The little child said to the giant reindeer: “You’ll always have a friend in me,” Bltzen. ” I’ll wait a year and we’ll meet again…right here.”
[Photo is mine.]
He sits on the front deck of his home. Despite recent chilly weather, this particular Wednesday proved to be mild…even warm. He has spent the last half-hour watching a red squirrel scurry about a pile of chipped wood. Doubtless, this is to be his winter den.
The bearded man is sitting like countless other men and women like him. He spends his idle hours either writing or thinking of odd topics to comment on. At the moment, he is musing on the science that explains the breakdown of the Chlorophyll that is necessary for the tree to reveal the true color of it’s leaves.
[Photo is mine.]
He scratches the whiskers on his cheek. He is fully aware that before he can say Blitzen all this foliage will be composting beneath two feet of powder-white snow,
The relentless challenges of winter will keep the old man close by the fireplace. He will likely be typing about the awesome beauty of the North Country winter.
Some Sunday afternoon in mid-January he will find himself in the icy garage staring at ski poles and snowshoes. He’ll recall times when pain didn’t accompany a simple walk in the woods.
Soon, he will be sitting in his favorite leather wingback chair. His fingers will linger with the buttons of his treasured L.L Bean plaid flannel shirt
Like many old men who sit and think, he’ll ponder his youth, wonder what happened to his middle years and doubtless dread the future left to him.
Then, without a doubt, he’ll reach for a good book.
[Photo credit: Google search.]
[Goya’s The Sleep of Reason. Photo credit: Goodle search.]
[NOTE: The following post is rated S for sad.]
When I was a young boy, about a hundred years ago, my mother would sit on the edge of my little bed and stroke my brown hair. It was well after my bedtime. I should have been sleeping the sleep of the innocent.
“What do you think you’re going to miss, honey?” she would ask, her voice soft and concerned. “Try to sleep, please.”
“I can’t,” was all I could say.
“Close your eyes so that the sandman can find you and help you go to dreamland.”
“I can’t,” I said again. I wasn’t been bratty or difficult. I just couldn’t stop staring at the ceiling. Nothing much has changed in all these years. I fear the setting of the sun and oncoming darkness. I plead to my wife to not turn out her reading light until I fall asleep.
Sometimes it works.
And then in the morning, I wake from the usual nightmares with my heart pounding and my breath coming in gasps. (At least I don’t wake her up screaming and flailing about the bed like I did twenty years ago.
My dreams are full of frustration and anxiety. Typically, I’m caught in the school where I used to teach, frantic because I can’t find my classroom or my list of students. Sometimes I’m lost in a horrific version of a Manhattan that doesn’t exist on any map. I’m walking endless streets and wandering through a warren of a broken landscape. I’m trying to find my way home. I’m lost. I’m terrified and lonely…and then the dawn comes and I’m back at Rainbow Lake.
[Photo credit: Google search]
Out of breath and fearing what the next night will be like.
Bob Dylan wrote: “My dreams are made of iron and steel.”
My dreams are exercises in frustration and…loneliness. I feel somehow blessed if I can remember nothing of my nighttime. That is a rare morning.
I read that dreams occur during REM sleep. That’s not a good thing because it robs you of the deep sleep you need for a true rest. I never greet the dawn like they do in TV commercials…stretching and ready to take on the day.
I think my condition is inherited from my father. He struggled with insomnia for as long as I can remember.
My legacy to my children? I hope they have a love of books and reading and traveling…looking forward to drifting off with a good novel on their chest.
I don’t want to meet my daughter or my son on the midnight lanes I frequent.
I’d rather they find time to let the sandman into the bedroom.
[Nightscape. Photo source: Google search.]
[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?
I’m preparing to travel back to my hometown, Owego, NY. I’m going to attend a memorial service for a long-time friend. It will be held at the Hickories Park.
I hope it doesn’t rain.
I hope my words are funny, complimentary, joyful …and sad.
Because that is what you feel when when a very old friend has passed. It’s not happy.
We’ll drive six hours to check into a hotel…in a town I lived most of my life in. I haven’t been back there in four years.
I am thankful for Teri’s son to have invited me to this event.
I hope it doesn’t rain.
[Antique wedding ring. Price? About $5600. European Cut. Source: Google search.]
Eileen, a colleague of Mariam, wanted to meet us for a drink. We were in New York City for the usual doctors appointments, meetings and our yearly Yankee game.
The three of us sat at the bar of Brendens Irish Pub on W. 35th Street. I don’t know…maybe we were talking about Tolkein or circuses, but the topic turned to rings, specifically our wedding rings.
We each had a story about our wedding rings. My story was probably the least interesting so I’ll start with me. I wore my wedding ring for many years, removing it only for activities like kayaking and picking up hot babes in cheap bars (that was a joke). Kayaking tends to cause my ring to rub against my finger. But, for the last several years I’ve not worn my ring. I began to lose weight and in the dry air of the North Country, my skin shrinks. I performed a simple scientific test. I shook my left hand several times onto the sheets of our bed. The ring slipped off. Not a good thing so I put it on Mariam’s jewelry tray where it sat until I decided it was time for action. I needed to take the ring to a jeweler and have something put inside to hold the skin of my third finger. This is what I got:
The nubs you see on the inside hold the ring securely in place. I am now wearing the aforementioned ring 24/7.
Mariam’s story is a bit more interesting. When we picked it out (Macy’s. circa early ’90’s), she chose a cubic zirconia. It was a fine ring and fooled a jeweler once who commented on the quality of her “diamond”. She worked at St. Vincent’s Hospital in those days as a Nursing Supervisor. Often she would help in the bedside care…and that is how she damaged the facet of the cubic. She continued to wear it for years, until we went to the jeweler on 86th Street and Broadway. The woman behind the counter said it could be easily replaced with a new stone. So we did it.
Here is her ring after the replacement:
But the real interesting story was the one told by Eileen, Mariam’s friend.
Eileen and her husband are Filippino. His grandmother had beautiful diamond earrings, given to her by her mother. WWII brought the Japanese to the Philippines. They weren’t a very friendly lot. It is historical fact that the Japanese Army did some dispicable things to the Chinese and the citizens of the Philippines. Knowing what was coming, his grandmother had the stones reset in nondescript (read ugly) metal earrings, which she wore throughout the war, hiding the precious heirloom in plain sight. On her ears.
They survived the war. His grandmother then had them reset as wedding rings. One was lost. The other was handed down to Eileen’s husband. That is the one that resides on Eileen’s finger. And she was sitting next to me.
I was taken by the story. There are probably a thousand stories that are similar, but this ring…I was able to touch this ring.
As I did, I felt the weight of history, love, family, war and survival.
This is Eileen:
And, this is her ring:
Rings are real material objects. You can touch them, lose them, pawn them, steal them or even throw them into the East River. But, they are also symbols of things that endure…like love.
[The motel with no name]
Most of the time I can erect a fence to contain the images and imaginations from escaping my brain. Sometimes a little white picket fence with pink daisies in purple pots are enough to hold back the most innocent and decent imagery that my mind can create. Then, there are times when a more sturdy wooden enclosure is necessary. My thoughts have gotten a little darker and far-fetched. At the end of the line, I need to put up a stockade of lichen-covered stone, dusty bricks or cement blocks…topped by razor wire. These keep in the real demons; the ideas, thoughts, dreams, musings and nightmares that one finds along a dark path in the dark woods, deep ravines and foggy patches in misty churchyards. These fences hold my odd thoughts where they belong…in my brain. It works.
Most of the time.
I’m on Route 11, the main highway that crosses the North Country. I’ve been on this road many times heading either west or east out of Malone. This isn’t the first time I’ve spotted the old motel. I pull over. The weeds in the old lawn are chest high. The welcome sign is getting loose around the hinges and bolts. I don’t know how long this place will exist. Perhaps the next time I drive this way, the whole structure may be replaced by a Tractor Supply, a Bowling Alley or a Car Wash.
To me, that would be a shame. It’s obvious it will never again function as a motel…and that is why it attracts and charms me. Here, in what may have been the driveway, I sit in my Honda and survey the old buildings.
The style of the buildings could be 1960’s, but I’m going to place it in the mid-1950’s. It suits my narrative style better.
Then I close my eyes. I can see the phantoms that once stayed here. I can imagine their stories. I can feel their history. It’s happy and sad, tragic and fortunate. The lives that passed through these rooms, pass through me now.
I see the shadows move about.
The traveling salesman, with his valise full of brushes and combs, slips into Room 2. Once inside, he hangs his seersucker jacket on the door hook, kicks off his worn wing-tipped shoes and stretches out on the lumpy bed. He unscrews the bottle of bourbon and takes a long pull. He doesn’t want to go home.
A blushing teenage couple from Watertown just bluffed their way intro Room 9. He has a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon that is slowly getting warm. He uses his church key to open two. They sit awkwardly on the sofa before moving to the bed. In exactly ten months, she’ll give birth to a baby boy who will grow up to own his own auto repair shop outside of Burlington, VT. His parents will each die in separate car accidents in 1974.
A cheap thug who just robbed a liquor store in Plattsburgh takes Room 5. His girl has a bruise on her cheek, her arm and her thigh. They will stay one night and then drive non-stop to Chicago. There she will leave him for a chiropractor.
A family is on their way into the heart of the Adirondacks. They have driven south from Quebec City and will spend the next two weeks swimming at Golden Beach on Raquette Lake. One child will become an astronomer and the other will become a teacher. Room 10 is their final night under a roof. Tomorrow night the tent comes out.
A troubled couple from Binghamton will argue well into the night about in-law problems. The wife will turn up the radio when Billie Holiday comes on. Maybe the volume will drown out the threats from Room 14.
An insurance salesman from Buffalo will quickly enter Room 7. He knows this motel well. Room 7 is hidden from the office. Following him through the door is his secretary, Helen. He promised her many things during the long drive. Anything, he thinks, as long as she gives me a night of pleasure that he can’t find at home with his lawful wife.
Two young men in their twenties passing themselves off as brothers on their way to visit family in Lake George walk boldly into Room 11. Here they can be themselves and love each other like they have wished for the past three years.
Yes, the lawn is chest-high with Timothy grass, Ragweed and Queen Anne’s Lace. Butterflies and black flies flit from flower to flower. No more cars will be stopping here, ever. The motel once had a name, but even the sign is gone. A little VACANCY sign is visible. Those who passed through this office, slept on creaky mattresses and used the stained toilet are long gone. Some of the stories had happy endings while others ended with a broken heart or a bleeding nose. These travelers have moved on. Many are still alive, most are buried in some local cemetery or a burying ground a thousand miles away. A few who laughed, drank, sinned and prayed in these rooms are possibly being sedated by an RN in a nursing home…somewhere.
I go back to my car after taking a few photos and I notice something that may seem ironic.
The empty motel with no name is directly across the road from a hospice.
Another flood of imaginings come rushing from my brain.
[All the lonely people. All the empty rooms.]
[“Old Paint”. Now a part of history…ready for its final ride]
The white Casier truck backed down our driveway. It was 10:30 on a muggy morning. Before ten minutes had passed, we had brand new chairs in our living room. The old L. L. Bean pair of overstuffed sofa-like seats were showing signs of aging. Mariam’s was still in fair shape so a few hours later, a man came in a smaller truck and took hers away later in the day.
Casier (the chair merchant in Saranac Lake) agreed to take mine.
It was over quickly.
Before I had a chance to pull out my red bandana and wipe the stray tear from my cheek.
Before I had a quiet moment with my supportive friend to whisper a few last good-byes and reminisce about the past.
I felt like my Old Yeller was being taken out behind the barn by Fess Parker. Life doesn’t get any harder. Where do old chairs go when they have finished their duty to your weary body? I’d really rather not know. I can’t imagine my heartbreak if I drive out to the Franklin County Transfer Station one pleasant Saturday and see my chair upside-down next to two Barka Loungers, a wicker love seat and a chartreuse sectional.
We bought the chairs in 2000, when we acquired our Adirondack home. In 2011, we moved to the North Country for real. So many hours have been spent in those pale green chairs watching important historical events unfold before our eyes. Several World Series (but don’t ask which ones or who won…I’ve no memory of those things). A few Super Bowls (but we tend to avoid being here in mid-winter, so don’t ask which ones we saw). The second inauguration of Obama. The election of 2016 (again, don’t ask!).
It would be great to say we saw the moon landing, but that was thirty years earlier. I would love to describe our interest at witnessing the Escape From Dannemora, but we were in France at the time.
We did sit through many sad and old films on TCM. A few classic episodes of Hoaders, an intense season of the Bachelorette and two even more intense seasons of 90 Day Fiancee.
Mariam and I were glued to the TV to watch the rise and fall of Walter White in Breaking Bad. And, most proudly, we didn’t run to our sets to check the connections when the black-out occurred at the end of The Sopranos.
All the while, our L. L. Bean chairs sat cheerfully beneath us. My chair took the most wear, however. Because of my dicey back, I can not sit normally. I have to tuck one leg (the left) under the knee of the right. That puts my socked foot against the arm rest…eventually exposing the fiber filling. The tangle of my legs look like a yet un-named Yogi position.
All good things must come to an end…and our lives with our chairs are no exception. So, now we have two new chairs in their place. It’s sad, though, like a bad divorce. Something new and fresh is taking the place of the old and worn out.
The time flew by so fast that I never had time to give my chair a name. I’ve thought it over and decided to call it “Old Paint” after my trusty horse I had when I rode the West Texas range…back in the day.
But, I digress (and besides, that’s another blog).
[The new chair (it reclines)]
[Summer Sunrise over the Heel Stone at Stonehenge. Photo source: Google Search]
A short time ago a friend posted this on Facebook:
Hooray! Only 59 Days Until The Summer Solstice!
Most of us know that the Solstice marks the first day of summer. It’s a moment when the sun rays are directly overhead at 23.5° N. Lat. Where I live, this will occur at 11:54 am (EDT) on June 21.
[Diagram of the relative position of the sun (R) and the earth (L). Source: Google Search]
People think of BBQ’s, swimming, hiking and kayaking over seventy foot waterfalls. Kites will fill the air at beaches. Pyrotechnics are being prepared for the 4th of July. Pom-Pom girls are practicing the baton tosses in their backyards while toddlers splash in small plastic pools under the watchful eye of parents, sitting in camp chairs, sipping bottles of Coors Lite. Cans of Deep Woods Off are flying off the shelves at Target. Tubes of SPF 65 lotion are in every picnic basket. Big drinks with little umbrellas are served at pool-side. The quarterbacks of the Fall flirt with the cheerleader/lifeguards of the Summer. Sandcastles, surfing, hang-gliding, rodeos, NASCAR races, deer-tick bites and human pyramid water-skiing are the activities on any given day south of Manitoba. (Actually, most of these events happen in Canada as well, but no-one goes up there this time of year to see for themselves.)
[This is how I spent my summer days at the lake. Source: Google Search]
And, in sunny England, the Druids are allowed among the Sacred Stones of Stonehenge to welcome the arrival of the SUN.
[Druids at Stonehenge on June 21st. Source: Google Search]
The Glory Days! The Endless Summer. Autumn is months away. The Farness. The Freedom. The Freshness…it’s the eternal now moment everyone wants to be in and stay in.
And, best of all…it’s the longest days of the year!
[Allow me to muddy the waters a bit here. The longest day? No, of course not. The length of the ‘day’ is and will remain twenty-four hours. Can’t change that. First day of Summer? That depends on how you think of summer. There are really two “summers”. One is the Meteorological Summer, which traditionally is from June 1 to August 31. This is when the thermal load begins to build in the Northern Hemisphere. Hence, one can go swimming on June 7 because it’ll likely be warm enough and you are willing to hold your breath for twenty-three minutes underwater to escape the black flies. But this post is mostly concerned with Astronomical Summer as described in the diagram above. None of this seasonal stuff would happen if the earth was not tilted 23.5 degrees off the vertical plane in our relationship with the sun. The planet Mercury has no tilt and therefore no seasons. If you lived on Mercury, SPF would be your least problem. The daytime temperature is approximately 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot enough to melt your nail polish. Hot enough to even…well, you wouldn’t have an arm to apply anything on. It’s very difficult to rub SPF on a gelatinous mass of bubbling protoplasm. But in the few seconds you perhaps survived, you’d need an SPF of 2,500. I haven’t seen anything like that at Walgreens lately. And, forget about a beach book. The temperature is twice that of the burning point of paper. You’d need a Kindle for sure.]
Back to earth.
And, there’s the catch. Just when you’ve reached the peak (the Summer Solstice) you have to begin thinking about going down.
After June 21, the days begin to get shorter.
You may say that after reading this that I’m a glass-is-half-empty kind of guy. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m the eternal optimist. After all, in a mere six months, the days will start to get longer!
And then you have the Holidays to look forward to.
[A post card image from Inkognito.]
As I write this post the weather here at Rainbow Lake is unsettled. Windy with thunder in the distance. I fell asleep in the screened-in porch last night listening to heavy rains falling. I’m staring at a calendar (The kitchen wall calendar…this year: Japanese prints). I see that I have eleven days until I turn 72.
When I was a young boy of perhaps nine or ten years of age, I used to play Wiffle Ball with my older brother, Denny. After many swings and hitting little or nothing, I asked him something that worried me:
“Denny, how many fouls make an out?”
Without hesitating he replied: “72”.
I had no reason to not believe him…I was young.
But that number, 72, kept echoing in my mind over the many years since I sat in our backyard with my older brother. I decided to do a little research. Google was smoking for me two nights ago as I found many references to that magic number.
The fact is, that number is VERY significant in many ways…mostly to Numerologists.
Here’s a small sample of what I found:
–It is known in esoteric numerology as the Master Number.
–72 x 12=864…the diameter of the sun. (www.netfind.com)
–The average human lifespan is 72 years.
–December 21, 2010 (Winter Solstice) was the date of a total lunar eclipse which lasted exactly 72 minutes.
–The human body is 72% water.
–The Zodiac has 12 constellations and 72 secondary ones.
–72 is the par on an 18-hole golf course.
–There are 72 spaces on a Parcheesi board.
–72 Hz is the frequency commonly used to examine the emotional spectrum.
–In the Old Testament, God destroyed the Tower of Babel and divided the people by 72 languages.
–Jesus died for 72 hours.
–Muslims are awarded 72 virgins in heaven.
–The Pentagon in Washington has 5 angles, all of which are 72 degrees.
–WWII lasted 72 months.
–And, in numerology, 72 = tolerance, philanthropy and intuition.
And there is so much more.
So, what does all this mean for me? That’s a good question. All I can say for sure is that I’m not anticipating that day…a week from Friday. There are so many more years behind me than in front of me. Have I done right in all those years on this planet? Have I always made the right choices? (No). Have I lived a moral life? (Mostly). There are so many more questions but so few answers. My only real hope is that I will be here to write about the significance of the number 73.
My dreams at night are those of a young man, not with white hair but merely salt and pepper. I have no aches in my legs and back…in my dreams. The young women in my dreams say to me: “Yes, I could love you tonight.”
In the brightness of day, those same young women think: “He looks just like Grandpa.”
“If I’m here in the morning, baby, I’ll know I’ve survived. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I’m alive…but without you it doesn’t seem right. Oh, where are you tonight?”
“It is hard to do justice to old pleasures that cannot be revived–we seem half to disown our youthful selves, who loved and treasured them.”
–Alan Hollinghurst The Sparsholt Affair.
[Vitruvian Man. A sketch by Leonardo da Vinci. Source: Google search.]
[Full disclosure: No humans or animals were harmed while writing this post. The facts listed above have not been verified by me. They were found during a Google search. And, most importantly: This post is in no way a shameless and gratuitous plea for LIKES on my Facebook page on May 31. But, don’t let that stop you…]