Lancelot, The Spotless Starling And The Blogger

 

[Spotless Starling. Source: Google search.]

I’m perched on a chimney near the Ashfield House B&B with my friend, Tristram. We’re Spotless Starlings. You can find us on page 303 of Collins Pocket Guide to Birds of Britain and Europe. You might not find us in Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds of  America, but we’re in the British edition.

My name is Lancelot. Some other Starlings think my friend and I are named for two of the Knights of the Roundtable, but that’s nonsense. The whole King Arthur thing is vague and not really provable, historically speaking. But, this Blogger that I’ve been watching…he believes. He’s been to the Glastonbury Tor and desperately wants to believe that Arthur is asleep, deep inside the Tor, awaiting the time when England will need him once again.

But, I digress.

Lance, I saw you keeping an eye on the American Blogger while he sat on his little balcony, sipping wine and eating cheese with his wife. What’s the deal?

Well, Tristram, as far as I can make out, he is a bit sore of foot and hurt in the lower back. And don’t even mention the pollen. It’s awful this year here in the Yorkshire Dales. He and his wife both sneeze enough to chase away the Morning Doves.

[Map is by Contour Designs Gloucester. Copyright Ordinance Survey, 2016]

So, Lance, has he gotten out into this awesome countryside yet?

Oh, yes indeed. Come let’s take to the wing and I’ll show you where I’ve spotted them. The first hike was short and hesitant. They walked between the stone walls to the River Wharfe and crossed the footbridge at Linton Falls. He wanted to visit the small country church at the end of the road.

How sentimental.

Yes, Tristram, he is a very melancholy person. Old mossy graveyards attract him. My theory is that he spends too much time thinking of his own mortality…but, hey, I only have a bird brain.

The next day they hiked down to the river and along a path that went beside some of those stone walls that everybody talks about. As I said, he was sore of back and his right foot was causing him grief. He didn’t feel he was going to make the entire 4.5 miles as described in the Short Walks in the Yorkshire Dales so he left his OS map and guide back in his room.

So, Lance, did he make it?

Funny thing happened. The two of them came upon a couple from Australia. They had a map but were unsure if they were going in the right direction. The Blogger once taught Geography so he knew maps. Then they met an older couple coming from the opposite direction.

Oh, don’t go up that way, the woman said. Me husband slipped and slid downhill on his bum. It’s like bloody mountaineeeering.

Soon the four of them, after walking up the steep bit, found themselves in an open and pleasant woods. The Blogger knew then, I could feel it from soaring over their heads, that he wasn’t going to retrace his steps. So, on they went.

Soon they came out of the woods. I could see them again. The wife seemed to find the wettest place to cross two pastures. And, by wet, I mean with recent cow pies.

Before I could find my favorite chimney, they were back in the center of Grassington and sitting at a pub. The couple from Australia joined them. They felt satisfied with completing 3.5 miles. I have good eyesight…the old guy took something called Alleve. It seemed to help.

But, somehow, Tristram, I could read his mind as he tried to photograph me. (I didn’t let it happen.) The old guy with the gray hair, gray beard and sore back wanted to hike again. He wanted to see Coniston Cold, East Marton, Sharp Haw, Winterburn, Ewe Moor, Captain Moor and Old Cote Mill Top.

But he never got there. They left two days later.

So, Lance, where are they now?

How could I know, Tristram? My range isn’t that far. Look it up in the pocket guide. But, I did hear them say one thing said as they were loading their car: the old guy said I wonder how Lichfield will be. Mariam, he said, do you think they will have Starlings waking us up in the morning?

No, it’s a Cathedral City, silly. They only have doves…doves of peace in places like that.

And they did.

 

 

 

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A Most Pecular Tree

MonkeyPuzzleTree

I stood just outside the mossy rock wall of the churchyard.  We were in a tiny English village with a name I would have to look up in my notebook.  I was making it a point to stop and look inside these old Saxon and Norman churches whenever we passed one (and where there was room to pull the rent car safely off the narrow road).

I stood and looked at the strange tree that grew many feet above my head.  I inched closer, careful to not brush against the nettles that, with a touch that lasted a nano-second, would punish your hand for the rest of the day.  It looked like a conifer with its oddly shaped needles.  Yet, there was something…

After snapping a picture, I continued to move around in the churchyard in search of unusual tombstones, interesting names, the best angle for a photo and heartfelt epitaphs that could barely be read under ages of lichen and moss.  I kept looking back at the tree.

Then I remembered.

I was shown this strange plant in 1975, on my first trip to England.  I was with a friend and he pointed out this awesome tree.

“Wager you don’t have many of these in the States,” he said.

“You win, Malcolm.  I’ve never seen anything like this before,” I replied.

“It’s a Monkey Puzzle tree,” he said.  “You don’t see many of them around.”

A Monkey Puzzle tree.  What an interesting name, I thought.

Over the years, I forgot about this strange tree that is native to Chile (it’s the National Tree of Chile).  Just a few weeks ago, I saw another one.  And now, I’m seeing my third.  I googled the tree and found that its population is declining.  It’s on the Endangered Species List of the IUCN (whatever that is).

Then little bits of my memory fed me snippets of the tree being mentioned in popular culture.  One of my favorite movies is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.  Mrs. Muir had a Monkey Puzzle tree cut down and replaced by roses.  This made the spirit of the sea-captain quite angry…he had planted the tree years earlier (when he was alive) by his own hands.

Wikipedia mentions a novel Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer.  The female character, Emily, manages to climb the tree.  This is no small feat, since the tree is called “Monkey’s Despair” in France.  It’s not easy to climb.  Emily learns that a young boy who once lived in her house had climbed the tree…but was too afraid to climb down.  He later died in WWI.

I get a certain odd and creepy feeling when I stand and gaze at this tree.  Strangely, I often find them near graveyards.

They’ve been called “Living Fossils” because of the age of the species.

I found one an hour ago on eBay.  Perhaps I will buy one and have the only Monkey Puzzle in the Adirondacks (most likely).

But, then again, I don’t think I will.  I might be tempted to climb it.  I might be afraid to climb back down.  I might discover what it was that drove the monkeys to despair while they pawed their way through the odd and spooky branches.

1024px-Araucaria_araucana-branch

Reflections in a Sad Eye

NightPub

The last bus stopped running an hour ago.  The publican has rung the bell in the nearby pub, calling out “Time gentlemen, please.” The night‘s action is most definitely over out here in the ‘burbs of London. The streets may be quiet and the locals are at home…but it’s still light out!

It’s only a bit after 10:00 pm.  In truth, the nearest pub will be remain open until midnight so it’s not entirely an empty neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the late flights from Capetown, Rio, New York and Paris are approaching touchdown…their wheels are lowered and they are slowly approaching the runway about 255 feet above my head.

Yes, my head that has been hit with a massive case of hay fever or some sort of allergy since I walked through customs a few hours.  I can’t use my handkerchief any more; it needs to hang out to dry.  I’m down to using a roll of toilet paper to stifle my sneezes.  Even the woman tending bar at the pub noticed my agony and offered her own personal pills she claimed worked for her hay fever.

I tend not to take pills from people I never me before.

The flight from Shannon was only about an hour.  The “food” was a box of crackers, some cheese, a small chocolate bar, some vegetable pate, small can of tonic, and a glass of water.  All for €7.50.  Aer Lingus must be in financial trouble.

We’re in the very B&B we used in 2012. It was cheap, near the airport and provided a free shuttle to the terminals.

I doubt we’ll travel this cheap again.

The room’s light was dingy, quite brothel-like.  There was no shower curtain and only one towel each.

I’m writing this with my iMac Air and using it like it’s supposed to be used…on my lap.  But I have a bad back and I’m leaning against a pillow that is, if I’m lucky, two inches thick.

I’m a hugger.  I don’t know, maybe my mother took my teddy away too soon, but I need something to wrap my arms around.  I’m going to be forced to use my neck cushion.  The kind of thing that looks good in the W.H. Smith store but is difficult to pack…like a football.  People  sleep with them on planes and trains.  Mine’s blue in case you’re interested.

I’m not very happy right now.

This was meant to be a reflection of a wonderful trip.  But, as usual with me, it’s bittersweet.

We said good-bye to Brian on Sunday.  Ireland seemed to be a little emptier without his companionship, wit, charm and sense of amazement at what he saw and what we shared.  I’m quite proud of myself for planning a trip that included a medieval banquet, being on his own in a few pubs in Cashel, and climbing to the battlements of our ancestral castle in County Tipperary.

Thinking back on the entire trip, I can recall some awesome sights and some frustrating moments.  I’ve looked down haunted wells where a violated youth was thrown.  I’ve seen the withered hand of a saint who founded the Abbey that later became Ely Cathedral.  We’ve rubbed fingers with mummies in a crypt in Dublin, threw a pence into the Liffey from Ha’Penny Bridge.

Up in County Sligo, at a cemetery in Enniscrone, I stood at the grave of Tom and Kate Egan who once served me tea from water that had been boiling all day over a peat fire.

That was over thirty years ago.

I’ve looked out over the fields my people plowed and had their cattle graze for decades.

Stone walls don’t change much in human life times. The hedges grow for centuries. The rains fall and the people keep smiling.

In England, our friends edge toward retirement and think thoughts about where it would be a nice place to live.

To me, I couldn’t think of any place more in tune with the beats of my heart and yearnings of my soul than England or the west of Ireland.

Being of Irish background, I thought of what it would be like to live there.  My body is pulled two ways.  My blood says to go back to the soil that first made you who you are…melancholy and love of the written word are my genetic markers.

But, I’m happiest when I’m walking.  And, there is no place with footpaths that lead to all my dreamscapes than England.

If you drive six miles through Wiltshire, Somerset or Dorset and not pass a dozen “public footpath” signs, then you have a bad case of tunnel vision.

My adventure is over and I’m a sadder man because of it.  In the coming weeks, I will sit and tell funny stories of our trip, but deep within me, I’ll long for the footpath.  I’ll long for the place when the biggest decision I need to make is which direction to walk.

Yes, the Adirondacks have hundreds of miles of trails and I live in the center of it all, but somehow it lacks the ancient history and mythic lore that stirs my soul as I stand inside a stone circle that was constructed before the Great Pyramids.

I am cursed with restlessness.

But the posts will go on. I’ve not shown you things or told you stories of many things.  Some will keep you awake at night. Some will make you smile and some will make you cry.

If I can do all these things…I’ve succeeded in what a writer most wants.  Getting people to read.

Right now? I’m going to shut the dingy overhead light off and switch on my Barnes & Nobel reading lamp.  I’m working my way through Dickens at the moment.

Its title is very appropriate:

“Great Expectations”.

GardenHeathrow

 

[This post is written in England but it will be posted from Penn Station when we get back. This hotel wants £4.00 for Wi-Fi. I have never paid for that service before and I’m not going to start now.]

 

Dance Like A Wave Of The Sea

IrishCliffs

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree…

–W. B. Yeats

Three decades have passed since I last walked the streets of Dublin, Galway and Sligo.  A great many things have changed in those years.  And, a great many haven’t.  The smell of peat-fires in Dublin on a December night, the blasts of wind from the North Atlantic that sting your face when you look out to the west from Donegal and the foamy black pint of Guiness…these things never change.

I will be in good company.  My wife and my son will be on their first visit.  Where does one begin to plan such a trip?  What to see?  What to gaze upon?

We shall avoid the touristy places like Blarney Castle.  But, we will stand above the sea on the Cliffs of Mohair and look up at the keep that is the Egan ancestral castle..Castle Redwood.  It was once said to be haunted.  I, myself, heard Michael Egan (who restored the structure) tell of being awakened by something dark that was choking him.  He called in the local priest the next day.  He slept soundly ever since.

redwoodweb2a

[Castle Redwood, Headquarters for the Egan Clan]

We will stand amid the ruins of Cashel and contemplate the glories of the past.  We will drink alongside unshaven farmers in pubs with names like Egan’s, O’Malley’s and Fitzgibbon’s.

Egan PUB

As I sit on the right in the driver’s seat and drive on the left, we’ll wait for the herd of sheep as they muddle pass us on a narrow lane.

IrishCasteNearCashel

[Near Cashel]

My wife and I will walk up Grafton Street (my son won’t join us until we reach Shannon Airport) and perhaps see a woman with black hair…and she will weave a snare…that someday, I might rue.

My wife and I may sit at the 19th hole and wait for my son to do 9 holes with an old duffer in tweeds.

All this, and more will happen.  And I will, yes I will, yes…sit them both on a stone wall under bare Ben Bulben’s Head, at the edge of the grave of the greatest of Irish poets, William B. Yeats, and read to them from the dark marble of his headstone:

Cast a cold eye

on life, on death.

Horseman, pass by!

dad ireland  copy

[To my knowledge, this was my father on his last visit to Ireland]

When we come at the end of time

To Peter sitting in state,

He will smile on the three old spirits, 

But call me first through the gate;

For the good are always the merry,

Save by an evil chance,

And the merry love the fiddle

And the merry love to dance:

And when the folk there spy me,

They will all come up to me,

With ‘Here is the fiddler of Dooney!’

And dance like a wave of the sea.

–W.B.Yeats

Watch for my blogs from across the sea.

Beaver Lodge Available: No Cable Necessary

 BeaverDish

[You have to look close for the small blue-gray dish. Trust me, it’s there.]

Beavers, as everyone who has studied their natural history can attest, are amazing in a variety of ways.  The first thing that comes to mind is that they are considered “Natures Engineers” because they have the instinct to secure a site, chew down dozens of trees and proceed to construct a clever and efficient dam.  But, it doesn’t stop with the dam.  The water that is impounded behind said dam makes a small pond or bog.

This is where things get interesting.

Somewhere near the middle of the pond, the beaver eagerly builds a “lodge” that is made of mud, twigs and assorted detritus from the surrounding area.  From a distance, this “lodge” appears to be a mound of…well, twigs, mud and assorted detritus.

Here’s yet another feat of engineering that the beaver adds to this already interesting complex of well-engineered structures: The entrance to the “lodge” is below water level but most of the interior is above water level.  I mean they aren’t fish.  They are mammals so they need to breathe air.

Every Natural History Museum in North America has a fake beaver “lodge” inside a giant plexiglass tank and is displayed in cross-section so that we can see the cozy little chambers and cute living areas.

How safe and warm and secure the little beaver family looks (at least the stuffed ones in the museums) as they live and play in their dry “lodge”.

Leave it to the beaver to have the genetic wiring to be able to build these units.  Believe me, I’ve seen plenty of these places in real life, and I can attest to the same style, generally speaking, of these beaver dwellings.

If you watch Animal Planet or any National Geographic special on “amazing animals”, you will also see footage of the beavers at play or just sleeping the cold days away in their middle-of-the-pond home.

So, as I was driving along a forested road north of Lyon Mountain, NY, I was not at all surprised to see a beaver “lodge” complete with a satellite dish mounted on the highest point.

Was I incredulous?  Not at all.  As I’ve said, beavers are something close to “genius” level…in their mammalian world.  Why not have a dish?

After all, what human is going to slog through neck-deep muck to place a dish where it allows them to watch 3,000 TV channels?  Does anyone in the northern Adirondacks really care about Rugby results from Paraguay?  Or, God forbid, Cricket results from Surrey, England?

Have you ever watched a four-day Cricket match from Sussex?  You could build three “lodges” before anyone scores a run.

Forever and a Day

 RomanticLove

Absolutely nothing lasts forever.

Nothing lasts forever.

There may be some things that last forever.

One thing lasts forever.

You’re waiting for me in the cafe.  The place beside the old church and next to the cemetery.  The only place in the city where I can sit next to the fire and feel warm…on a night like this.  We have so much to talk about.  It’s been so many years since we’ve had a chance to sit and think of the days gone by.

You’re waiting in the cafe–I just can’t remember how to get there.

I was very young and you had an uncanny ability to determine when my diaper would be wet.  You would change it for me.  I couldn’t talk to you.  You just knew when it was time.  You held my hand when I could barely walk.  I never said a word.  You cooked my food for a thousand dinners.  You sent me off to First Grade with a clean, freshly ironed hanky in my pocket.  No matter what my grades were, you dutifully signed my report card.  On those many nights when I couldn’t sleep, too many times for a child to fear closing his eyes, you would allow me to sit with you and we would eat crackers with chives and cheese.  The black and white television blinking away in the dark living room.

You were in third grade when I looked over at you–two rows away–and watched while you tried to open an ink bottle.  You pressed it hard against your green school shift.  You’re bangs fell away from your forehead.  Years later, you allowed me my first kiss.  Still later you wore my corsage on your taffeta prom dress.  Then you would find someone else and you broke my fragile teenage heart.

I was curious about the color of your hair beneath your stiff white habit.  Your black rosary hung from your black belt around your black dress–your habit.  You taught us to be kind.  You taught us to feel guilty.  And once, you told me: “Don’t ever be afraid to say no.”  It’s taken me many years to really understand what you meant.

I lit your cigarettes.  I bought you drinks.  I slept in your bed.  We made love under three quilts when the winter was cold and dark.  We sweated on the sheets in August when it was bright afternoon and hot.

I kissed you only once.  I kissed you many times.  I kissed you in my daydreams when you were thirty feet away on the Boardwalk.  Your hair was blonde, then black and red and brown and straight and wavy.  Your eyes were blue, gray, brown, hazel and green.  You were older.  Then you were younger.

You walked down the aisle of a church to meet me at the altar.  We were happy, sad, angry, contented, miserable, joyful and jealous.

We came and went through each others lives.  My hair slowly turned from brown to white.  Your’s from jet black to salt and pepper.  You sang to me.  I couldn’t carry a tune.  We sipped ale in England and wine in France.  We walked on muddy glacier ice in Alaska.  You watched me watching the topless twenty-somethings on a beach in Jamaica.  You never missed a trick.

You said you loved me when I didn’t think I would ever be loved again.  You saved my life, not with a toss of a rope but with a phone call.

You’re waiting in the cafe.  I’m trying to hurry.  I can hardly walk.  When we sit next to each other you will somehow know if I have wet my trousers again.

Is this a hallway or a street in Paris?  I can’t remember.

But, all those memories are so sharp and clear, like everything happened yesterday, or this morning.

You will still be waiting for me, won’t you?  I remember what I said so many, many years ago:

“Nothing lasts forever.”

I was wrong.  Love lasts forever.  We love each other, don’t we?  Still?

Love last forever.  Forever and a day.

CoupleInArmsSitting

 

 

 

 

The Child and the Sea

Image

Children are attracted to the sea.  Perhaps it’s the thundering waves, or the endless ways that sand can be used.  The waves are constant, soothing and steady, like a lullaby.  The castles that can be built in the sand can be as humble or regal as the wildest imagination.

Perhaps, the attraction is in the depths of the sea–which doesn’t threaten when one stands on a beach.  But, from the deck of a ship, when down you gaze into the oily green waters, the journey to the sea floor is certainly long and full of mystery.  And, what creatures dwell in those Stygian depths?

Only Neptune can say.

But, from the sandy shore, those frightful beasts really pose no threat.  The threat is the water itself.  In most places, the tides rise twice a day–and with their recession, they take the flotsam and jetsam back to the open water.

A little girl plays quietly on a tiny sandbar.  She watches the lapping water wash away the prints of her bare feet.  She is dressed in green satin.  She is dressed like Guinevere waiting for Arthur on the shores of Avalon, dressed like Heloise on the shore of endless love for Abelard.  She is dressed like the princess she wants to be.

“Careful, Bridget!” calls her mother from her chair beside the sea wall.

“I’m fine, Mums”, replies the girl, Bridget.

This is the beach of Teignmouth on the Devonshire coast.  It is a tiny resort town, shadowed by nearby Torquay.  It is dwarfed by Brighton, Bournemouth and Southampton, seaside towns built for the pale British flesh and providing a sun-filled (or cloudy and misty) holiday–the English Riviera.

The little girl slowly walks in ever decreasing circles, until the incoming tide is splashing against her ankles.

“Time to come in”, says Mums.

~~~

Twenty years later, a woman named Bridget sits with her husband against the sea wall in Teignmouth.  They sip from a bottle of Riesling. They face away from each other at a slight angle–unlike the days just after they were married.

“We should move inland,” says the husband.  “I’ve a job offer in Bath.  I’m beginning to hate the sea.  Why do we always have to live by the sea?”

“Should we try for another?” says Bridget.  “Just once more?”

“No.  I want to leave.”

“I’m waiting.”

“She’s gone, Brid.”

“No, the sea will return her.  The sea always will.”

She spoke, faintly and without conviction as she gazed out at a tiny sand bar, watching the water wash away tiny foot prints.