Kissing Manhattan Goodbye

So, it’s time to say farewell to the city I love.  A week from today, if you have a drone, you will find us driving north on the I-87…through Albany…onto Exit 30…and then fifty more miles, through Lake Placid, to our home at Rainbow Lake.

I’ve heard it said so many times: “New York City is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

Fine, I understand everyone has different tastes.  Besides, it’s all true what people say about New York.  It’s so big, crowded, diverse and varied, that whatever anyone says about the city… is true.  It’s safe, dangerous, cheap and way too expensive.  It’s all true…but I love the vibrant life, liberalism, culture and gravity.  Yes, there is an intense gravity to this place…someone once said that everyone should live in New York City at least once in their life…and I agree.

I lived on the Upper West Side for over twenty-five years.  With some exceptions, I loved every minute of my time.  Then, I retired and in 2011, Mariam and I decided to get bought out (our building was going condo) and we decided to head north to our place on Rainbow Lake.  We needed the quiet.  Mariam went part-time, working from home on the computer.

We got our quiet…sometimes, it seemed to me, a little too much.  I was lonely.  Only a few of our friends made the six-hour trip to visit us.

Then, we were offered the opportunity to come back for six months, on a full salary, to put things in order at Mariam’s place of business.  We got a sub-let on W. 74th Street and became New Yorkers once again.  I saw my son more often and reunited with old friends.

But, not all went as expected.  For reasons I won’t discuss here, I found myself falling into a mild depression.  I brought many of my “works-in-progress” for my writing  projects.  I lost the creative energy to plug-in my memory stick and write a few chapters.

The winter was wet and chilly.  The spring was little better.  Then it got really bloody hot.  But, we saw a number of Broadway and Off Broadway shows that were fantastic.  We made friends at our local pub, the Beacon Bar.  We had a good time.

And, now, we’re packing things up…unread novels, unread magazines and putting away unfulfilled trips.

This was kind of an experiment ….to see if we could ever move back here.

I’m conflicted.

The “Dream House in the Woods” can sometimes  be something you’re not expecting.  Where are your friends and local pubs “where everybody knows your name?”

It’s just another move in our lives.  Mariam will be retired and I need a hobby.  I was thinking about carving duck decoys….I’m serious.   Maybe I’ll write the Great American Novel. Maybe I won’t.

Maybe I won’t and just drift on my kayak.

Stay tuned.

The Great And Silent Feast

I felt the breeze…

I stumbled on a tree root when…

Finally, we reached the pond…

yardleaves

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 homeroom 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.

On October 7, Mariam and I with our friends took a walk on 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.

pineneedles

[Even the conifers lose their leaves (needles) in the autumn]

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.

And, I could think.

A gentle sense of melancholy overcame me…it’s that time of year that evokes death and endings and dormant life.

lichentree

[This once-living tree is now being consumed by dozens of organisms]

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.  I have seen more fungi this October that I can recall.  My copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Mushrooms was used more than the previous decade.  It is now well dog-eared.

fungusinyard

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 were breaking a once tall and stately beech or maple or oak into mere molecules.

mossylog

[A dead log feeds a number of organisms]

And, all this was done in total silence and would continue even under three feet of snow and ice and temperatures of -37 degrees.

mossyground

[The ground cover of moss and lichen]

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.

Everything goes somewhere.  “Matter cannot be created or destroyed…it simply changes form”.  I think that’s Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics…but I could be wrong.  I stopped being a science teacher a decade ago.  Most things return in the spring.  Some things take a longer time…but sooner or later it all comes around again.

The exception, I hope, is lunch duty.

 

Two Trees

2 trees

A man and woman have four children–two boys and two girls.  The same seed…the same egg.

One boy grows up, attends college and eventually becomes a doctor and later joins Doctors Without Borders.  His brother sits in a small cell at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY.  He did something unspeakable to an eleven year old girl.  He has tats that identify him as a member of a gang based in Albany.  Many of his friends sit in similar cells–in similar jails–in three different states.

One of girls grows up and after sampling life in an New England college decides to join a cloistered convent and eventually will take a vow of silence and chastity.  Her sister walks the streets of the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  Anyone can buy her love and affection for $50.  She has several dozen needle marks on her arms and thighs.

The same seed…the same egg.

Two trees started life in a forgotten corner of the Adirondack forest.  They are rooted only nine inches apart.  Perhaps both from the same white pine that dropped its seed-laden cone seven years ago.

Now, one tree has added three inches of new growth to its needles in the Spring of 2016.  The other tree, a brother?…a sister? has turned completely brown.  It will not be utilizing photosynthesis again, ever.  It is the only dead tree in this small part of the forest.

Why does one living entity flourish and the other, linked by a genetic code, lose the spark of life?

Didn’t the alluring Cinderella have several despicable sisters?  Jeffery Dahmer had a sibling.  Cain and Abel were brothers.

Nature or Nurture?

Or, is it just an inexplicable aspect of life in general?  A question that has no answer–a riddle that has no solution–a prayer that has gone unheard…

boyandgirlholdinghands

[Source: Google search]

 

583.74

This post is a puzzle for my readers who want a challenge or something to keep them busy if they have too much time on their hands.  I suppose that the former is what they want.  So, anyone out there who is up to the challenge?

Last week, or perhaps it was the week before…or maybe it was about a month ago, I happened to stop in at our most local pub, The Shamrock.  It’s about five miles away from our house so I wouldn’t exactly called it a “local”…but, up here in the North Country, “local” can mean someplace within a sixty mile radius.

This isn’t Manhattan.  Ok, we got that..

As I was sitting and chatting to the bartender of this, our local, (Mina is her name), we began to chat about a bit of paper that was pinned to the walled behind the bar…along with the signed dollar bills that were signed and tacked to the wall.  My guess is that there was al least $300. in inked notes..

Now, when we bought our house up here in 2001, this pub didn’t exist.  I finally stopped by the place and enjoyed a beer.

There was a small note (in a frame) behind the bar. On it was simply:

583.74

I asked the bartender, Mina, what that meant.  She suggested I guess.

As a geographer and a person who has some kind  of working knowledge of GPS, latitude and longitude and Mercator Projections polar centric maps and satellite imagery,  I told Mina not to tell me what the numbers meant.

She obliged and said it was up to me to figure out what that number meant. I thought and tried to find the significance of that number, I came up empty.

So, after years (and spending not a great deal of time thing about this number), I finally asked her what it meant.

She told me and it made perfect sense.

The name of the pub is the Shamrock.  Is that a hint?  If you think you know what that number means, offers your answers in my email or in a response here on this web blog.

If you’ve ever been in the Shamrock or know me, or know the answer already, then don’t be a spoiler.

Otherwise, it’s not much fun.

If you solve it, and you’re local, the round is on me.

In case you don’t have my email…it’s pegan7@roadrunner.com.

I hope to hear from you, and laugh silently at how wrong your guesses are.

 

Shot Out Of A Cannon/Driving Until The Wheels Fall Off And Burn

Cottonwoodflowers

[The first day of Spring]

Lately, I’ve felt like I, the r-pod, the red Ford, Mariam and life in general have been shot out of a cannon.  Our departure from the desert southwest happened so fast, I somehow missed the line that I could point out, photograph, and say: “Well, there goes the desert…we’re in the midwest now.”

Indeed, the world of this:

MojaveHighway

…changed into this before I could think of something to say:

Clovers

Yes, I missed that line that separates the two geographic anchors of my life.  My home in the North Country of New York State–and the engaging, terrifying and empty beauty of the arid lands.  I’ve said it before–The Empty Quarter.

So, I’m sitting in the r-pod, on the first day of Spring.  In two nights, I will see the fifth full moon rise–the fifth time I’ve looked eastward and waited for the big orange orb ascend.  I don’t think I’ll have time to write a killer blog on this fifth moon (we will be on the road) so I’ll just say that it was close to full the other night I took this:

NearFullMoon

In this way, with the setting sun at our backs, we crossed the Missouri River just after leaving Kansas City.  After a night in Columbia, Missouri, we finally caught sight of the Arch of St. Louis.  The Arch represents the Gateway to the West, but we were coming out of the west.  So, for us, it’s the Gateway to More Familiar Terrains–home.

We visited Union Station, once the largest train station in America.  When I was there in 1989, the interior was a bustling and crowded shopping mall.  Now, the stores were empty and yellow tape blocked the escalators and hallways.  I asked someone about what happened and was told that it was going through a renovation.  I hope so.  The interior is stunning.  There is a Doubletree Hotel located in the front portion of the terminal.  The grand hallway, that now serves as a spacious lounge and bar, was jaw-dropping in its beauty.  I saw stained glass:

StainedGlass

…a ceiling that had a fabulous light show every hour…

StationLight

I looked up at two statues, females that held lamps, high and proud…

UnionStationStatue

I wondered if her bronze arms ever tired of holding the lamps so majestically…

I wondered if my arms will cease feeling the grip of the steering wheel.  I wondered if I will sit on my back deck in a few weeks and be thankful for where I am and for what I’ve seen…or will I yearn for the Yucca and the Joshua tree?  Will the Adirondack trees push in on me?  Will I wonder what the heat of Death Valley will be like in June?  Will I swat the infamous Black Fly and wish for a scorpion instead?

Will I ever be satisfied standing still?

Part of me wants to turn around and drive back into the desert, face my worries, think my thoughts and sing:

“Tumbling Tumbleweeds…..”

 

A Silent Eulogy: Late But Heartfelt

B:WFlowerSteve

Is it possible that a eulogy can take forty-one years to deliver?

The dreaded answer is yes.  I know because I spoke that eulogy…silently, silently so that only I heard the words.  It was a rambling prayer over a heart-breaking death.  I knew the young man who had died.  In truth, I was with him when he passed away, away into the unknown world that we all dread…whether we admit it or not.

He is interred in the soil of his hometown in sunny and warm Louisiana.  His soul departed on a snowy trail, on a cold night in the mountains of the Adirondacks.

I’ve talked to him, about him and prayed for him for four decades.  Our conversations weren’t all one-sided.  I felt his presence.  I felt his answers.  I’ve felt his forgiving words when I find those occasional moments, when the moon is rising and the air is crisp and the snow is five inches deep…just like it was that night in November of 1974.

Once before, many years ago, I stood over his grave.  I remember that day.  It was unbearably hot in the southern sun.  I thought then of how I was so near him in such an opposition of environments…from when we last walked side by side.  Now, I’ve returned with time heavy in my arms and dried wildflowers of the North Country in my hands.  Now, the temperature is at a mid-point…from that night to this day.  It’s 55 degrees.  There are pine cones on the ground…not a flake of snow within five hundred miles.

Yes, I’ve talked to him and relived our friendship when I stop to recall memories, those sweet and terrible memories.  I’ve spoken to a few people about him, but I have never, until now, written a word about my friend.

I’ve waited too long and kept too many recollections lock away in my heart and brain.  I need to share these with you.

We met in a hallway at the college I attended in Louisiana, or perhaps we met at the Pizza Inn where we worked evenings to earn a few extra dollars.  I have never encountered a more curious individual.  He picked my brain for hours about what life in the North was like.  At the Pizza Inn, we were often left with the task of closing for the night.  But, we wouldn’t simply clean-up and lock-up.  No, after the lights were turned off, and before the ovens were shut down for the night, we would make a pizza, the likes of which was never seen on the menu.  We’d lock the front door and find a booth in the back dining area.  And there, by the light of a single candle (we didn’t want to attract the police who would be checking the locks on the doors of the businesses along the avenue), we would drink beer, eat pizza and talk for hours.  We’d argue.  We’d laugh. We discussed the philosophy of life.  We talked about women.  We talked about racism. (He was the farthest thing from a ‘redneck’ I ever encountered in my years in the 1960’s South.)  More than once, when we left for our cars, the eastern skies were getting light.

Time flew for us when we had important matters to ruminate about.

A few years later, after I graduated and moved back to New York State, we kept up our friendship through letters.  We had a chess game in progress for months, sending moves to each other on post cards.  I don’t remember whose turn it was when our game ended so abruptly.

He was curious about life outside of the South so he moved to Binghamton, where I was living.  He got a job.  I moved to Pennsylvania to begin a career of teaching.  He wanted to join me on a hiking trip to the Adirondacks over the Thanksgiving break of 1974.  I said yes.  I wish I hadn’t.

I will place this humble bouquet against the headstone.  My wife will stand at my side.

I will say a prayer for him to a God who I feel has been too quiet for too long.

My private prayer for the dead will start with his name.

I will say: “Hey, Steve.  It’s been a long time.  Sorry I’m so late.”

O, Southern sun, shine warmly here,

O, Southern winds, blow gently here,

Green sod above, lie light, lie light,

Good night , dear heart, good night, good night.

[This is not Steve’s epitaph, but it could and should be.  I found in on a gravestone of a nine-year old boy named Addison Foster, Jr. in the City Cemetery of Natchez, Mississippi]

HandAt Steve's grave

Forever I’ve Dreamt Of Sailing Away

BurlingtonSailBoat

One day, several decades ago, I sat down with a book by Captain Joshua Slocum.  It was titled “Sailing Alone Around the World”.  Capt. Slocum published the book in 1900–it was a bestseller–and it made him a Superstar of the Seas.  His boat was named Spray.  Nearly ten years later, Slocum disappeared aboard the Spray.  He was never seen in this world again.   I feel assured as I can that Joshua Slocum is sailing his way through the dark reaches of space and time, aboard his little boat, the Spray.

I finished the book in just a day or two and since then I’ve been fascinated by the sea and solo sailing.  Later I read an account of a man who was attempting a solo crossing of the Atlantic.  This was back in the days when such trips carried risks that made each voyage an item in the headlines of the world’s newspapers.  When I got to the end of his story and thus the end of his trip, the last pages described something he did that transfixed me with amazement.

He had departed from some former whaling port in New England, Gloucester maybe.  I can’t even remember the name of his boat.  But, I seem to remember that after he made a final navigational fix on his position–about a day from the west coast of Ireland, he did something that I totally understood.  While his wife and the press corps were waiting for him in Cork or Galway or wherever he was to dock–he took a long hard look around his world, the world that had been his home for several weeks.  He saw water, he saw the sky and he saw his boat.  And, he saw himself as a tiny speck in this vastness of the North Atlantic.

I would imagine he began to weep.

Yes, he loved and missed his wife.  Yes, he would garnish a ton of publicity from his trip.  But…

I truly believe he wept because he had become such a part of the elements of the sky and water that he couldn’t bear to lose it.  He supposedly took his sail down, and delayed his arrival by one day.  One more day when his whole world–his whole existence–could still be his alone.

As I write this, I cannot remember his name, any book he may have written or any record he may have set.  I sometimes wonder if I had made the whole story up in my own dreams.  I can’t provide any evidence this really actually happened.

I hope it did.

I’ve aways wanted to make a solo crossing of the Atlantic.  Several problems stood in my way, however.  The first and most important issue was the fact that I simply have no idea how to sail–anything.  I put a sheet up on a canoe on the Susquehanna River once when I was a kid, but that was all the sailing I had ever done.   So, I went out and bought a book on how to sail.  I never finished it because I had no real access to a really large body of water not to mention a sailboat.

I lived in New York City where one can take lessons down at a sailing school near Battery Park.  I never did.  Now, I live about forty-five minutes from Lake Champlain.  There are sailing schools in Burlington and probably Plattsburgh.  I always find something else to do.

Maybe I’m afraid of facing those elements that seem to draw so many men and women to the sea.  In truth, I don’t even like to swim.  The water is always too cold in the Adirondack lakes.  I can’t imagine the chill of the Labrador Current.

But, I’m a very restless soul.  Perhaps I have a bit of Romany (Gypsy) blood in my veins?  Perhaps, from my bedroom near the railroad in Owego, New York, I heard too many train whistles blowing and heard too many clickety-clacks of the steel wheels on the rail joints when I was a child.

So, I’ve learned to put my sailing solo dream on that dreaded shelf alongside all the other dreams I have grown to accept will never be fulfilled.  I lost the golden ball that I was born with.  I will never climb the Matterhorn, stand in the hard frozen air of Antarctica, hike the Pacific Crest Trail–or sleep with the Prom Queen.  I’ll not be given the Nobel Prize for Literature.  I will never speak at the 92nd St. Y in Manhattan.

Deep inside, I believe that I can rediscover that golden ball that made my childhood so full of magic.  The little ball exists somewhere–maybe inside me or out there alongside the less-driven roads.  I will drive the highways of Virginia and watch the Kudzu creep up the trees and engulf them.  I will pass plantations in the Deep South, pass over the brown water of the Mississippi River and I will squint into the late afternoon sun in West Texas.  But I know that somewhere, sometime, the Dark Irish in me will rise and I will begin to see shadowy clouds building on the horizon.

I’m channeling my wanderlust right now by pulling a small RV behind our Ford and heading to Florida for two months.  Our sextant is a GPS we call “Moxie”.  Our Gulf Stream will be I-95 (some of the way).  I will not be returning to the cold and ice until the Springtime arrives at Rainbow Lake, New York–sometime in April.

My boat is an r-Pod.  My alone-ness is replaced by my wife, Mariam, whose company is delightful and engaging.

LeavingRainbow

I won’t be talking to the sea or the stars–hearing nothing but wind, waves and my own voice.  Oh, I will park our r-Pod in the desert sometime in February and stare at the countless galaxies–count the shooting stars–and listen to a coyote or a song on the wind sung by the wandering ghost of a long-dead cowboy.  But I won’t be alone.

I once romanticized that kind of isolation and I still seek it, to a point.  But, in truth, there’s something about the vacuum of loneliness that frightens me very much.

I’m afraid of the dark–but that’s for another blog.