Adirondack Angst

[After the shovel and before the car door incident.  Photo is mine.]

Once upon a time not so very long ago, there was a man who lived in a house, with his faithful and patient wife, in the Great Wilderness known as the Adirondack Mountains.  These mountains are located in the far reaches of upstate New York.

This man was sore of back and gray of hair.  He had recently spent five weeks in the high desert of California.  He went there looking for solitude and warmth, but instead he found himself surround by neighbors with strange cars and small barking Chihuahuas.  He also wore fleece nearly every day, until it was time to leave…of course.

The man’s eyes stung from the smoke of distant fires and he went through five and a half boxes of tissues, so frightful were his allergies.

Upon returning to his home in the North Country, there was a January thaw that put his limbs at risk with the ice and constant dripping of masses of snow that had recently befallen the countryside.  Then two days ago, his weather app on his iPhone bespoke of a new storm that promised a foot of snow followed by thumb-numbing cold.

When this man awoke this morning, he put off looking out of the bedroom window for fear of what he would behold.  But, he also had another app on his iPhone that told him how much daylight was left in the day.  He checked the temperature.  It was 4 F.  He saw that 75% of the day had passed.  He decided he should get out of bed and shovel a path to the car and clean the snow from the car and try to start the car.

The first two tasks were accomplished with sweat, frost on his mustache and a lower back that had pleaded with him to stop the punishment.

Now to start the car.  But, alas, he found all four doors frozen shut.  Not to worry, he thought.  I have a can of de-icer in the garage.  He pushed the button and the garage door creaked open.  He found the de-icer and pushed the button to close the door.  It didn’t move.  He tried to spray the little button but nothing but a faint hiss came from the spray hole. He shook the can and determined it was full, but not a molecule of de-icer was to be found.

[The frozen car. Photo is unfortunately mine.]

He returned to the house with the spray can, but he was broken of heart and frustration welled up in his soul like a backed-up toilet.

Why have the gods of the North Country forsaken him?  Why did he feel as alone as a Democrat in Mississippi or a Quaker at a Microsoft convention?

Why didn’t he stay in California and buy more tissue boxes?  What had he done in this life or any other life to deserve such anguish?

He checked the weather app on his iPhone and saw that the forecast predicted a low of -22 F for the overnight hours.

The old man poured a cold beer and sat waiting for the bathtub to fill.  He had added about two cups of blue crystals that promised muscle relaxation.  (It never worked before, but tonight would be different).

But this man had a plan.  He would build a fire in the downstairs stove and he and his wife would have a dinner of hot soup.

All will be well tomorrow, he thought.  After all, tomorrow is another day.

He sipped his beer and considered how existentially alone one is in the Universe.  Or, at least in the North Country.

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Joshua Tree Diary: Christmas in the Desert

[Desert view outside Joshua Tree. Photo is mine.]

This is where it all began, right?  I don’t mean California…I mean the desert.

The Nativity story is set in the desert; much like the one I see from my bedroom window.  Very much like it, except that desert, with the Star, is half a world away.

Two years ago, we celebrated this season in Fort Myers, Florida.  There, the temperatures were in the low 90’s.  I remember wearing shorts and sitting outside my favorite Java cafe, sipping an iced coffee.  I had to position myself at an outdoor table so I could catch the AC’d air rolling out of the brand name outlets.  The palm trees were wrapped in holiday lights, Bing Crosby was singing on the PA system, shoppers were hurrying into Bass, or Tommy…but the feel of the season wasn’t inside me.  Red and green lights and Bing didn’t fulfill the images on Christmas cards.

Now, this year, we are enjoying the high desert of Joshua Tree, 29 Palms, Yucca Valley and the Mojave Desert.  And, it’s chilly if not downright cold.  Yet I know there’ll be no white Christmas here this year.

It’s hard to imagine experiencing the Yule without even the probability of several inches of white powder.  That’s because I was raised in Upstate New York, where snow was mostly guaranteed.  I built snow-people, skated with my childhood friends and tobogganed the longest slopes I could find.  I studied the crystals of the flakes when I caught one on my mitten.  I believe it’s true that no two snowflakes are alike.

But deserts are alike in many ways.  Strange and exotic plants, sand, crying coyotes and the limitless sky…filled with stars and a crescent moon.

Ironically, though, it’s here, in the California desert, that I can feel the true sense of the Nativity story.  When you’re raised with religious images of Joseph and Mary traveling across the desert, it’s hard to meld that into a backyard in New York, twelve inches of snow and a snow person.  I’ve never traveled to the deserts of the Middle East so I can’t speak to the winters there, but I can’t believe that the winter in the Holy Land is much different than it is here.

True, they probably don’t have storefronts like these:

[Souvenir shop. Photo is mine.]

Or,

[Storefront lights in Joshua Tree.  Photo is mine.]

But, maybe they do.

I can imagine the solitude, the expansive star-filled sky…and the silent peace that fills those scenes we were raised with, in the pages of the Bible.

About an hour from where I write this, a raging fires is destroying hundreds of thousands of acres near Santa Barbara.  Peoples lives will be ruined.  No holiday cheer for them.

No fires will come to the desert.  There’s nothing much to burn.  It’s vacant and austere backed up by isolation and loneliness.  That’s the way deserts are.  Places to get lost and places to stand and contemplate the ways of the world and to confront the Great Empty.  That’s when you find that the Empty is not only a physical description of a desert…but also of your own mind.  The Desert Fathers of the Old Testament sought these places out.  The three great religions of the West were founded in the sands.

How different the high desert is.  There is, outside my window, all of the above (along with our rented Toyota), but there is something missing.  Beyond our sandy yard, beyond the Welcome to Joshua Tree sign, beyond the glow of Palm Springs and Los Angeles…something is dreadfully missing.

The peace.  Where is the peace and love that the whole Nativity narrative implies?

It’s just not there.

[Note to my readers: The next post is very special to me.  Please take time to read and comment on it.]

 

 

 

Holiday Time In Fort Myers/Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?*

“I don’t know Doc, I just seem a little disoriented lately.  Maybe it’s the time of year?  Maybe I should stay away from the egg nog…”

–Notation in the files of Dr. Hugh Roebottom, Psychiatrist, on the recent session with Patrick Egan.

wreath

It’s a pretty Christmas wreath.  I’m looking a one of the prettiest plastic Christmas wreaths I’ve ever seen.  I snap a photo of it to include in my “How I Spent The Winter” slideshow on my website.  There is an iced coffee in my free hand.  The condensation from the plastic cup of iced coffee has covered my iPhone with drops of water.  It’s not easy taking pictures with an iPhone and a dripping plastic cup at the same time.

I turn around and snap another photo.

mall lot

The PA system at the Outlet Mall is playing “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”.  I’m supposed to be seeing snow on the ground and happy shoppers with bundled children walking through the falling flakes.  Where are bundled children, the red scarves, the woolen caps and the bright blue mittens?  Where do the children make “snow angels”?

kidatoutletmall

It’s not happening.

Then I remember.  I’m not in my hometown of Owego, NY, or shopping in Binghamton in a snow storm.  I even remember that I’m not a child anymore.  I’m a senior citizen.  Here, I’m surrounded by senior citizens, and golf carts and adult tricycles.  No, I’m in Fort Myers, FL trying to escape the cold and snow.  Thanksgiving is next week.  Soon it will be December.  Soon, it will be Christmastime.

I go up the steps to the boardwalk at the Outlet Mall to think things over.  This is a little surreal to me–being here this time of year.  Even just being in Florida, for me, is a bit out-of-character.  I have Celtic blood in my veins.  It’s thick and doesn’t do well in sub-tropical climates.

Sipping on my iced coffee gives me a chance to digest the last seventeen days since we parked and unhooked our r-Pod. In the shopping centers I’ve seen Salvation Army Santas in teal colored shorts and Hawaiian shirts ringing the little hand-bell.  At least they have a red fleece Santa cap on their heads.  (They must be sweating under that cap.)

This place called Florida, this place where the Bush/Gore drama played out years ago, this place where Disney and Spanish culture collide like a bad I-95 accident, is a study in contrasts.  There is profound beauty in the Mangrove swamps and mind-bending varieties of shells on Sanibel Island.  The mosquitoes bite and the sunsets amaze.  The ants crawl on the cement and the storks take wing alongside the herons and egrets.

shorebirds

At the same time, the RV resorts and hotels and private marinas have taken the rawness out of the landscape.  I did a Google search on local beaches–I found a list under the link of au natural.  Thinking this was a place where I could walk naked, without shame, along the shore, communing with nature like Adam.  I checked one particular beach on Sanibel.

“Are you joking?” said the guy who was tying up the trash from a can in the parking lot.

I found that au natural basically meant that attendants didn’t pick up the litter and the driftwood stayed where the falling tide left it.

Yes, it’s a different world here for a small town Yank like me.  I’m going to miss the bleak grey skies of Thanksgiving and the snow of Christmas.  Most of my friends from high school are retired now and many have moved to the Carolina’s or here, to Florida.  I can’t speak for them, but I suspect that leaving behind the snows of yesterday with all the attendant activities, was a little hard.  Maybe not.

I remember being in New York City years ago.  They had just finished filming a scene from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York on 5th Ave. and 59th street.  The set was made to look like Christmas in New York, and the Hollywood magic worked.  When I saw the film later, I was totally convinced Macaulay Culkin was indeed in the city in the heart of winter.  In truth, the scene was filmed in July or August.  An entire corner of Central Park and the plaza in front of the Plaza Hotel was covered in fake snow.

On my drive back from the Outlet Mall to our RV resort, I turn on the clearest FM station I can find.  I expect something, some song, that speaks to me in mid-November.  Instead, I hear the song: “Have You Left The One You Left Me For?”, it was quickly followed by “I’m Old Enough To Know Better But Young Enough Not To Care.”

They were kind of catchy.

There will be no family gathering for dinner next Thursday.  There will be no Christmas parties for us.  We are going to exchange presents, but there will be no tree to decorate.  It’s hard to hang lights on a palm tree.

New Year’s Eve?  No noise makers or funny hats or those things you blow into and they unravel.  (I never knew what they were called).  We’ll be going to bed early with everything packed and road-ready for our departure from Siesta Bay Resort on New Year’s Day.

On Christmas Eve, when I wrap the gift I already bought for Mariam, I will be singing a song inside my head–to myself–to the memories of my childhood.  I’ll probably have a CD in our player of Bing Crosby holiday music, but it’s the music in my head that I’ll be listening to.

I don’t know about the PA system at the Outlet Mall, but I’ll be quietly singing: I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas

palm sunset

Happy Thanksgiving!

[* “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”]

 

 

 

 

 

 

When A Leaf Dances A Snowflake Will Soon Fall

Leaf1

I’m sitting on the front deck of our house which sits on a small rise above Rainbow Lake.  It’s late September in the North Country of New York State.  The trees are oddly out-of-tune with the season.  Some are brown, dead and waiting to drop to the ground.  Some are just hinting at the blast of hues they will splash your color receptors with–in a few short weeks.  And, some trees have ignored the short daylight and the 41 degree evening temperatures.  They are holding their chlorophyll until some command from the Horai and, they too will reveal their true colors.

I’m sitting on the front deck, breathing through my mouth and trying not to cough.  I am just getting over a mild case of pneumonia that I seemed to have picked up while traveling to my high school reunion.  My chest is feeling clearer and my temperature is roughly normal.  I’m sitting here wearing a fleece vest–but that’s nothing new.  I just took it off three months ago after wearing it pretty much since this time last year.

But I’m not doing nothing.  I’m watching a leaf dance.

It’s movement caught the corner of my eye as I took out a bag of recyclables.  A tiny maple leaf, part brown, part red and patched with black is caught at the end of a long strand of spider web that reaches from the roof to within a few inches of the floor boards.  Don’t even try to see the gossamer thread, its invisible as far as I’m concerned.  For me, the leaf is dancing its gentle pirouettes on the air.

That’s why I’m sitting on my front deck.  I’d be napping if I had not seen the leaf and I would be missing this special private recital.

Just now, I hear a skein of Canadian Geese flying westward.  Their honking has interrupted my silent concert.  It has led me to think of the passing summer–and the approach of the cruel and harsh months of ice and cold.

Winter usually begins without warning.  In the Adirondacks, it could come on the next cloud–it all depends on your elevation.  Here, beside the lake, it comes with seeing the first snowflake.  Usually heavy with moisture, the first flakes are soft, pure and slow to reach the ground.  Unless you find pleasure in winter sport, it’s a rough road until the Big Melt.

But, soon, if a strong wind doesn’t take my leaf away, a snowflake or two will collide with the leaf and adhere to its surface.  Then another will join–and then another.  The weight will cause my leaf to break its attachment to the thread and fall to the deck.  It’ll get swept away by new winds and then rot into the soil, under inches of snow, in our yard.

I have to go inside for a box of tissues now.  I wonder if the leaf will wait for me?

I doubt it.  The leaf owes me nothing.

Leaf2

Cooks of the North (A True Story of Survival)

If you’re traveling in the north country fair

where the winds hit heavy on the borderline…

–Bob Dylan “Girl From The North Country”

 

We who chose to live here in the North Country are a hardy breed.  You can see signs of this all around you.  The cows have thicker hides, the trees have thicker bark and the lakes sometimes gets real hard…hard enough to walk on.  Some extra hardy types actually put little wooden huts or tents on the lakes and fish through the two-foot layer of ice.  And, they do this starting in late September.  I have seen, with my own eyes, odd vehicles that don’t have wheels to move through the snow.  They have treads of some kind and the engines make a whistling noise and the air turns blue.  The people who ride around in them wear lots of clothes and all those layers are covered with a heavy one-piece suit.  They even have helmets.  It looks like a sub-Arctic Area 51.

They claim its fun.

Sometimes it’s so cold that if a guy were to go tee-tee in the woods, the tee-tee will freeze before it hits the ground.  Actually, that’s not true.  There is no ground…there is about three feet of snow and ice beneath your frozen feet.  And this happens no matter much you paid L.L. Bean for those fleece-lined, thinsulated, wool and felt-lined boots.

So, if you’re thinking of moving to the North Country, be advised that no matter what size home you buy, you will need to pay a guy named Bear to build an extra room just to hold your winter clothing, skis, snowshoes, mucklucks, and fleece gloves.  Don’t worry about the extra room in the summer…there really isn’t one.  There is a window of about 16 days where it’s not snowing or raining…and that is sometime in August (that would be the 14th to the 29th, to be exact).

You’re asking yourself as you read this: “Hey, just how hardy is this guy who is pushing 70 years of age?”

Two mornings ago, I woke up and it was 41 F in the bedroom.  Ok, it’s December, that sounds about right, right?  But this is my bedroom!  Even with the fleece blankets on me, I was chilled.  (I don’t own an electric blanket because I may want to have another child someday.)

We discover that something is wrong with the oil burner.  Not only am I hardy, but I’m smart.  It only took me about an hour to realize that the lack of heat was due to something being wrong with our oil burner.

Being hardy means being far-sighted.  Several years ago we had a wood-burner stove installed in our family room downstairs.  So, I lit a fire.  Isn’t it good?  As sure as flapjacks are good…the room downstairs got warm.  And it got even warmer until the little thermometer (digital/Radio Shack) said 88 F.  Now, I tend to be chilly a lot in these later years of my life, but 88 was a bit much.  Especially when I had no idea where any clothing not made of fleece or wool happened to be stored.

So, I watched the fire from the other side of the room.  I used my birding spotter scope to check on when a new log needed to be added.

By now it was near the dinner hour.  For some reason I didn’t feel like my pre-dinner dish of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.  But it was my turn to cook.

So, I went up stairs to the kitchen and planned dinner.  Something quick and easy.  I decided on a stir-fry.  I like to have a nice glass of Chardonnay while I cook, so I took the bottle out of the fridge and put it on the counter so it would cool down a little.  I prepared the carrots, mushrooms, peppers and rice.  I mixed the soy sauce and put aside 1/4 cup of peanuts and scallions for the garnish.

I knew that stir-frying can sometimes be splattery, I put on my special North Country L.L. Bean endorsed red apron from Macy’s.  It was lined with fleece.

I then put the silverware and plates in the microwave to add a touch of warmth, and cooked.

It turned out to be a great meal.

But, we only have TV upstairs so we bundled up in fleece and wool while we ate and watched Episode 6 of Season 3 of Game of Thrones.

I felt a chill watching all the violence and sex.  They kept saying that “winter is coming…the white walkers are coming…it’ll be a long winter.”

I can relate.

MeInApron

[I’m really not that overweight, it’s the blanket I was wearing under the apron.]

MyDinner

[The meal just before it frosted over.]

 

What Am I Doing Down Here?

Hey, you.  Yeah, you with the walking stick.  You’ve gotta help me man!  I don’t have much time, so you have to do something and do it quick.

You look like you’ve hiked a few miles in your day…the way you favor your right hip and lean on your wooden staff when you step up on a rock.  You’ve got gray hair so you must be an old guy, right?  (By the way, what’s with the bandanna tied to the leather strap of your pole?  You look like an Old Testament prophet who just stepped out of Dick’s Sporting Goods.)

Well, you may be ancient but I’m not.  I young.  I’m still green.  But some gust of wind detached me from the tree behind me.  I didn’t fall fast, I floated back and forth as I drifted toward the ground.  You can see I landed on a tiny evergreen. (I hate these coniferous trees…they never drop their leaves).  But soon I’m going to be dislodged and I’ll be on the ground with all the rest of these…dead guys.

LeafinTreeGreen

I know.  I know.  It’s Autumn and the leaves are supposed to turn color (at least my species does) and fall from the tree.  It’s all “part of nature’s cycle,” I get it.  But it’s too early for me.  The drop in temperatures and the decreased sunlight are supposed to trigger the breakdown of my chlorophyll and  I turn a beautiful color.  Seems like I’m going to end up a dull brown hue…not like those maples over there.  They turn scarlet.  Or the beech behind you…it’ll go to some shade of yellow.

But I’m still green.  I’m loaded with chlorophyll.  It’s too soon for me to go.  Can’t you stick me back on the branch…at least for a few more days?  Just a few days…week tops…so I can see the world around me until I just can’t hang on any longer.  I’ll know when that time comes.  No Super Glue is going to hold me to the tree then.  I’ll have to drop…and then it’s over for me.  I’ll be buried by the ten feet of snow they get here…and by Spring, I’ll be pretty well-rotted into the soil.  My only comfort is that my molecules will be rearranged in the earth and I’ll be back.  Just in a different form.

It’s anybody’s guess.  I may return as a poplar or an even a pine cone…or, heaven forbid, a fungus.  I’ve known a few fungi and believe me, they’re no fun to be around.  They don’t even have a chlorophyll.  And, they grow in the most yucky places you can imagine.  Don’t get me started.

But right now I’m an oak.  An oak, man!  Do you understand the implications of this?  I stand for solid, high, and proud.  I’m a metaphor  for strength and life.  My leaf is a symbol for eternity in many northern cultures and folklore.  I also tend to grow in groves in the Celtic countries…and the Druids thought I held weird secrets…and they held ceremonies in my groves–until Christianity arrived and the priests cut my sacred groves down.

I mean, I’m the mightiest and strongest.  When the storm winds blow, the oak remains.And, I come from a wee acorn.  There’s been poems written about me.  “From little acorns grow…” I forgot the rest.

But look at me now…

Perhaps I can share a few family photos from my album:

Mom&DadOak

My mom and dad.

BigLeaf

My uncle Burt.  We all told him he had to lose some weight.  He dropped early.

OakFamilyTree

My family tree.

 

Wait, your leaving?  Wait!  Help me, help me.  You can’t leave me like this.  It’s too soon for me.  I have a few days left.  Please, please put me back on the branch…just for a little while.

Well, good-bye and thanks for nothing.  I can take care of my self…I don’t need you.  I’ll just talk to myself for a while.

Oops!  I’m on the ground now…it won’t be long.  But I can see the blue sky from down here…now that the rest of the leaves have mostly fallen.  Such a pretty blue.  I was much closer to the sky just a few hours ago, and now I can smell the fungus and bacteria that will soon began eating at me.

LeafOnGround

I won’t feel a thing, though.  They say it’s kind of like dissolving in water.  It’s a slow process.  First you’re here, you’re a leaf, then you’re atoms and molecules.

There’s no pain.

It’s just one big circle.  See you this coming Spring…or if not…some Spring in the future.

Jack_Oakie_Tina_Louise_The_New_Breed_1961

The actor Jack Oakie (1903-1978) seen here with Tina Louise. No relation.

 

 

 

A Room With a View

Everyone likes a room with a view.  Otherwise, why do we need windows?  Does anyone want to look out over the Fresh Kills Land on Staten Island, the Gowanus Canal or the latest toxic runoff pond from some mine in northern Canada?  No, we don’t.  And, I believe I can speak for most of us, we all want a view, but a view filled with beauty.

Below is a photograph of our bedroom window.  When we were looking at the house prior to buying it, we looked out all the windows…to check out the views.  Some of the things we could see were nothing to write home about.  Like our front porch.  Nice, but not something you’d want to look at for more than a minute or two.  Our living room picture window provided a killer view of Rainbow Lake and our little dock down the hill.  The kitchen window gave us a superb view of our bird feeders (as well a fine line of sight to our Kenmore BBQ, which is a real feast for the eyes.  But our bedroom window was in a class all by itself.  From the comfort of our four-poster, we could watch the seasons as they marched through our little front yard in all their timely glory.

In the Spring, we could look out and see the Purple Tirilium growing in the small thicket that partly hid our house from the road.  I could watch the ferns grow and cover the ground around the evergreens with a lovely carpet of greenery.  I could see our car, the r-pod and the back door of the garage that had a window planter I had attached to the rose colored cinder-blocks.  Bright red flowers hung from the pot like a Bavarian chalet.

In the Summer, we could see the small patch of grass that served as our lawn.  I could also get a fine view of the new stone walkway our neighbors, D’Arcy and Judy so artfully constructed.  If I leaned a bit, I could see our cottage sign, Tir Na Nog. That was the name of our cottage.  Many of the local cottages bore names like Heron Point, Three Pines or Camp Trout.  Our house was named for the Irish myth and meant “Land of Eternal Youth”.  I could also see the car.

In the Autumn, the few hardwoods would be aflame with colors of the brightest yellows and reds.  The ferns would begin to go brown.  The sky would turn grey and the mushrooms would push up through the dying ferns.  And, I could see our car.

In normal Winters, we could see the boughs of the pines holding the soft, pure snow.  The little animal tracks could be seen on the virgin snow.  Oh, the snow!  It would fall and swirl about like we lived in a glass snow globe.  On clear nights, I could go to the deck, wearing a cozy woolen sweater and watch Orion make his hunting journey across the small patch of clear sky above our house.  Out of our bedroom window on winter days, I could see the back door of the garage, the bright red flowers, faded now.  And, I could see our car to study the few inches of snow it had covering it.  Then I would gleefully take the broom and brush the dusting of snow from the car’s roof, then make fluffy snowballs to toss at the scampering squirrels and they darted here and there trying to find their nuts.

But, this winter.  The great winter of 2013-14 was a different story altogether.  The r-pod has vanished beneath a small mountain of snow. Our garage may or may not still be there.  For all I know, someone could have taken it during one of the snowstorms…or on a night when it was -23 F and I failed to check why the garage wasn’t visible anymore.  Our car?  It may be still in the driveway…maybe not.  I’ve given up trying to keep the snow off it and from fallen down my back from the two feet of the white stuff that clung to the overburdened branches of the pine trees…if the pine trees are still there.  Even the squirrels have given up trying to find their nuts.  We have a young man who comes out after a snowfall and plows us out.  We get a bill for every visit.  I made some calculations.  We’ve just paid his child’s tuition at Yale.

The mountain (not a mound anymore) of snow seen from our bedroom window is large enough now that I’ve given some thought to installing a chair-lift…just for beginners, though.  Maybe a luge course?  Maybe a training area for Everest climbers?

At this point in the post, I know most of you don’t believe me so I took a picture from our bedroom looking out at the view.  See the lovely lace curtains?  See the cool dream-catcher?  See the white/grey view through the window?  That’s snow.  That’s all we can see.

This is our Room With a View.

Image