April Idyll

[Source: Wikipedia]

If you’re like me, you have a lot of time on your hands.  Maybe too much.  I’ve found that staring out of the window at the daily accumulation of snow passes the time quite well.  Sometimes I stand close to the window and my breath fogs the glass.  Remember that scene in Dr. Zhivago?  Unbelievably, this can get a little boring so my default action is to find something to update on my laptop…and watch the bar at the bottom of the screen move to the right, making my computer a better thing to own.

I found myself staring out of the window this afternoon.  There was plenty of action at the suet cage and feeder as the birds (saw a Tanager today) fill up on sunflower seeds.  Of course, they should be busy nesting and mating but there’s no time for hanky-panky when survival is a first concern.  My hearing is still above average for someone my age, so I know I wasn’t mistaken when I heard two Finches talking:

“We came back from Capistrano for this?”

Another easy way to break the mid-spring blues is to book an appointment with your eye doctor.

So I did.

I knew there might be trouble when I sat down in the waiting room and began to shuffle through the magazines.  A copy of National Geographic caught my attention.  There was a rock climber on the cover so I was naturally interested.  I used to rock climb, back in the day.  My friend Greg and I would drive to the “Gunks in the Catskills and walk around with a brilliantly colored Perlon rope and lots of climbing hardware like carabiners and chocks.  The gear clanked a lot and we liked that.  We were good, and the more we climbed, the better we got.  I guess that’s an obvious thing, that practice makes perfect.

But, I digress.

As I turned the pages in the Geographic, something felt amiss.  I checked the cover.  It was the April issue so it should have been filled with the hot new stories from around the world.  But, something was still amiss.  I checked the cover again.  It was April alright, but the year was 1996.  I did some simple head math and realized that I was holding a magazine that was 22 years old.  What does that say about my doctor?  What equipment did he have back there?  Call me naive but did they even use eye charts back in the mid-1990’s?  I doubt it.

I put the Geographic down and began to go through the other offerings that were there to make the time easy passing.  I saw a Country Living, six copies of Highlights, four copies of Bow Hunter, the latest issues of Golf, People and Time.  Under those I discovered a six month old Reader’s Digest, two issues of Good Housekeeping, one copy of Rotarian and one copy of Where To Retire.  I prayed the doctor was running late.  I had a lot of reading to do.

It was then that I saw the Holy Grail of doctor’s office magazines.  The Pennysaver.  Pinch me, I’m in heaven.

I began to leaf through the issue.  So much to get and so little time.  There was a quarter pager ad with the heading: MILITARY SURPLUS.  The first item in the ad was for Black and White Mickey Mouse Boots.  Did I miss something in some war?

The next page had a small ad that simply asked: GOT MUD?  There was a phone number listed but I forgot to jot it down.  Next page sported an ad: ELVIS COLLECTIBLES.  The location was Malone, about 30 miles to the north.  What poor soul’s life had gone so bad in Malone to force him or her to part with anything about Elvis?  I made a mental note to not look for real estate in Malone.  On the same page was a large ad that said: WARNING: DON’T BE A VICTIM OF ‘GHOST’ TAX PREPARERS.  Ghost tax preparers.  There’s a story there somewhere but I didn’t have time to make notes.

They were calling me.  It was my turn.  I asked for a moment to check one last ad.  ANTIQUE AND COLLECTIBLE CARS 1937-1977.  I almost tore the ad from the page.  Here, finally, was my 1952 MG!  Just before I ditched the paper, I caught sight of one last ad.  It was for a free bag of Real Country Dog Food.  When I saw the words: U Pick Up, I headed back to the exam room.

My head was spinning.

I sat in a reddish dentist-like chair.  There was a chart of the Anatomy of the Human Eye.  I wondered how they got this drawing.  Someone had to have had their eye sliced in half longitudinally.  I shuddered.

The nurse left to get something and the doctor hadn’t yet seen me.  I was free to look around.  I was quite startled when I looked at the wall in front of me.  There was a mirror and it reflected the eye chart that was on the wall behind me.  Now, if it was being reflected in the mirror, the chart had to be printed backwards.  Sounds like a lot of trouble.  Why didn’t they just pin a chart to the wall and forget the mirror?

[So where is my reflection?]

The mirror.  That’s when things got really spooky.  I was looking directly at the mirror, but there was no reflection of me.  Now, I know that happens in vampire movies, so I had to think things over.  This was scary.

I’d rather be back home staring out at the snow falling than to sit in an exam room and hope I was wasn’t among the living dead.

[All photos are mine except where otherwise noted.]

 

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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.

 

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.

 

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.

Joshua Tree Diary: I Saw A Shooting Star Tonight And I Thought of You

[Photo source: NASA]

[The title is taken from a song by Bob Dylan, of course.]

Actually, I saw five ‘shooting stars’…and it was last night, not tonight. But I still thought of you.  Or, by the time I post this it will be two nights ago.  The date we had in the desert that night (December 13, 2017) was to drive into the dark areas, beyond the houses, beyond the lights and view the Geminids Meteor shower.  I took this particular event personally since I’m a Gemini.  I don’t necessary believe in astrology, but I did have two minds about leaving our cozy house and driving twelve miles into the National Park.

Night vision takes about ten minutes for me to kick in.  That’s because I eat a lot of carrots.  At least that’s what my mother always said.

But so many cars passed out the pull-over area that I had to close my eyes and turn my head away…like I was some kind of desert cattle rustler.

We’re nearing our half-way time here in Joshua Tree.  We will be on the road on January 1…to somewhere.  There has been a pall cast on the last phase of our vacation.  Our original plan was to take some back roads through Pioneertown and Victorville and then spend a week hiking in the hills around Santa Barbara.  But the recent fires in that area have given me some concern.  Today, I read that they are handing out face masks in that area.  I’m not concerned about the actual fires.  I think they will be contained by the first of the year, but it’s what we can expect that worries me.

[Cholla family?]

I’ve been hindered (and Mariam, also) by bronchial problems.  The humidity up here in the high desert is around 10%.  That’s nose bleed time for me.  And, I just can’t lose the cough I’ve had since we were in Orting, WA for Thanksgiving.

No, I think the flames will be contained by early January, but we intended to hike the hills north of Santa Barbara.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to hike through six inches of ash while wearing a filter over my nose.  I’m fearful that it will remind me of my Catholic education…”ashes to ashes, dust to dust”.

We turned on the news from the LA area.  We saw images of people wandering through the remains of their homes that were destroyed by the “Thomas Fire”.  My hiking and their loss became a very real thing to me.  Who was I to feel distraught about my vacation when so many acres are burned, people’s homes are lost…and lives are ended…in so many ways.  I was being selfish in thinking how the fires would inconvenient  me.

We began to look at some alternatives (read: I don’t want to go home yet) because the Adirondacks are in a cold spell.  That’s what we’re trying to avoid.

Dilemma city.

So, we’re thinking of changing our plans and spending our last week in Palm Springs, or a nearby location.

That would be great if I golfed.  It would be paradise.

But, I don’t golf.

We were in Palm Springs two years ago.  There are some great movie palaces there.  Maybe we can catch up on some Oscar nominated movies…maybe the new Star Wars?

Maybe a movie that has some comets, meteorites, and shooting stars.

No wonder everybody on the planet comes to, or ends up in Los Angeles, or somewhere here in southern California.

I hear it’s snowing at home in Rainbow Lake, NY.

[Photo is mine]

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.