A Song. An Image. A Tear

“Sometimes,” said Pooh, “the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

~~ Winnie the Pooh

I am a fan of talent shows. I don’t mean the kind we used to see on the Miss America Contest from Atlantic City. Bert Parks standing off to the side and singing “There She Is, Miss America” would make the whole event worthwhile to me. No, I’m talking about the County Fairs, School Events…perhaps even an open-mike night at a small Irish Pub. The talent is usually young people…a new dance routine learned at Maggie’s Dancing Studio down on Main Street. I’m envious of those who can stand up before a bleacher full of strangers (and some family). The thirteen year old girl on the school stage singing “Am I Blue?” or a nine year old singing “Both Sides Now“. Whatever is lacking in true talent is made up for in pure guts. I could never do it.

But I digress.

Every so often I spend a few minutes surfing Facebook for clips of Steve Martin’s first time on The Tonight Show, or an ‘official’ music video of Bob Dylan’s latest release. This is my time to catch up and upgrade my cultural literacy.

Several weeks ago I happened upon a collection of postings from America’s Got Talent. It was here that I first heard a pre-pubescent yodeler from Iowa or a darkly frightful young woman illusionist from Indonesia. But I paused on a segment featuring a ten year old autistic boy (who is also blind!). His foster father held his hand and did the introduction while the boy rocked back and forth, holding his cane. His name is Christopher Duffley. The clip is eight years old but I had never seen it before. The dad said the boy would be singing “I Want To See You“. I googled the song and found a tune by that name written and preformed by Boz Scaggs. I’m not totally certain it’s the same song…but it’s a moot point. The point is that I was very moved by what I was watching. The boy’s first faltering notes. His unease apparent.

(I have a vested interested in this topic. My daughter, Erin, teaches a couple of autistic boys in Orting, WA. And my grandson is approximately the same age as the boy on stage.)

But he gave up the cane, grabbed the mike and sang. The live music behind him on stage adjusted the pace and tempo to fit the child’s tiny voice.

But such bravery.

I felt a warm tear rolling down my cheek.

And, as fathers sometimes do, I saw my own son (now thirty-five years old) as that boy. I tried to climb into the father’s head. I couldn’t.

I could not do much of anything but watch, watch until the next tear fell.

[Note: For further information on autism, go to the link below:]

https://nationalautismassociation.org/

Local Boy Does Good

“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”

–Anon. [Source: Pintrest]

[View of River Row from the Court Street Bridge. Owego, NY.]

It was mid-October. The forecast called for clouds and drizzle. The chilly air and the leaves along the sidewalks brought back memories of Halloweens past. I never saw so many pumpkins. I usually had to travel to Iron Kettle Farm to see that many. Some trees foliage was past peak. A good many still clung to their brilliant reds and yellows and scarlets, holding on to them like a protective mother with children. In the distance, up, up among the trees of West Beecher Hill, the monument to Sa Sa Na Loft was visible as a white column. It acted like a sentinel, keeping watch over the Village below.

But I digress.

I came back to Owego feeling like a conquering hero. I’ve had some modest success as a blogger. My fan base is predominantly Owegoans (I suspect). My reason for coming home was to gather some photographs for a future writing project and tend to my family’s gravesite. At St. Patrick’s Cemetery, I wiped the red granite clean and left three roses. I also left three roses at the grave of my life-long friend, Greg Stella, who passed away in early June.

I also was hoping to connect with some high school friends. Unfortunately, that failed to happen. Perhaps I didn’t get my publicity team in place early enough. It all turned out for the best, in a way. I got more than enough photos and I got a chance to smell the same scent in the chilled air that I recall as a youth.

Memories began to well up in my mind. I stood on the Court Street Bridge to take the picture shown above. Just behind me and to my left, down near the river where Route 17 (I-86) now exists, there was the old Lackawanna train station. I had my first kiss there (and it wasn’t from my mother). I paddled canoes in the waters below me. I lived Owego. I loved Owego.

The house on Front Street where I grew up still stands. I noticed as I stood on what was once my sidewalk, that the old place could use a coat of stain on the shingles.

[420 Front Street. Once the Egan Home.

+ + +

I have a fair number of pastimes to keep me occupied in my advancing years.

~~I’m making efforts to teach myself how to watercolor.

~~I’m trying to learn two chords on my Ukulele.

~~I write blogs. I write books.

~~I am a volunteer photographer for Find-A-Grave.com so I am drawn to cemeteries.

So, off I went to take care of business. I needed to place an ad in the Courier, but the office was closed. I left a message on their machine. I tried the same with The Pennysaver. I’m waiting for a call back. I couldn’t wait to sit down to a sumptuous dinner at The Cellar Restaurant but after Yelping it, found it was closed that night. I decided to go “graving”, i.e. photograph requested memorials. There were dozens of requests at Evergreen Cemetery. I couldn’t locate a single grave. The same thing happened at St. Patrick’s and the Steele Cemetery on the Montrose Turnpike. No success.

[View of Village of Owego from the Sa Sa Na Loft Monument in Evergreen Cemetery.]

In the end, I wasn’t much of a conquering hero. I was able to accomplish a few of the tasks I had intended for my visit. But it wasn’t a failed trip at all. I saw an important map at the Museum and I now have a bundle of photographs on file for future use. Maybe a blog? Maybe a book?

I got a chance to stand where I once stood those many years ago. I saw the same late 19th Century buildings that line the streets downtown. I stood on a grassy patch of lawn along Front Street near St. Patrick’s School (not a school anymore) and gazed out at the Susquehanna River. A memory: One winter day in the 1950’s, a build-up of ice had been broken apart upriver in Binghamton. The result was like something seen in the Arctic Ocean. A nun took us out of class and carefully crossed Front St. Our class stood and watched and listened to the churning ice floes. It was an awesome sight for a young boy.

It’s possible to go home again if you keep your special memories close to your heart.

[Susquehanna River from Front St.]
[Sunset. Owego, NY]

[Note: All photos are mine.]

The Lost Mausoleum

“Reader beware as you pass by.

As you are now so once was I.

As I am now so you will be.

Therefore, prepare to follow me.”

–Tombstone Inscription [Source: Pintrest]

[Antique map of Owego, NY. [Source: Exhibit at the Tioga County Historical Society]

This is a true story. It does not involve ghosts but it has potential. It takes place in Owego, NY, my hometown. Yes, it has the elements of a tale that would chill your bones on these chilly nights when the pumpkins line the window sills and the porch steps creak with the frost. The fake spider webs hang from second floor windows and tree branches. The cold wind stirs the red, brown and yellow leaves into dark corners. Candles burn in some windows. Lights are on in the basements of a few dark mansions that line Front Street. The time of year has come to turn up one’s collar, wrap the scarf once more around your neck and pull your hat over your ears.

It’s Halloween and I am trying to find a mausoleum.

When I was a young teenager I often visited the Owego Museum, aka The Tioga County Historical Society. On the wall a large very old map (1853) of Owego hung for years. I used to stand and gaze at the beautiful map, memorizing the names on the plots all over the Village. In the margins are architectural sketches of notable buildings. And here is the problem:

I distinctly remember focusing on the corner of Main and McMaster Streets. There was a rectangle drawn there with the word MAUSOLEUM written in the small box.

On October 20, I was in Owego tending to some business (we were staying at the Parkview Hotel, notably haunted). I dropped in at the Museum to photo the map. I was in for a shock. It wasn’t where I remember it. It wasn’t there. I asked the Director and he led me to an office on the lower floor. There was the map. I slipped out my iPhone and began photographing details of the map. Something was wrong. The mausoleum wasn’t shown. What could have happened? I’m 99.99% sure it was the same map I saw as a boy.

[A detail of the 1853 Owego map]

All that is labelled on the corner of Main and McMaster is: Methodist Ch. There is no church on that corner. Here is a photo of the corner:

[The corner of Main and McMaster Streets]

The mystery is now in place. Was there ever a tomb at this corner? Did I recall the map correctly? If the structure did indeed exist, who was interred there? Where are the hallowed remains now?

I can say this with the utmost confidence, I did see the word MAUSOLEUM on a map at the Owego Museum. I also find it very unlikely that there are two very similar maps. Since so many plots of land has the name Pumpelly on them, it’s likely that the tomb held the remains of a member of that family.

So there it is. Not a very complicated story but certainly a puzzling one.

Putting any potential ghosts aside, I will share something personal with you. It involves the map in question. At the other end of Front Street is the house where I grew up. The address is 420 Front Street.

Interestingly, the map was printed before our house was built.

[The Hollenback Estate]

The view before you is Front Street and part of John Street. This section of Front was long known as “Broken Arm Curve”. It may still have that moniker even though the sharp angle has been modified. As a child, hardly a Saturday night would pass without an accident. (Now there are traffic lights and plenty of warnings of the curve.) Notice the tree icons that appear on several properties. See the large house close to the center of the photo? That was the Hollenback House. Apparently, Hollenback, a successful businessman, had something of a Gentleman’s Farm. Look closely at the angle of Front where it makes a right turn a heads towards the Hickories Park. There is a single tree icon. That is where my house is located. I believe it was built by Hollenback as a wedding present to his daughter. My father bought the house in 1945. After he passed in 2004 we sold 420 Front Street to a young family. That was the Egan house for sixty years.

Now there are only memories of my time playing in the fields that filled the grounds from #420 to the river. There are still live apple trees from Hollenback’s orchards in those yards.

So, while not really a ghost story, this narrative elicits my love of local history…and the very interesting fact concerning a missing crypt.

[All photos are mine. I am grateful for the assistance given to me by Scott MacDonald, Executive Director of the museum and for allowing me to photograph parts of the old Owego map.]

ADDENDUM

Several hours ago (it’s Sunday night) I received a Facebook message from John P. Ricklefs. Attached to his comment was a photo of THE MAP. I am very grateful and glad that the map I saw as a child did indeed exist. Look at the upper left corner of the rectangle. You will see the word Vault. I was not mistaken. But the existence of the vault itself remains a mystery of sorts.

[The map showing the vault. Photo: Courtesy of John P. Ricklefs. Used with permission]

Lost in a World of Cardboard

box noun A container.

–American Heritage Dictionary

[Our future Livingroom. Photo is mine.]

Call it propriety. Call it embarrassment. Whatever you wish to call it, I’m not going to reveal, through iPhone photos the extent of the cardboard that has found a place in our apartment. We used Westside Movers (the very same company that moved us away from the City in 2011) because the estimate was reasonable and they work fast. And the movers will pack anything that isn’t Epoxied to the floor. Don’t put a Sharpie down and turn away because it will disappear and end up six hours away and it will be weeks to uncover. If it ever surfaces again in this familiar universe. Yesterday I was unpacking something, at least I thought there was something, bound in the volumes of newsprint. I tore and ripped savagely with extreme prejudice only to find a scented votive candle, maybe an inch tall, in the palm of my dusty hand. Finding the TV was not a big problem: it surfaced on Day One. Great! The remotes were packed in another box. They were found on Day Five.

But I digress.

We are now officially relocated in New York City after nearly eleven years in the Adirondack Mountains of Northern New York State. You’ve read my posts over the years about our experiences in the Lake Placid region. If you read the blogs closely you would have detected an arc in my narratives. It goes something like this:

~~Finding a Real Estate Agent

~~Elation

~~Reality

~~Fear

~~Loneliness

~~Depression

~~Finding a Real Estate Agent

But, make no mistakes. We enjoyed our time in the woods. But how many times can I shovel the never-ending snow?

We’ve enjoyed the company of awesome neighbors and we already miss them. We’ve shared many dinners and fireside chats on cool evenings. But, all good things must come to an end…and we came to a point that new adventures in Manhattan was something we wanted very much.

So, visit me often on WordPress and please click ‘like’ at the end of each blog. Pay your love forward, I work hard on these posts.

[Manhattan Sunset. Photo is mine.]

{Note: If you want my mailing address please ask me through Messenger.}

Dorset of My Dreams

“Oh, to be in England…”

–Robert Browning

[The chalk coast of Dorset. Photo: Google Search]

It all started on a late winter morning of 1984. I was walking to my office at King & Low-Heywood Thomas School (KLHT) in Stamford, Connecticut. Walking with me was a teacher/administrator. She was going through her teacher-mail regarding microscope sales and Petri dish discounts. She held on to an envelope and after a few moments glanced at the contents, she turned to me and said: “Here, maybe you will find this interesting.” She handed me a letter. I took a quick look and put it on my desk. I had a first period class.

Later, after my ninth cup of Faculty Room Coffee I looked over the letter. It was from a business office in New York City. The company arranged Teacher Exchanges. I put it on my desk again and went off to meet with a student. As the Fates would have it, the British teacher who was seeking an exchange was right there in the office. We talked. He took the Amtrak to Stamford where I met him and took him to the school for a tour.

To make a long story short, this guy, Chris, really wanted to do the exchange. The Headmaster was not so enthusiastic. But, it all worked out in the end. Early August of 1984 found me on an late evening flight to Heathrow.

[Corfe Hills School, Corfe Mullen, Dorset. Photo: Source CHS webside]

A year is a long time to distill my experiences into a few paragraphs. Simply put, I had a few rocky days getting to know the ‘system’, meeting my colleagues, learning the names of my students and attempting to find my various classrooms. I was hired as a Geography teacher, a subject I love. I was happy. What was difficult was the number of courses they gave me to teach. I taught fifth and sixth form geography, General Studies and Religious Studies. They gave it all to me.

“Face it. You’re bloody irrelevant being here only a year,” some administrator told me on my second or third day.

[Last day of school. Two of my favorite students who helped me and gave me sage advice. Sally in the white blouse and Yzanne is to my right. Photo: Photo is mine]

I was never bored. When the weekends approached, I was faced with two choices (mostly): Take a hike on a Footpath in Thomas Hardy country or go to BritRail, buy a return and spend the weekend in a Cathedral city like Wells or Salisbury. I couldn’t get enough of the countryside, the dramatic coast of Dorset, the small villages that had little more than a pub. My ‘local’ pub was the Barley Mow. I can’t tell you how many pints and Steak & Kidney Pie I’ve eaten in that very old thatched building.

[A hillside with a copse of trees on the summit. Photo is mine]

I found some walks that went through some of the most picturesque locations. The sunken path below is near Shaftesbury. Madonna had a house nearby.

[One of my favorite footpaths. The trail itself is sunken about ten feet. Photo is mine]

The places I travelled are all marked off in my dozens of hiking guides. My personal best is a nine-mile walk that began in the parking lot of a pub called A Brace of Pheasants. I was exhausted at the end of the day. The Ploughman’s Lunch and two pints of Guinness helped me start out but didn’t help me finish. I had a Steak & Kidney Pie. It was a Sunday so I went home, took a shower and turned on Radio 4 to listen to a drama. Later, when I was a bit too hyped-up to sleep, I would tune to the station that carried “Prime Minister’s Question Time”. You can image how interesting that show was.

[Footpath signage. Photo is mine]

I have been back to Dorset many times since the mid ’80’s. I made every effort to share what my past was like by going on footpaths with Mariam. My favorite hill to climb is the Glastonbury Tor.

[Mariam on top of the Glastonbury Tor. Beneath her feet, King Arthur is said to await a return to save England. Photo is mine]

Mariam and I spent one Christmas (just before Covid) at a ancient northern Dorset pub called the White Lion Inn. A cozy room. A friendly bar downstairs and a garden eating area.

[The White Lion Inn. Photo is mine]
[A typical narrow back lane in Cornwall. Photo is mine]

Each trip Mariam and I make, we try to explore a different region. Above is our trip to Cornwall. We’ve been to The Lake District, Cornwall, Yorkshire, Dartmoor, the east coast and London, of course.

[Our close friends. They live in north Dorset. Anna is destined to be a great ballerina. Photo is mine.]

I’ve only picked out a minute part of the things I did while in Dorset. But, like all good adventures, I got a book out of it.

[So go out and buy yourself this book. It contains all my adventures (mostly). And it has color illustrations. A great holiday gift. Photo is mine]

Dan & Daughter At Rest

My father is hidden behind everything I am.

–Adrienne Egan “Danny Boy” (From a high school essay)

[Long Pond with Long Pond Mountain in the distance. Photo Courtesy of Terri Mendelson]

I have long dreaded what was about to take place. As I approached the shore of Long Pond, the memories began to weigh heavy on my heart. How often had I stood in the sand since the early 1980’s when my older brother, Chris, discovered the St. Regis Wilderness Canoe Area? A group of friends followed me to the beach. My son, Brian, carried a backpack that held a black box. I was about to say a final goodbye to my brother, Dan. He was the last of my brothers…the last Egan from Owego…except me. I was alone now. I thought of a phone call in 2019.

Mariam and I were in a pub in Dorset, England. The establishment was closed except for several dozen locals. It was Christmas Day. The dinner was for those who had nowhere else to go for the holiday. Mariam had located the small square in the pub where cell phone reception was weak but present. She punched in the number. It was a phone call I wish didn’t have to happen.

I spoke (or tried to with a broken signal) to my brother, Dan. He was in a hospice bed and he had about forty hours or so to live. I managed to say “I love you” but I don’t think he could make out the words.

Two days later, while we were settling in for dinner at the White Lion Inn, Mariam’s cell rang. The message was simple. The message was clear…and final. Dan had passed away.

I signed a paper to allow for Dan’s cremation.

Years later, in early August, 2022 I sat up in bed and realized that I was the one responsible for the cremains. I chose August 27 for the day to fulfill Dan’s will and have his ashes left in Long Pond.

~ ~ ~

Many years ago, back in 1991, just after I arrived in New York City to take a new teaching job, my phone rang. It was my father. What he told me sent shivers down my spine and tears to my eyes. Dan, who had been badly injured in Viet Nam, was told by the doctors that a) he would never walk again and b) he would never father a child. He proved the good doctors wrong. He walked with a limp…but he walked. And, he had a daughter by a young woman named Diana. The child’s name was Adrienne.

All was well until it wasn’t.

Adrienne and other college mates were having a party event on the roof of Adrienne’s dormitory. The facts are vague in my mind. The others left the roof…left the roof for Adrienne. She fell asleep. She rolled to the roof edge. She fell. She died.

Something died in my brother that day. His personality darkened. But he pushed through much of the grief…as much as one can…and he began to age. We all aged. But Adrienne was destined to be the teenager that lived in Dan’s memory. For the rest of his days.

Dan has been reunited with his daughter in the urn.

They both will enjoy the sunsets and storms that roll over Long Pond. The ice of winter. The buzz of mosquitos and black flies will fill their ears. The wind will howl in the dark nights of winter. The burning sun of summer. The meteor showers and the Aurora. The rainbows and the woodsmoke. These are all the things that Long Pond will offer them as it welcomes the new arrivals.

[For the Memorial Service. Photo courtesy of Bart Durkin]

The Pots of Potsdam

“I sing well when I am in the toilet, here I feel more comfortable”

Don’t try this here, it’s a public one.

–Anon. (Google Search)

[One of several toilet lawns in Potsdam, NY.]

Did you ever wonder where toilet bowls go to die? I have. In truth, I’ve lost many a good night’s sleep pondering such questions. If you drive the roads of the North Country (as well as other places), one can often see a toilet sitting beside a driveway or by the roads edge. Most likely there will be a For Sale sign stuck in the bowl. Recycling, I often said to myself. Makes sense. But, given the societal importance of toilets, there must be a better way. After all, one spends a fair amount of time dealing with toilets. Take your’s truly for instance. I take a diuretic in the morning which forces me to spend quality time standing at the bowl and doing my peeing thing. This can last for about four or five hours each day. I’m somewhat surprised that I haven’t given names to the various toilets in my life. Let me think: My Porcelain Beauty. The Super Bowl. Bowling Green. The Bowling Alley. Harry Potter. Mr. Toilet Man. Shelter From the Storm. Bowlin’ in the Wind. The Dust Bowl. Bowlish Sausage (No, I’m not going there!). Tidy Bowl. Bowling for Dollars. The Big White Phone. The Old Fishin’ Bowl. My Bowl or Yours.

But, I digress.

A gentleman named Hank Robar was turned down for a donut shop permit by the authorities of Potsdam. He was not happy. So, in a retaliation of some kind, he began putting used toilet bowls in several vacant lots he owned. The last account I read, in 2015, mentioned that he was not a very popular person with some community members. Others think he’s onto a good idea and enjoy rubbernecking the various collections.

As I drove by one of the sites, I noticed (I couldn’t help it) that the bowls themselves were decorated with flowers. Wow. It gives a new meaning to the term, Potted Plants. The flowers, I suspect, are plastic. But you don’t need John Lennon’s mind to imagine what it would be like if the flowers were fresh. The splendid sublime and subtle fragrance of toilet blossoms filling the air. A plumber, bent over with age, would stroll by and suddenly imagine that the Grim Reaper has found them. And that they were heaven-bound.

I’m just thankful that I had taken my diuretic hours earlier. It would have been so tempting…

Added Bonus: An ancient Roman Toilet.

[Ancient Roman Toilet. Google Search.]

Farewell Marcel

[Volumn #1]

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.

–Marcel Proust

As I strolled through the Parisian gardens of Luxembourg I paused and watched the people absorbing the sun’s warmth which was peeking, like a cat burglar, through the sweet gate in the sky made possible by the slowly drifting clouds that often looked dark and menacing at times and light, dazzling and adamantine at others. I opened a package of Madelines I was never without and dipped one in a small cup of tea I had purchased from a portly gentleman with a bushy mustache and a pocket that sagged with the spare francs he had earned that day. The scent of the tea on the little cookie entered into my every senses. I began to think of my youth, the girls I loved who had by now become stately women. I touched my beard, newly trimmed, and could feel the grayness of my hair. I was old. What happened to all those Lost Years, the years of my older youth, my early middle age and now my late middle age? I had yet to taste of the fruits of old age with its wrinkles, gray hair and painful legs. I had yet failed in my attempts to rediscover the Lost Time of my life. My memories were fading and I must learn ways to regain the imagery and sensations of the questionable choices I had made in the heat of my youth when my blood ran hot in my veins and laughter came easy. But along with the cheers and smiles I am beginning to recall how hard and fast my heart breaks. I have loved but my love was too dear for the women I most desired.

I brought the Madeline to my nose again. I drew in an olfactory sensation that brought back my most elusive memories. I closed my eyes and somewhere, behind my eyes and between my ears were the smells of burning leaves along Front Street of Owego in the state of New York, the town where my childhood was played out like a Shakespearian play, sometimes a tragedy sometimes a comedy. The leaves gave way to the sweet fragrance of a newly mown lawn along Main Street. The old river town has changed over the years, I am told, into a boutique village of cafes and antique shops selling the latest of the old town’s ephemera. One can sit in the sun and watch the slowly drifting Susquehanna River as it winds its way to the Chesapeake Bay. Up on Cemetery Hill, the moss grows over the lettering of the graves of young men and women I played with in sandy baseball fields and snowy hills that seem to exist only to provide gravity to an eight-year-old boy on a sled. How many languid afternoons has seen me at The Fair Grounds, eating sloppy cheesesteak sandwiches and watching the horses race the oval track. On the back row of seats in the grandstand is where I may have tasted my first Madeline.

I shall set a goal for myself. Some people are driven by their need for achieving certain goals. Driven to do such picaresque actions these goals are sometimes achievable and sometimes not. Some people have the ability to set recording devices in order to never miss an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians or the Hoarders. Some set themselves on arduous journeys to summit Everest or Denali or the Matterhorn. Others will bike their way across Iowa. Many jump out of airplanes (on purpose) to feel the rush of the wind as they free fall a thousand feet. I set my goal several years ago (I’m not saying when) to read what is arguably the longest novel ever written (not counting the Game of Thrones books). I was going to read Proust’s magnum opus: A La Recherche du Temps Perdu or otherwise referred to in English as In Search of Lost Time. It will be a daunting task. The book (depending on the edition) runs from 3,000 to 4,000 pages. My eyes must look at and understand 1,267,069 words. The books are six in number. I must search for and find the longest sentence ever written. That sentence clocks in at 847 words.

I am proud and somewhat amazed that I have only fifty pages left to complete this gargantuan task. At times the book can be like sucking fudge through a straw. The exquisite power of the language, the depth of the writing, the scope of the descriptions, the insights into love, death, grief, loneliness, lust, desire and dreams of men and women. I truly believe that if one calls him or herself a lover of books, then reading Proust is a must do action.

I have read many books in my life (so far) but none of them can stand up under the blazing light of Proust. If you like challenges…read these books. You’ll never see another book, your life and your dreams and memories the same way again…ever.

[Proust had little need for paragraph breaks, commas and pictures.]

[All photos are mine.]

Four Impossible Things Before 11:30 am

After every dark night, there is a bright day.

–Anon. [Source: Google search]

[Sunrise in the Prairie/Desert]

The Butterfly Effect

Two mornings ago I woke up with an overwhelming feeling that I was immersed up to my neck in a bad case of The Butterfly Effect. I definitely felt I had a sensitive dependence on the fact that even a small change in one’s state in a deterministic nonlinear system could result in a large difference in a later state. Putting it differently, I had work to do. Of course I had several hours of restless legs and overall ill ease that I was lucky to get a few hours in the arms of Hypnos. But, when I made my last stop at the urinal and another sip of tonic water, I felt like I was the bees knees.

During the night, while waiting for sleep to kiss my fair forehead, I made a TO DO list. I always wanted such a list. All my friends have them. I wanted one, so I wrote one out around 3:17 am. What follows is an illustrated picture show on what owning a house, preparing the said house for sale and cleaning in areas where Swiffers are strangers.

The Tasks

The first thing I decided to attack were the numerous spider/cob webs that show up on the exterior walls. The spiders here seen to have an innate sense of ownership and living. You own the house. The spiders thinks the house belongs to them. A conflict arises out of such a treaty. I looked at the Adirondack chairs. There are so many slots and cracks that needed brooming out with my trusty whisk-broom.

[The whisk broom, a former spider web and me]

[Author’s Aside: Like duct tape, a good whisk-broom is an absolutely necessity for any D.I.Y. kind of guy like myself.]

When I stood closer to the chair, I noticed cobwebs and pollen. I did the same to the wall below our picture window. I stared at the cobwebs and counted an endless number of places they would go. There, on our deck, I stood and looked. I felt as though I had an Albatross tied around my neck. The burden and endless toil of homeownership…I felt I was barking up the wrong tree. My wife glanced at me and said I looked like a deer in the headlights.

My next deck project was relatively easy. My job, as I saw it, was to check the status of the BBQ. I approached with caution. There was no way to know what manner of small furry animals may have chosen to make our BBQ a summer home.

[BBQ checking method]

I moved inside the screened-in-porch, feeling like there was an elephant in the room and I was the elephant. This was the hardest task of all. My plan was to remove two of the plexiglass panels to provide the usually chilly breezes to ventilate the room.

Me: “Mariam I need a large flat-head screwdriver.”

Me: “Mariam I need the orange extension cord put in over there.”

Me: “Mariam, I need a hand!”

I felt exhausted when it was all over.

Feeling like a mutton dresses like a lamb, I made my final stop in the kitchen.

[Removing the interior screen panel from the kitchen. I took it out into the front yard and aimed the JET setting on the nozzle. Boy, did that pollen fly. There’s no way to ‘tag’ pollen so I gather that the pollen had quite a ride.]

So, my tasks for the morning. My back is sore so I think I’ll have a bit of a lie-down. I am deep into another task of completing In Search Of Lost Time by Proust. I began reading the book before Reagan was POTUS. I’m making progress, though. I don’t feel like I’m flogging a dead horse.

Heaven forbid.

[Reading Proust]

[Notes: All photos are mine with the exception of the lead-in picture.]


A Spadeful of Earth

Grief is the price we pay for love.

–Queen Elizabeth II

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.

–Abraham Lincoln

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’

–Erma Bombeck

[The High Peaks of the Adirondacks]

The photo above is the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. My friend, Greg Stella and I used this beautiful region as our playground. Every peak, every valley had our boot prints in the mud and the rocky summits felt the back of our heads as we daydreamed away the hours after an ascent. After the ascent. Such a misnomer. It implied a “last ascent.” There was never really a last ascent. There would be another, and then another…and another. In the area shown in the photo were the majority of the oft-mentioned ADK 46. Other peaks were found outside the frame. There were 46 peaks (according to the original survey) that were 4,000′ or higher. If one climbed all of them, he or she would be eligible to join the “46 er’s” and get a patch to proudly wear on your parka or rucksack. Greg and I climbed about twenty or twenty-five of these peaks. We decided, sometime in the 1980’s that ‘bagging’ the summits wasn’t what we were searching. It became less about the numbers and more about re-climbing our favorites…some many times over.

The room in the funeral home in Owego, NY, set aside for the service was filling up fast. I was going to give the eulogy, but I had to wait until a full military service was complete. Then the priest said the words that were so often spoken at funerals. He spoke of God’s mysterious ways and equally mysterious reasons to bring down upon us congregants the unspeakable grief of an unbearable loss. Then it was my turn. I positioned myself at the podium, away from the slide show of my friend’s life. If I looked at them, I knew in my heart I would not be able to string two sentences together without a box or two of Kleenex or even better, Angel Soft. I had to focus on my note cards and pretend my heart was still whole and not cracked open with grief.

We climbed in the rain, the snow and the sleet. We slept in lean-tos when it thundered like an angry Greek God over our heads. We curled up in our cheap sleeping bags when the ambient air temperature was -30° F. And, yes it’s true. If you left your hot chocolate out beyond the roaring fire, it would freeze over in about four minutes. We slept on bare rock summits on balmy summer nights. If it was during the New Moon, we would drift into sleep under unnumbered, uncountable myriads of stars and distant planets that made the midnight hour almost bright enough a time to read a book…or a poem. But hiking wasn’t our only shared experience. We rock climbed in the ‘gunks near New Paltz, NY, entered and competed in the General Clinton Canoe Regatta. Cooperstown to Bainbridge on the lazy Susquehanna. For that we were given a small trophy and a patch for our anoraks. This was in 1976 and we came across the finish line 74th out of a field of over two hundred. Not bad for two canoeists with no training.

I completed the eulogy and held my composure better than I thought I was capable. I knew I had to be strong for his family and other relatives. I took several quick glances at Greg’s urn. It was beautiful. I wondered how they put his cremains and his spirit, talent and humor into such a small square container. If I sound like I’m bragging about all the amazing adventures Greg and I shared, nothing could be further from the truth. I felt humble and insignificant beside such a grand person, larger than life and now silent for a very long time.

We’re at the graveside. There are his parents. Over further are his neighbors. Further on are my parents. In between are our childhood friends who never walked off a plane after a tour of duty in Viet Nam. There were old girlfriends and so many others that we walked past on the streets of Owego in years gone by. Someday, I will mingle with the soil of this hallowed ground not too far from my friend. The priest said his final words. We all stood and began to slowly drift away to get on with our lives. Someone said my name. I was handed a shovel. The small hole was nearly half filled already. I scooped a spade full and let the earth fall on the top of the urn, covering two cloth patches. A green Adirondack Mountain Club patch and a red “FINISHER” patch that I had given to Patti before the service. Soon the grounds person laid the final sod clumps and tamped it down.

It was over, the ceremony that is. What was just beginning was the flood of memories so many of us spoke.

Good-bye my dear friend. I know we will meet again, on a new trail, in another place. This will happen sometime on a sunny day, when the clouds won’t be hanging so low and seem so impenetrably grey.

[Greg and I climbing a mountain in the High Peaks]
[Photo courtesy of Brad Brett]

It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,

It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

–Robert Service

[All photos are mine unless otherwise indicated]