What To Do?

[The puzzle as of April 9.]

Dear Dr. Fauchi,

I am in need of a motivation transplant. I know that isn’t your field but I felt it wouldn’t hurt to ask. And I ask this at this particular time because you probably have little or nothing to do since the pandemic situation is totally under control because of the perfect job our President is doing. It’s just that I’m losing my way here. The Troll of Boredom has begun to knock on our front door. I am a senior citizen and because of a tangle with leukemia in 2003, my immune system is quite compromised so I have to be very careful.

But, I digress.

All is not lost.

I am a man not without some talents and skills. After all, I’m writing this, correct? Other interests have occupied my time in the past. I’ve written several books (all are self-published, but we don’t need to mention that, do we?)

For example, here are the collected notes, outlines, drafts and research of a novel I began several years ago. It needs a little work but I lack the motivation.

[Note the fireplace in the corner.]

I also have a more than passing interest in watercolor painting. This is my art table:

[The Art Table. The tubes of paint have been stored for the winter.]

Another interest of mine is to learn to play a musical instrument. I’ve been through the Recorder, Guitar, Harmonica, Penny Whistle and, as you see, I’m ready to take on the Banjo. But I lack the motivation.

[An almost unused banjo.]

:

[My next project.]

I enjoy Needlepoint. I’ve already did a lady-bug as practice, so I know I can to it…if I get some motivation.

Right now, Doctor, my time is spent attempting to assemble a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. The top photo shows our progress as of April 9. It is, by far, the most detailed and difficult puzzle I’ve ever done.

A few minutes ago I sat in the dining room staring at the puzzle. The glare of the overhead light made all the pieces look the same. That is not a good thing. I stand up and look down. It’s an impossible task. I feel like a sort of god looking at lost people who are crying out to me:

“Please put me where I belong. Please don’t leave me unattached.”

I begin to feel pity until I think of the tens of thousands of humans who are crying out that very plea. I turn around to the window to take my attention away from misplaced pieces…and I see this:

[?]

Am I lost in time? I rush to the calendar, passing my Weather Monitor. It’s April 10 and the humidity is still low. The only comfort is that we’ll be enjoying a White Easter. I tried holding an Easter Egg Hunt once when we had a surprise snowfall. I ran around the yard hiding the eggs and then realized I forgot to color them. Needless to say the neighborhood children weren’t pleased.

In conclusion, I’d like to thank you for what you’ve done. But I beg you…I truly beg you not to do any harm to yourself after standing on the podium for two hours listening to The Man Who’s Named Must Not Be Mentioned.

Don’t worry about me, Doctor. I’ll check the yellow pages for a Motivational Doctor nearby.

Patrick

[All photos are mine.]

 

 

 

The Murder Mystery Jigsaw Puzzle Caper

[The Puzzle box cover.]

Several days had passed and I was still saddened by the way I had left the Troll. He looked so dejected as he headed back to his self-isolation under the bridge. I made a mental note to make sure I go back in the early summer and pay him a visit.

I had been standing in the kitchen for the last forty-seven minutes staring at the humidity level on my Costco Weather Monitor. It still read Very Low-Dry. Mariam was busy assembling the ingredients for tonight’s dinner: Blond Puttanesca (Linguine With Tuna, Arugula and Capers). Don’t get me wrong, Mariam has a full life here and doesn’t do all the cooking. She does like working in the kitchen and trying new recipes but, on occasion, I’ll make a Three Bean Soup or my signature Corn, Bulghur and Cheese  Casserole.

“Hand me the capers, please?”

I told Mariam to keep an eye on the Weather Monitor and let me know if the humidity level shows any sign of changing. Returning to the dining room table I put all my brain power and skills of observation on finding the missing piece that would complete the perimeter. It was an edge piece and was snow white. Sounds easy but I just couldn’t manage to find it.

This was not like a normal puzzle. It was a Murder/Mystery version. One is supposed to solve the puzzle which is supposed to look like this:

[The box top. You have to admit, it’s a bit “busy” isn’t it?]

Then read this:

[A short story to accompany the puzzle.]

Then solve the Whodunit. Sounds simple and fun. But…

Late in the evening, after binge watching Ozark, Mariam and I would spend an hour or three working on the puzzle. On our first night, after we had turned all the pieces face-up, Mariam said:

“This will be extra hard because of your color-blindness, Pat.”

“I’m not color blind.”

“Honey, remember when I sent you shopping for a few baking potatoes? You brought home six rotten apples.”

“They shouldn’t have been offered for sale.”

“But they were in the discard bin, dear.”

I had a flashback to something about bins, but I couldn’t put my finger on the memory. Mariam sighed and went to bed to play a few games of Words With Friends. I was left with this:

[Photo is actually sideways, but you can see the gap in the white edge.]

Out of desperation, I rechecked the box to see if the white piece got stuck inside. It was then that I noticed the notice. It was a RECALL NOTICE that was five years outdated. I failed to seen when I opened the box. Essentially, it read that this was a defective puzzle that was missing a vital piece. Apparently, a fellow on the second-shift at the printing factory had fallen asleep while watching a Hallmark TV movie called “My Second Honeymoon in Passaic”.

I was furious. I was seeing green. I went downstairs to my art table and found my Exacto knife. I was going to find another jigsaw puzzle and alter a white piece to make it fit. Then life would return to normal or whatever passed for normal lately. I put the notice in our recycle bag and went to work. Mariam called down to me and said:

“Honey, we forgot tonight is Thursday. The garbage and recycling bins have to be put out.”

A strange shudder ran down my already sore back. Those bins.

“Okay, I’ll get to it in a minute.”

“Don’t stop what you’re doing, the bins are light and I can manage,” she said from the top of the stairs.

I continued to carve away at the piece.

“What’s this?” She stood in the doorway holding the RECALL NOTICE. I held the altered piece behind my back.

“We’ve been wasting our time on this stupid thing,” she said with a tinge of anger. With that she grabbed another recycling bag and pushed everything off the table.

“I’m going to bed. I’m taking a half a Valium.”

I quietly opened the bag and dropped the altered piece in. I walked over to the refrigerator and found a can of Guiness. I stood in front of the Weather Monitor and stared at the humidity reading.

It was the same. It read Very Low-Dry.

 

 

 

 

 

Snow

The woods are pleasant, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

–Robert Frost

 

[Our tiny forest. Our front yard. Photo is mine.]

I can think of nothing in nature more calming, soothing and tranquil than standing in a forest while snowflakes nearly the size of marbles drift slowly downward through the trees.

I’ve sat by gurgling brooks. I’ve felt the winds of the prairie whistle in my ears. With a mug of Oolong tea laced with local honey at my side, I’ve sat and listened to the rain fall, sometimes heavy and in waves…sometimes only a dribble. These are all transcendent. And you need only one good sense, hearing.

Snow, on the other hand is silent. You can’t hear a flake settle on a pine needle. A rainfall doesn’t lend itself to a visual experience, unless you count thunder and lightening. A snowstorm, in its aftermath, can leave you breathless…the absolute whiteness of it all.  Well, not all. A mere three weeks can separate the dazzling colors of late autumn to a black and white world where only a hint of dull green marks the presence of coniferous trees and a cluster of brown Aspen leaves that have not yet fallen from the mother tree.

But snow is a superb example of what could be a blessing to one but can be a curse to another. Yes, I appreciate the quiet solitude that snowstorms bring, but I can also see darkness that lies beneath the ten inches of the white fluffy stuff.

It wasn’t always like this for me. I skated when I was young. Tobogganed every hill around Owego, NY and skied Whiteface Mountain. I spent five summers living on glaciers of the Juneau Icefield in Alaska. I knew ice. I knew snow.

Then I aged. Snowshoeing became difficult. X-Country skiing became problematic and downhill alpine skiing presented its own set of dangers to my body.

Blame it on my Lumbar region (L4 & L5) for my falling out of love for the winter season.

[Me shoveling. You can’t see my L4 & L5, but I can feel them. Photo credit: Mariam Voutsis.]

SIDEBAR A few facts about snow.

It is a myth, often repeated, that the Inuit (Eskimos) have dozens of words describing snow. There is no way to determine the real facts here because of the multitudes of Northern Native People. Different country…different way of viewing snow. There are however, researchers who study snow and keep track of these sort of things. The latest list contains 121 different types of snowflakes.

Is it true that no two snowflakes can be the same? This is mostly true, but recently scientists have found ways to practically duplicate a snowflake pattern.

Most snowflakes that we are familiar with are hexagons. There are thirty-five common types in all. Here is a short list:

  • Stellaar Dendrites (pictured below)
  • Columns & Needles
  • Capped Columns
  • Fern-like Stellar Dendrites
  • Diamond Dust Crystals
  • Triangular Crystals
  • Twelve-branched Snowflakes.

[A Stellar Dendrite flake. Very common. Photo source: Google search.]

There is even a Field Guide to Snowflakes available. I tried to examine snowflakes one afternoon a few winters ago. I wore a dark jacket and held my geologic hand lens in my frozen fingers. A flake landed on my dark sleeve. But when I put the hand lens to my right eye and leaned forward to examine the flake, my warm breath melted it, leaving me to examine a small drop of water. This is something I could do in my kitchen. I learned nothing. I’ll learn the technique, someday, perhaps.

So, I believe it can be stated that there is a snowflake for every taste. It would be an understatement to say that snow is the engine that runs empires, so to speak. What would winter TV every four years be like if it weren’t for the Winter Olympics. Hallmark Movies? Who would know about Tanya Harding? (I’m including ice as a sub-set of snow). How could we live without the likes of Lindsey Vonn? If you’re old enough your heart stopped for a few moments when Franz Klammer won the men’s downhill in 1976. And of course, who can’t forget the aerial flights of Shawn White?

[Alpine skiing. Awesome. Photo credit: Google search]

I celebrate winter. I love snow. But, these days it’s a visual thing. I must leave you now to contemplate my winter landscape.  I’ve sat long enough. I need another heat patch placed on my L4 & L5 region. I will make another mug of Oolong tea and add a tad of honey.

[Winter on our road. Photo is mine.]

[All of the factual information about snow came from several Google searches.]

 

Two Men On A Rock

And I need to be there when the world gets too heavy and the shadows cross my mind.

Like brave mountaineers, we were never bothered much by time.

—Gordon Lightfoot.

 

[The author, left (in blue) and climbing partner, Greg Stella on the trail of Big Slide Mountain. circa 1972.]

Once upon a time, two young men set out from Johns Brook Lodge in the heart of the High Peaks region of the Adirondack Mountains. Their goal was to climb Big Slide. These two men were vigorous and healthy. The fire of youth burned in their veins. They climbed together for many years…in the rain, the sleet, the fog and the snow. In the summer they sweated and in the winter they huddled beside a log-fed blaze and sipped hot chocolate, hot enough to scald their tongues.

On this particular day, nearly half-way to the summit of Big Slide, they shook off their packs and sat on a rock for a cool drink and a rest. A few moments passed and another climbing party came panting up the trail.

“Excuse me,” said one of the resting men. “Would you mind taking our picture?”

The stranger obliged and handed the camera back to the man who wore a blue parka.

The small group moved on. The two young men rested for a few minutes and continued their climb.

Forty-seven years later, these two men and their wives were enjoying a few days together at a lakeside cottage owned by the blue-jacketed man and his wife.

“Hey,” he said. “I have a website and if I remember correctly, there is a picture of you and I when we were climbing Big Slide. It’s in one of my slide-shows. Would you like a copy?”

Soon it was all over. The slide-show was seen and the picture was saved. Much to the amusement of those present, an attempt was made to reproduce the postures of the two young men resting on a rock.

The two men stared at the original photo…and remembered.

 

[The author, left (in white socks) and one-time climbing partner, Greg Stella. November 5, 2019.]

 

[Note: The sound track to the slide-show was Bob Dylan’s Forever Young.]

Both photos are mine.

My website: http://www.patrickjegan.com

When Sand Turns Cold: Between The Seasons

[The Lake Colby Beach in Saranac Lake, NY. Photo is mine.]

This is an odd time of the year. The autumn colors are past peak (yes, there are a few places where the reds are blinding and the yellows can bring tears to your eyes)…but the peak foliage in its intensity is essentially gone until next October, or late September (depending on the summer rains).

It’s a sad time. The public beaches have hauled in the lifeguard chairs and the floating docks. No mothers wander about looking for toddlers, no cheerleader is working on her tan line. No quarterback is working on a Malibu bronze complexion. That’s all okay…it’ll all fade in three weeks time (unless they still use a bottle tan mixture like they did in the ’60’s.)

Still hikers take to the trails since most of the bugs are gone.  The kayaks are being put up in boathouses for the long winter. Year-rounders are stacking wood for the stoves in their cabins.

The skiers are busy waxing and sharping their edges at the local ski shops.

Sam Adams has come out with the Octoberfest brew.

Local micro-breweries are putting up the taps of the newest Pumpkin flavored IPA.

But the beaches are gone.  Sure one can go and wrap up in fleece and try to read a book…but’s its changed.

I have a distinct memory of jumping out of our family car in the parking lot of Golden Beach…sometime in the early 1950’s. We had a campsite, but none of my brothers wanted to put off the swimming. My feet, the tender feet of a child burned as I ran toward the water. I couldn’t make it. I ran back and jumped in the waiting arms of my father. He carried me, tenderly across the burning sands and gently put me down in the cool waters of Raquette Lake.

Summer is gone again. The first snowflakes are a few weeks away.

And, then the WINTER sets in. Sometimes until mid-May. I grew up in downstate NY, near the Finger Lakes. We had four distinct seasons. Up here in the North Country it’s more likely three seasons.

I live on Ibuprofen because of my back pain.

So, we are off to Portugal in mid-December for 2 1/2 months of warmth. It’s not Florida, but it’s cheaper.

I wonder what things will be like in five or seven years.

Will it matter?

Good-bye Rosie

[Rosie. Photo is mine.]

My mother passed away in her sleep on a quiet Easter Sunday morning in 1992. A sad event indeed. Just days before on Holy Thursday, she sat in the living room of our home and told the priest that she was tired and was prepared. She was ready. She also told him she wanted to depart this life on Easter. She got her wish. This event put into motion a series of events, a journey of sorts, in my life, that of my wife, Mariam and Cracklin Rosie.

A day later my wife and I drove to Tioga Gardens Nursery to pick out a spray of flowers for the funeral home viewing. The nursery was owned, I believe, by my high school classmate, Ed Kuhlman. He commiserated his sorrow at my mother’s passing and took an order for a floral display.

“Wait;” he said as we were leaving. “I have a gift for you, Pat.”

He disappeared into the depths of the greenhouse and emerged a few minutes later with a small potted plant.

“Here, this is from me. No charge. It’s a Begonia and I’ve named it Cracklin Rosie. I love Neil Diamond. Take care of her and she will bring back memories of you mom.”

[For all my botanists readers: Begonia x corellina hybrid. The plant scientist who created the hybrid named it after the Neil Diamond song. For years I thought it was Ed Kuhlman’s favorite song.]

We took the plant and departed.  After the funeral and all the necessary things that had to be done, we headed back to New York City. I was a teacher and my wife was a nursing administrator at a major city hospital. We had to go forward to our lives. We put Cracklin Rosie in a nice place in our one bedroom apartment.

The years passed.  We grew older and Rosie (we dropped the Cracklin part) grew up and out. Then up and out some more until she became as prominent a part of our home as a sofa or a library.

In 2000, we bought a lake side house in Rainbow Lake, NY. We rented it out on a weekly basis for several years. It helped to pay the mortgage. Then in 2005, I retired from teaching. Over thirty years of pushing chalk was now to become a memory.

In 2011, we let ourselves be bought out and left the City for our home in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York State.

We brought Rosie with us. By now, she was the size of a china closet. Every time we travelled abroad we had to find someone to watch over her. It was like having a pet; but one that never crawled on to your lap or wagged a tail. In our dining room, she became a presence…a conversation starter…a center of attention. It was like having the skeleton of the Elephant Man watching you eat your pasta primavera.

Sadly, an era is about to close for us. My son, Brian and his fiancee, Kirstin are coming for a visit over Columbus Day weekend. They have agreed to take Rosie back to Queens and become her new owners.

I’m sitting here as I type this and staring at her in her floppy green glory. She has witnessed dinner parties, made way for a Christmas tree or two, watched us having a candle-lit dinner, an argument, a deep philosophical discussion and all the events of life that come with a happily married couple who live in the North Country.

Knowing how this plant/human relationship will eventually end, we gave cuttings to many of our friends. There are baby Rosies in many homes. And, when Mariam and I visit Brian and Kristin, we’ll meet up with Rosie and talk about old times.

She has felt us brush by her as we haul luggage out to the car or back into the living room from our travels. She sensed us. She welcomed us. I think she’ll miss us.

I’ll miss her just like I’d miss an old friend.

Just like I miss my mother.

 

 

Sitting In Another Cemetery

[Me gazing at the soccer game. Photo credit: Mariam Voutsis]

You, my readers, may think I’m a bit morose and morbid.  My last post was about Evergreen Cemetery, in my home town of Owego, NY.  But, if you think that I am very dark, you’re wrong.  Yes, I have a strong nostalgic mind.  But today I had a job to do.  I’m a volunteer photographer for Find-A-Grave.com.

That means that I get requests from people from far off USA, hoping somebody like me would take the time to go out to a country cemetery and photograph the gravestone of ‘Aunt Martha’. Whatever you may think, I consider it a great service to fulfill these requests.  (I get no monetary reward, nor would I accept one.)  I’m satisfied with the thank-you emails.

But, today.  Today I had some severe lower back pain.  It was difficult to walk the small churchyard.

I took a rest and sat on a boulder that was actually a headstone.  I looked over at a nearby athletic  field where Paul Smiths College was playing soccer.

I heard the shouts, the goals, the cheers and the young men yelling and encouraging. This is  something I did in my youth.

I sat feeling very isolated.  I couldn’t play that game ever again.  It’s a strange and powerful thought when you sit in a churchyard.

I kicked back a few soccer balls that had been hit into the cemetery.  I could still do something with my legs!

But my back still hurt and I heard a shout from Mariam.  She had found some memorial we had long searched for.

Now I sit in our screen-in porch and listen the the howling wind.  Our squash is in the oven.  Summer is ended and I must put the plexiglass panels back into place.

Time flies like the wind.