manual. Does it really snow that much in Mexico or Spain?

Back to Dr. Gillinov again. He states that fifteen minutes of shoveling by someone who is at low risk for cardiovascular issues, can actually be a benefit from the exercise of shoveling. Fifteen minutes a day will give one a full and adequate workout.

[Nice, but not the Big One]

Coming from a doctor, that was all I needed.

I had a plan. There was a protected space beneath our covered screened in porch. This would be the snowblowers home during raw, dark and frozen winter months.

Next was to figure out how to how to fill the gas tank (have you seen the new design of gas cans?) Then finding the right place for the key (which was big and red, like a Lego.)

Plug the thing in to give it a charge and you’re good to go. I had the whole plan worked out in detail so off I went. I hit the beam holding the porch first. The green tarp, I later realized, was under one of the wheels so I dragged the green cover across the back yard, overturning the wheel barrow in the process.

Once free of all obstructions (No. 1 in the manual), I had to teach myself how to make a left turn. It’s not as easy as the grey haired guy on TV makes it look.

The first left turn had me heading toward the small group of cedar trees. Time to figure out the right turn. When finished, the path looked like a children’s snow tag trail.

At first, I planned to turn the thing around on the front deck. I’s a good thing I thought twice about it. If I had tried such a movement, most of our dining room and all of the deck railing would be scrap wood.

So, meanwhile the gentlemen in their forties are wasting their time standing in a line, ignoring the fall warmth in front of Lowe’s discussing the advantages of my red over their blue model that costs hundreds of extra dollars.

Stick to the red and inexpensive model.

And, definitely learn how to make a left turn.

{Bloggers Note: I wrote this last night. I wake up this morning and find my world has changed. This is how much snow fell while I slept the night away. That’s life in the North Country. Finally The Big One.}

[Photo credit: Mariam Voutsis.]

The Big One: Part 2

This is a ice crystal pattern

[Source: Mine]

Somewhere, in the wild world of the Troposphere, it all begins. That’s where The Big One originates. There’s water involved, cold temperatures, wind and a waiting winter, already mostly frozen.

Everyone in the North Country is awaiting the arrival of the first significant snowfall, To us, it’s The Big One. I have my brand new red snowblower all ready to move large amounts of the white stuff.

Instead, we got slammed with a thumb-numbing cold. It was at least -6 degrees Fahrenheit when the sun came through the woods early this morning. Now, I’ve seen it much worse ( -6 F would actually seen mild).

But, it is what it is. I felt frozen as I went about my morning.

Every adult knows that no two snowflakes are the same. No wonder about that when you consider the types of snowflakes that eventually form snow.

[Source: Wikipedia.]

[Source: Mine.]

Instead of test driving my new red snowblower, I’m on my knees on the front deck with a hand lens.

Looking for signs of The Big One.

Waiting For Some Friends

Yes, I know. We went to Lowes in Plattsburg and purchased a fire-engine red snowblower. It has all the ‘stuff’ a person would want in one of these babies. It drives itself and controls the direction the snow is blown (away from your face for example).

We waited for the Big One. After all it was getting toward mid-November and by now we would have been slammed by at least three Arctic blasts.

Instead, we got about 4″ to 5″ inches. Hardly a Canadian blitz.

So, except for some hidden bits along the plowed road, there is small patch of snow in our yard about the size of a medium waffle that would come with eggs and coffee at Friendly’s on a day that advertised BREAKFAST SPECIAL!

Knowledge is information, they say. I needed knowledge about the expected and upcoming Big One. I bought a copy of Harris Farmer’s Almanac for 2121. I have nothing against the Old Farmer’s Almanac except I couldn’t locate one and the impulse buying rack carried only copies of rip-off headlines of British scandals and the latest break-up between the Kardashians.

I dove into Harris’ Almanac looking for the Next Big Prediction of Severe Weather. Instead I got caught up in an article about President Taft who became chief justice, Miss America turning 100, President Harding’s First Dog, Laddle Boy and a History of the first drive-in pig stand. What caught most of my interest was a piece on the vanishing song birds.

Finally I found the page about January 2121. Reading this, I now know all the moon’s phases when to plant a root crop and the major holiday’s (National Maritime Day is May 22.)

But, I failed to track down the major snow events for January. It may just as well have stated: The Big One Is Coming. Well, we all know that, (those of us who live in Zone 8), The North Country. Does our little patch of snow in our front yard know that? Can it be assured that it won’t spend the winter alone? You know that loneliness makes me sad.

I must say that I rely on forecasts as we’ve seen and patience. No matter how insignificant one thinks one is, you’re partly right. A tiny bit of snow, when The Big One comes, won’t be alone.

Sometime the wait is worth it. There will be plenty of friends.

[Source: Both photos are mine.]