Grounded

I don’t know who designed that complex, but if I ever meet the guy I want to ask him why he’d put that hospital wing parallel with the airstrip. You know, it’s one thing to be grounded, but to lay there day after day and watch those guys climb into the burning blue, not knowing if they’ll come back…not being able to go with them…”
Bob stopped abruptly, mid-sentence, and sort of gritted his teeth a little and he held his breath in and his face began to flush. He picked up a teaspoon and banged it around the inside of his mug even though he drank his coffee black. He cleared his throat several times, then quietly growled, “In fact, if I ever meet that [expletive deleted] I’m not gonna ask him anything…not gonna say a word. I’m just gonna punch him once, square on the nose, and not feel bad about it.”

Captain “Hopping Bob” Shannon
(excerpted from “Hopping Bob: memoirs of an unlikely, unwilling and unstoppable hero”)

To be grounded can mean many different things. Some good, some bad.
As kids, being grounded was like going to jail. Same is true for a pilot.
If you’re in a boat, being grounded is considered an emergency.
If you are an electrician, not being grounded is an emergency.

As I fumble my way forward in my new life as a widower, I realize the great extent to which my philosophies and life view are grounded in reality. They are built on timeless foundations. The Moon and stars, Mother Earth. Clouds and birds, sun and rain. I have likened myself to a chip off a grain of sand in an unimaginably immeasurable cosmos.

Evening Flight

Change can be difficult. It is by definition unsettling. Even when we encounter change that was not entirely unexpected, we seek out and cleave to those things that are not changing. As I have navigated the changes of this year, I am deeply grateful that my spirit is built on things that remain constant, and things that persevere beyond the grave.

Sunrises and sunsets. Clouds that dance across the sky. The whistle of wingtips as birds course over me. The smell of rain and taste of the wind. Sun on my skin, the buzz of the hummingbird. The rumble of thunder as a summer storm reminds me how small I am, and how large the world. The white butterfly, wandering gleefully along a meandering course, reminding me how large I am in the scheme of tiny things. Reminding me how delicate is the balance in a world that has bone-jarring thunder and gentle butterflies at the same time.

Change always sounds scary. Like everything we know is ending, and we shall be adrift in the great sea of this world. Sometimes the changes are big from one perspective. Sometimes, if we can zoom out, see our lives and worlds in their entirety, we see that change is simply a part of it. Like shifting sandbars, the ebb and flow of the tides, the passing seasons, the phases of the moon. Changes come when their time comes.

Sometimes we find these are times that help to forge us. To be put to tests, to weather storms. To find strengths we were hitherto unaware of. Truths we have been blind to, sometimes all of our lives. The real and lasting value of that which we hold and have held, the joys of recollections, the sweet sting of awakening’s tears.

And if we’re lucky, we find our second winds, our inner lights, our driving cores, and charge through the change, holding to the ever-present, the long-standing and the firmly-rooted.
Holding tightly on to one another.
Securely grounded in those things that will carry us through to the very end.

Seek peace,

Paz

Circles

In some ways I’ve been directionless this year. Unmoored. I’ve carried on the day-to-day business of the Ark, and administered as Executor to my father’s estate. The dog is fed and walked and loved, the cat is fed and stroked and loved. The Ark herself has not done without special attentions in several areas. A few rearranged bits of furniture, a little more light and air in her rooms.
Increasingly, I find myself spending time with an old love. We met when I was about 13, and fell in love when I was about fifteen. We’ve had a long relationship, sometimes taking a back burner, and other times brazenly public.
Since the loss of my wife last December, I’ve spent a lot of time with an old, old friend. One who has shared many laughs and high times, and has always been there when things were down. This lifelong mistress is the magic of music. In some of my worst times, I would be known to “shut yourself up in your room all summer singing ‘boo-hoo’.”

It started, this time, with a little poem my dog Chuy had written over on his blog, chowdogzen.com. It was called Wish, and spoke of the most precious things in our lives, from a dog’s perspective. It’s no leap for a human to imagine oneself cleaving to these admonitions, as things like beauty and home and love are universal.

This song took a curious and circuitous path from concept to creation. At first it had a tempo and chorus that dragged a beautiful thing down nearly to a dirge. Then something happened, something from that magical ethereal realm of the musical mind, and an entirely different chorus composed itself. Phrases that were polar opposites of the sadness and indignant resignation of the prior iteration. It lifted me, this magical mistress of mine, and threw open the shutters, rang in the light. I have been locked in her embraces long and often, and this I offer as way of explanation for my absences.

Then Circles happened. There was a poem that, to me, was scraping the bock from the barrel of despair, so low was it. It was written in the summer of 2020, when the world had gone mad, and my wife and father were ailing. A long slow death in ordinary days. A reader interpreted it differently, and saw it as words of encouragement, to carry on, as Churchill would say.
Again, from the magic place our thoughts are forged, another chorus wrote itself. I suppose it’s no coincidence that these graces have been visited upon me at just the time I needed them. At just the time I had determined to seek them out.
Circles have been a part of my philosophy always. The cosmos itself is designed in physical circles, and life as we know it is described as a circle. I view my life as a series of concentric and overlapping rings, like raindrops falling on a pond. Each drop joins in concert with many and they sing their splashy song, and in a moment, the ring is gone.

And the Circle goes. The Circle goes.

And the circles grow, the circles grow.

And The Circle knows. The Circle knows.

A circle closes.

This is what we call a “scratchpad” version, not a polished and mastered recording. It’s a few ideas jotted down to conceptualize the song, so imagine it’s the quality of your cousin’s band playing in the garage. I’m on a manic productive binge for now, so the polish will have to wait. (This version even has the “tail” at the end where it should fade!)

Circles

I rise, unsure just why,
But here am I, awake and alive.
Breathe and step. Step again.
To where? Ahead. Beyond where I have been.

Look and see. What is there and what is not?
A past, the future. A time forgot.
Moving still. A back to break.
An iron will. Dreams to forsake.


And The Circle goes.

Sun and rain. Clouds to love.
Floods below, storms above.
Feed the machine, because we must.
Over and again until I am dust.

A sparrow lights to share my bread.
What’s mine is yours until I am dead.
A fleeting glimpse? A parting glance?
For who knows how long we shall dance?

And The circles grow.

Sun is setting. Darkness falls.
Yet light persists in hallowed halls.
Rest and sleep. To dreams awake.
A dream of dreaming for its own sake.

The new day dawns, wipe sleep from eyes.
Once again,
And who knows why,
I rise.

And The Circle knows.
A circle must close.

We’re gathering every Wednesday for Tuesday Night Music Club. (It’s a traditional name and day, but Carl plays billiards on Tuesdays). I leave you with a quote forged and written by another poet graced with the love of music, whose song Closing Time we are learning in the ensemble.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

Take care. And I mean that.

Paz

I Woke In May

I woke in May,
From a dream-like state and winter grey.
Took down crepes and buntings black
To pack them carefully away.
No doubt they’ll hang for me one day.

And here is May,
To usher this vague time along.
Sunshine knocks at windowpanes
And newborn flowers line the lanes.
Birds call out life’s sweet song.

I have known many Mays
Though dates and years slip my mind,
I recall one of every kind;
A newborn baby at half a year,
The first spring we were living here.

Mary’s birthday was in May.
Now no other claims that month
That I know of, anyway.
Too many to remember, and scattered, in the clan.
Too many for one old and scattered man.

I’m not sure how I got to May
This year, I must say.
January is a blur.
I’m certain February occurred.
Of March and April, I can’t speak a word.

The ticking clock I once vowed to destroy
Is now the tool at my employ.
For all the modern medical arts,
Drugs and x-rays, treatments and charts,
None claim the power to heal broken hearts.

Life imposes tariffs on the soul and on the mind,
When least expected or ready yet,
With no regard for season, rhyme or reason.
Each year the tax rate rises
As my age does, I regret.

But May! O! May!
What new blooms have you today?
Taxes paid and winter past,
Lilac perfumes fill the heart,
To life, again, the pendulum swings,
As the greening cottonwoods sway.

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

Solo

You can train for all kinds of emergencies as a pilot. Like losing an engine, for example.
Now, it’s one thing if you stall one of your huge Rolls-Royces or Merlins if you have four of them hanging off your flying fortress or your Lancaster. You could be loaded with fuel, ordinance and dignitaries (i.e. useless added weight) and still make a big sweeping turn back to the field on three and stick the landing. It’s a little different story in a single-engine two-seater.

You can land without wheels if your gear gets jammed. You can ditch in the water. You can train how to know when it’s time to take a wild-ass guess at what to do next when all other options have failed. You can bail out.
You don’t exactly train for your co-pilot getting killed while you’re flying
.”
Bob got real quiet right after he said that, and looked out the window of the café and up into the clouds for what seemed like a full minute before taking a sip of coffee and continuing.
But you do train how to pilot a two-seater solo.

Captain “Hopping Bob” Shannon

I didn’t train for this.
We train for a lot of things in our lives. Basic training before deployment. We train to be a refrigeration mechanic or a teacher or a nurse. We are trained to ride a bicycle, trained to drive a car. We are trained how to train.
We plan for a lot of things in our lives. We plan vacation trips. We plan weddings. We plan for a baby. (Sometimes we plan to have a baby, and sometimes we plan how to take care of the baby we just found out about.)
We plan for kids’ college if fortunate enough to do so. We plan for retirement.
We even plan our own funerals and pay for them in advance.
I might do that, and also write my own obituary so they don’t miss anything.
I didn’t plan for this.

Honestly, my late wife and I were quite comfortable with and accustomed to, planning on, actually, the typical odds for men and women. That I would go before she did. The wills were made. All the important things were in line on the property deed and the retirement fund to make it easier for her and the kids when I went. We didn’t plan any funerals although we talked in a broad sense about our preference for cremation. We did talk about the fact that she would not want to stay on at the Ark alone. It’s a big house and you need to be a family or a recluse monk artist to live here.
Also it’s 115 years old, and hasn’t been updated in, oh, 115 years or so. So it has ancient single-pane windows and a hand-laid stone bulkhead and missing bits of mortar and a pellet stove and gas pilots and a whole rasher of things that make it a dream for a tinkerer but a nightmare for a widow.

We are easily lulled into the sense that tomorrow will be like today. If summer, we expect summer. In winter, winter. And tomorrow will follow on to the day after, and in its most generalized sense, life will just keep going.
That’s what we built our lives on for the last decade or more. The empty-nesters with the paid mortgage and a home and property to do as they please. We talked of how we loved so many things about this place. The big windows in particular. Bright, airy rooms. We vowed, each of us, to stay here “for as long as we can.”.
Somehow I imagined that being until the time I was too old to haul wood pellets and plow the driveway and shovel snow off the roof and mow and trim a 3-acre lawn. We’d move on to “Roland Arms”, as we called the neat, handicapped-accessible senior apartments down on Roland Way.
Or, perhaps, that time would be when my wife found herself alone, and would sell the home we had shared for forty years. Probably move in with a daughter, as her mother had done before her. Mary lived with us for about ten years before she died. We were certainly fortunate, having space in our home for her.

Man plans. God laughs.”
The proverb hung on my mother’s wall.
Such fools these mortals be.”

Having really made no plan to be sixty-two and flying solo, I’m making it up as I go along, I guess. Some things are easy and obvious. His & hers towels, for example.
Some things were just oddities that sprang from who woulda thought it. The kitchen, for instance, which had been primarily her domain for 35 years, equipped and stocked to her liking. I need to use the kitchen myself now, and don’t need to accommodate sharing. Some things were just too much for a single man. Pots and pans and utensils.
Other things are just not my cup of tea. An air fryer, a pressure cooker. Other things I was wanting for. Did she not have a set of measuring spoons somewhere?

And so a period ensued when I envisioned this new future in the Ark, just the three of us including the dog and cat. I started to move some furniture around. Open the space up a little. I needed space. Quiet space. And light. A few changes in window dressings.
At first I suffered from a certain survivor’s guilt, I suppose. It felt like an insult to her memory to remove the recliner in which she sat, to take down the blackout shades on the east-facing window in the bedroom.
The things of the household are pretty well settled for now. At least on the first story.

Time, however, is totally out of control.
Like so many riding the slowing currents into and through the delta on our river of life, sleep patterns began to change over the last couple of years. After the 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, month-and-a-half odyssey that was the deathbed vigil I sat for my wife, I seem to have suffered a bit of post-traumatic stress and battle fatigue. Like shifting from night shift to day shift, it took quite a while to get back to a normal sleep cycle. It’s still not right, and combines with a certain hyperactivity and a propensity to “get in the zone” (or maybe more like “zone out”) while burying my nose in some industrious but detailed activity such as cleaning all the balusters of the banister. Next thing I know it’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I need to rise for work in a few hours. Thankfully, work has been only 3 days a week since my return from family leave, and my job is not difficult.
On the plus side, it has made for a lot of clean things besides the banister.

Of course there’s a lot more to these things than one would frame up in a blog post.
I’m not the first person that has gone through this. It’s what we do.
It is, however, the first time it has happened to me.
It’s coming back quickly, but it has been a long time since I’ve flown solo.
I hadn’t planned for this.

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz

Winter, old friend.

 

Winter and I have known one another for a very, very long time. Granted, I don’t remember the first few years, being a baby and all, but I’m sure she does. In the same way my mother did. Knew every moment of my life from before my first breath. Gone more than fifteen years now, I am continually amazed at a love that has lasted much longer than a lifetime. Thoughts and remembrances of her awaken me like fragrances brought on the dancing breeze. The only other Earthbound soul with me from the day I was born left this world last year on Labor Day. My father and I had a singular way at goodbye, at which we would say “Don’t forget that I love you.” I never shall forget, Dad, as Mom has shown me. We don’t forget. Now here it is mid-January, right between their birthdays. His on the eleventh, hers the twenty-eighth. My daughter Miranda celebrated hers on the twenty-third.

She received a bouquet of flowers, the first time I’ve sent such a thing. There is, mixed up in this old mind, a certain bank. A pay-it-forward for the past sort of thing. It is born of the voices of my dear departed. When it comes to gifting, they lean over my shoulder as I open my precious Jack Benny wallet, and they whisper, quite insistently.
“Think of all the money you no longer spend on me. Christmases and birthdays and Fathers’ Days and Mothers’ Days.”
One has the outright audacity to remind me how he did not live long enough to gift me grandchildren bearing his likeness.
“All those Christmas presents…” he says.
As brutally direct as these ghosts may be, I cannot deny their logic. And so, this winter, this January, finds me sending a gaudy and over-priced vase of flowers with a card that reads simply “Happy Birthday Miranda. I love you. Dad.”
This marks the first birthday, the first winter, the first January since 1975 that is not celebrated with her mother.

From the loss of my father on Labor Day, we rode a roller coaster through our last fall together. For the first in thirty-five years, the kitchen of The Ark was not bustling and brimming with family and friends for Thanksgiving. My wife and I ate Thanksgiving dinner together in her hospital room. A homemade dinner, made and delivered thirty miles by our youngest child.
Alone in The Ark, I cut a Christmas tree, and adorned it with lights as the dog and cat looked on. I decorated for the holidays, not as much as a regular year, and hoped she would be home for Christmas. My children’s consternations were allayed with guarded phrases.
“Should the worst come to pass, it’s important, for the grandchildren, for my own children, maybe for me, too. It’s important to know that even when someone dies there still remains all the rest that we have come to know. Christmas will still come, and New Year’s Day. Pop Pop will still be here, still be Pop Pop, and The Ark will stand, upholding its ‘Holiday House’ traditions.”
Winters and Januaries, birthdays, springs and summers will arrive on schedule. We will continue to live and love and grow together, now without our dear “Mam”.

She left us just ten days before Christmas. She had finished most of her shopping before her hospitalization November first. She finished the rest on her laptop from her hospital bed. It was an oddly warm sensation as we opened the gifts she’d chosen. A timely reminder that love perseveres beyond the grave. A curiously bittersweet softening of our parting, as if she knew it would be at such a difficult time of the year.

And now there is my beloved winter. My welcome old friend January. There could be no better time to grieve, to mourn, to heal. A time when drawing the drapes and hunkering down is a normal pastime. Days like today; seven degrees, with wind chill: one. A foot of snow covers the ranch, and long, slender crystal icicles hang from the eaves. Yesterday was spent sipping coffee on the couch, watching birds at the feeders.
I thought I might begin to move and breathe a little. Not just going through the motions of life like the last three months, but looking for me, tossed aside in a closet somewhere during this tempestuous time. I might paint again, or fiddle with photography. Or write.

Okay, so if I’m not up to that yet, maybe watching birds. Play a few episodes of Sergeant Preston Of The Yukon on the TV. I moved the easel three times. Stared repeatedly at the unfinished canvas. The camera remained at rest beside the kitchen window. I pulled my journal from the chifforobe for the first time in months, but it sat on the coffee table, undisturbed all day. I played Sergeant Preston in the background while I performed the Saturday weekly cleaning of the pellet stove. Then shut the TV off.

 

Today, I raised the blinds and January leaped in through my window, cupped my face in her sunny and cool hands, and said, quietly and gently, “Good morning, old friend.”
A blanket of pristine snow glittered with diamonds under a bright, clear blue Winter sky.
And I opened my journal, and wrote this.

I see the temperature has risen to three degrees, with wind chill. Time to suit up and take the dog for a snowshoe hike.

Or maybe the dog is just an excuse.

For a long overdue and sorely needed visit with a very, very old friend.

 

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

A Time For Rest

To Let

Mid-November brings a unique season-within-a-season here in the northeastern United States. My wife says it is her favorite part of the year.

It arrives long after summer, and summer’s cascading roll into autumn. It’s after the harvest and the fall foliage spectacular, after the hubbub of Halloween.

The trees have thrown down their leaves, (except the oaks) and an almost ghostly grey army now stands silently all around. Even the ever-present evergreens seem more sparse, just a garnish on a washed-out, neutral-colored landscape. And there are glorious, quiet sunsets.

The wind takes a new voice now. No longer playing the millions of green leaves against one another in a chorus of whispers that rise and swell, ebb and wane. Now she whistles through the naked branches, and makes a singular sound striking the pines. A gentler sound. A hushing.

This is a time for rest.

All the hustle and bustle which started last spring (or earlier, browsing seed catalogs) winds down as the first frosts and first freezes blow the final whistle for flower gardens, vegetable gardens, kiddie pools and window screens.

We’ve decorated and raked our way through October, and gathered up the colorful gourds as they begin to go soft. We’ve put the plow on The Black Pearl and folded up the plastic chairs. They bid adieu to the side porch, like migratory birds, to return when the snow melts and these geese above fly in the opposite direction.

Windows are closed, except for the taking advantage of those few surprise days when temperatures rise to the sixties. The house becomes more quiet with portals sealed. The tractors on the road and cars driving down from the pond are more a backdrop than sound effects. Mowers, few but not unheard of in November, are muted.

The summer sounds of passing breezes and barking dogs and children on school vacation are subordinated to the television and the clothes dryer and the blower of the heater fan.

The days rapidly grow shorter, as if the Cosmos itself suggests enough work has been done, that more sleeping may be in order.

In the Wonder Woods, most things are settling in for the winter. Well, except for squirrels. The great shade canopy that cooled us in the Pinnacle Days of summer has been removed. A few slender sticks draw the eye upwards, out of the woods, to the wide open grey November sky. Crunching through leaves sometimes feels noisily intrusive, foreign to the quiet wood. Just a little rustle is okay. Say about the size of three hasty and ambitious squirrels.

Grasses and weeds still stand straight and tall, but all are dried and tan, looking more like stage dressing than formerly-living things. This is their time to rest, too, now. Done with growing and blooming and seeding, now a brief pause to take one last look before snows lay them down and pack them flat.

Between the clamoring flocks of geese, the birds of the season are a bit quieter as well. Less with the “bo-gar-DEE!” of the redwinged blackbird, the raucous cackling of crows. Now Juncos dart about with barely a peep, flocks of cowbirds transit the glens of Engleville with no more sound than the whisper of their wings. The Barred Owl glides silently. (Okay, so we all still stand at attention when the chickadee shouts out his call, but he is the exception.)

There is this brief window now, after the fall and before the holidays begin in just a few weeks. When the world is putting the northern hemisphere down for a long winter’s nap. We’re given a breather now. A chance to relax and enjoy all that we’ve worked for during this circle around the sun that brought us back to this place again. A break in the rolling year to clear our minds, to reflect, to dream of futures. A good time to take stock of all the good in our lives. A perfect prelude to Thanksgiving.

Before all that gets started up, before we hop onto the ride for another circuit around the sun, we have this calm, peaceful, mid-November.

A time for rest.

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz

Lone Goose

DSC_1915

Lone Goose

Just about every day of my life, with very few exceptions, I drive between my house and our little village along Engleville Road. I’m glad it’s still Engleville Road. It is, after all, the road that leads to Engleville. During the deployment of modern 9-1-1 addressing systems, some roads had their names changed. Some lost the identity they’d had for the past one hundred, one hundred-fifty, or two hundred years. Two hundred years ago, in 1820, there was one main route that led from the closest water- the Cobleskill and Schoharie Creeks which connect to the Mohawk River- and on westward overland on the corduroy road called Loonenburg Turnpike. Modern times crossed it with New York State Highway 10, Route 145, my own county route, Engleville Road; and Loonenburg Pike was dissected into short sections.

Curiously, for the longest time, there were three or four “roads” referred to as Loonenburg Turnpike. The road to Engleville Pond was called, not unnaturally, Engleville Pond Road. Now it is called “Mill Pond Road”. Still fitting, as Engleville Pond began as Engle’s mill pond. The Loonenburg Pike, however, acquired several new names for its multiple sections. “Stagecoach Road” for one part and the plain label “Turnpike Road” at another. Progress, I suppose.

Back to Engleville. Along the flats by Mahar’s swamp, across from the turkey farm, runs a little creek that wends its way beside the road. You can see it behind the Kennedys’ house where their lawn ends at the edge of the mucky swampland. Here is where I spotted the goose. A Canada Goose, in spring, stopping off on his trek northward past lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River, and on to Hudson’s Bay. Geese mate for life, but this mature bird, we’ll presume it’s a male, floated alone on the little branch creek.

I’m a big fan of nature, and all forms of wildlife. Migratory and seasonal birds a particular excitement due to the brevity of their passing, or the knowledge they may be here today and gone tomorrow. Some will stay for the short summer; hummingbirds and yellowthroats, then move south when the frosts begin and the meadows go to seed. Some will arrive with the winter solstice. What we see as cold January and ski season, they see as a warmer climate than the taiga and the tundra from which they’ve shifted. Snowy Owls and Dark-Eyed Juncos and White-Crowned Sparrows. During most years, a few pairs of Canada Geese make nests around the ponds locally. So the first time I saw Goose, I thought nothing more than “Oh, look at the pretty goose. I should stop to take a photo.”, and rambled off to my busy, adventure-filled life.

Nesters

Nesters

The next day, I saw Goose again. He was in the same spot. A sort of quiet pocket about twenty-five feet long, where the theree-foot-wide creek rounds a turn between sumac saplings and marsh grasses. He was still alone. No flock, nor any other geese on this small patch of water. It occurred to me he seemed to be waiting. Not exactly the nervous pacing of the expectant father from 1950’s movies. Still, there seemed a certain vigilance. It got me to thinking that maybe he is waiting for his mate. Maybe it’s not so unusual to get separated, and to wait at a familiar place to reunite. Perhaps this is their nesting destination, or maybe they stop here for rest on every migration.

 

The flyways are filled with these places. Rivers, lakes, marshes and cliffs that have indelibly inscribed themselves on that magical machine called instinct. Like the swallows of Capistrano fame, these places have offered brief respite for weary winged travelers for eons. Hawk-watchers and Crane-photographers wait eagerly at these spots to view the awesome and wondrous spectacle of thousands- or tens of thousands of birds in a single place. Decorating the beaches or filling the river marshes and swamps with milling and calls and eruptions in brilliant colors into the sky, to the tune of twenty thousand beating wings.

Perhaps for “my goose”, this was that familiar place. Something deep in his mind spoke to him when he saw silvery West Creek wandering its way to Hanson’s Crossing. The pumpkin fields of Parson’s Farm, dotted with oranges and whites and just a touch of green. The round bales waiting for a ride, scattered across the hills and dales of hay fields. The cornfields, alternately standing tall, tanned and dried; or shaved to stubble, a goose’s favorite snack bar. From the sky he could see the isolated Corporation Pond at the top of the hill, feeding into the big, road-rimmed and well-visited twenty-acre Engleville Pond below. See the thin ribbon of water as it traces its meandering course from Maggie’s Pond, weaving its way through our own Wonder Woods before continuing on to the horse farm, two miles hence. One by one these landmarks lead him north from Vroman’s Nose and west from Settles Mountain until he sees that old faithful trickle of water awaiting him.

Little of the aforementioned occurred to me that first day. A pretty goose, then on to the next thing. On the second day, there he sat. Or floated, I should say. It was then I began to think of all this, the life of a migratory bird, the separation of the pairs, the devotion, dedication and patience shown by Goose, waiting steadfastly. What vivid Disneyesque dreams I dreamed of his wringing hands (if he had them) and checking his watch (if he wore one). His story takes on the hues of personification. First the waiting dogs him, then anxiousness helps to mask rational fears. Again, my world goes rolling past Goose with little more than a savored glance, a recognition and remark. “Such a cute goose.”

Driving home, perhaps weary from my own migrations, perhaps seeking my own landmarks of comfort and familiarity, I saw Goose. Still waiting for a third day. Now my child-like mind and over-active imagination began to wonder, to speculate on Goose’s story.

DSC_2020

I am keenly observant, immersed in the world of wildlife of all kinds, and birds particularly. I consider them to be amazing little marvels gifted to us by this Cosmos. Motions and colors, sounds and behaviors. Sometimes mesmerizing, like a hovering hummingbird. Sometimes comical, like the starlings at the feeder. Sometimes awe-inspiring, striking me dumb, as murmurings of a thousand starlings dance through the sky as one moving, living flying mass. Or great V’s of Canada Geese, silhouetted against an October sunset, as they honk their way across my horizons.

I try to empathize with birds. I imagine them flying over the bizarre, invasive, intrusive, noisy unnatural and potentially lethal haunts of man. I have logged too many hours reading Audubon, Nature and The Conservationist to think the lives of geese are natural and peaceful. Like so many of nature’s most fragile creations, their intersection with humankind rarely has a positive outcome. Blacktop and highways, cars and trucks screaming past at seventy miles per hour. Towers, buildings, cranes and windmills, crowding the very skies that were once a domain reserved only for the winged. Oil spills in the waters. Plastics on the beaches. Neonicotinoids in the seeds stolen from farm fields. Massive light islands that appear as bright as the moon to migratory birds in the night. Without exaggeration, their bodies are collected by the hundreds where they fall to their deaths at the bases of skyscrapers and bridges.

Now my accursed brain links together these two worlds. The wild goose in the cool, crystal waters behind Kennedy’s, and the world of man, which may have taken his mate. I love my imagination when it is good, but curse it when it is too good. When it imagines possibilities I’d rather be spared from.

She may have been struck by the grill of a tractor trailer moving faster than she can fly, as she tried to cross the highway from one impoundment to the next. She may have flown head-first, at top speed in the dark of night, into a building or a wind turbine, breaking her neck. She may have mistaken for a gentle pool the toxic, tar-like mess which is a catch basin for the petroleum refinery. Once plunged into this sticky, poisonous muck, she will be lucky to get out with her life, and even then will be cleaning feathers for weeks before she can take to the air. Several lives ago, I myself was secreted in a blind with a shotgun, awaiting mourning doves to shoot on the wing. What a terrible narrative it might be to finish this thought in the context of Lone Goose waiting devotedly in Engleville for his mate to join him.

Alright! Alright! I remind myself I’m launching on another anti-man rant. There are plenty of natural threats to a goose even without mankind’s incursions. A fierce hurricane can blow whole flocks off course, or carry them out to sea, perhaps beyond their point of no return. Alligators in the swamps and bayous of the south. Bobcats, panthers, pumas, even house cats, all along the route. The sly fox. The hungry coyote. Everyone must eat to live. Nature is true to her scale, and a loss here is a gain there. It’s a big world out there, life is a circle.

DSC_0246

Lone Goose evokes images of the waiting. In Portland, Maine, a silent statue stares out across the vast Atlantic Ocean, mourning for those “…who go down to the sea in ships.” At the mouth of the Savannah River, a young maiden holds aloft a kerchief, signaling for her beloved with whom she will never be rejoined. Outside a subway station in Japan, a bronze cast of a little dog that came each day to greet his master. His presence there, alone until dark each day after his master passed, inspired this monument to undying devotion.

I lost track of the days. Maybe it was three or four. Perhaps a week. One evening, on my way home from the turbulent and intrusive world of man to my own little patch of Heaven, I saw the shallow branch creek behind Kennedy’s to be empty. No goose.

The true end of Lone Goose’s story will forever remain a mystery. But a story without an ending is a bane to a writer. This can go either way now in the imaginative mind of a sentimental, childish, maybe slightly crazy old author. Real, grown-up world of man can conjure up those dark thoughts that might be the final chapter. She was shot by a hunter, or hit by a truck, or killed by the unlit vanes of a wind farm or ambushed by a fox as he waited and waited. Since it is fiction, I shall pull my quill from the Pollyanna well, and construct the ending I’d prefer. 

Instincts began to whisper in his ear after several days. Unable to understand these feelings within, he is unable to will himself to move on. She is missing, and life was at a standstill until this condition would pass. He watched flock after flock of his cousins heading north, getting on with their geese lives. He was compelled by the warming days, the nearly-imperceptible travel of sunrise, drifting slowly northward at each dawn.

Time and tide wait for no goose.

It would be the evening of the sixth day. Goose has no knowledge of all those things that raced around my mind. Only a strange feeling that something is missing. Something is different. Perhaps forever. Goose knows only the signs of the Earth. The lengthening days. A call deep within his heart and soul to complete this annual trek despite all difficulties and disappointments.

Mother Nature calls to him in her gentlest Mother voice. The most soothing voice she knows. She has practice, as she has had to tell this to more than one Lone Goose, or Right Whale or Red Wolf.

“I’m sorry, precious one, for your unsettled feelings, your lost-ness, your losses. This too shall pass. It’s time to go now.”

Lone Goose pauses, and looks around once more. With reluctant resolve, he points into the headwind. A flock above invites him to join them. To share company and fellowship in a world that can make company and fellows vanish without explanation or trace. He stretches his wings, prepares to leave this once-welcoming refuge. “Their” swamp.

At the last moment, he hears a call ring out from the passing birds. Out of tens of thousands of Canada Geese in the Atlantic Flyway, he is unmistaken in his identification.

It was she.

Evening Flight

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz

 

The Game Of Life

Me and Life, we have this game we play. Timing and seasons are incorporated, but it’s not a race. There are no rules at all, really. It has goals, but no specific scores. Curiously, it is not considered a contest, and the winner enjoys winning throughout. I am the winner.

The game play takes place on a huge field. (Several fields, actually, as well as some trails and woods, a lake and a couple of ponds. And a swamp). There are few boundary markers. Mind you, the boundaries are there, and life will let you know if you cross them.

We have been at this a long time, so it’s impossible to describe how the game starts. No doubt it just seemed like life to me as a child and stupid young adult. In a way it’s a bit like chess, in that we each can have several campaigns unfolding simultaneously.

Some of my campaigns have been underway for a great deal of time. Some for years. Maybe some for decades. Something about this time of year that makes me pause ever-so-briefly to look at the tally. There is a sense of turning point in this season. A seventh inning stretch.

My plays involve my hearth and home, my beloved patch of green. Battling the sumacs. Cheering on the pollinator garden. Keeping open the trails, beating back the brush of summer. Basement windows are in frequent play, opening in the spring, closing before the pipes freeze. They are essential in my long-standing feud with the dampness in the hot and damp seasons, the drafty cold in the cold and drafty seasons.

I marshal a team for the season of light, rain and grass; lawn tractor, string trimmer, lopping shears and bow saw. A separate team, an offensive detail of sorts, tackles the bulkhead door, the screen door hinges, the crooked cupboard doors. The mice, the chipmunks, moles and voles that would delight in sharing our Victorian home crafted by masters. This team includes our tallest, the 28-foot ladder to reach the end zone of the roof to patch those cracks and realign the TV antenna. They fill lockers with hammers, drills, levels, screwdrivers, tin snips, glass cutters, putty knives and paint brushes, chisels and awls.

On defense, we train against the elements. Cold and snow and wind. Our captain is a four-wheel-drive plow truck, our co-captain the pellet stove. Plays include the sealing of 114-year-old windows and a foundation sill that has drifted in the five generations since those Scotsman cut and laid the toppling limestone. A squad of draftstopper chearleaders greets us at the door to the parlor, the coffin doors out front, the side door to the porch which will see the return of the bird feeders, and welcome the juncos, and say goodbye to the porch swing for a little while.

And herein lies our game. I make plans. Paint the house. Dismantle the toppled barn. Reclaim the back part of the property from the brush and weeds. On the playlist are many intentions. Replace the cracked glass in the round-top window out front. Paint the walls of the spare room. Get a load of gravel to fill and level the driveway, last treated twenty years ago. A fence to guard the corner garden, where the concrete Virgin keeps watch and welcomes visitors, to keep the dog from uprooting the hydrangeas.

In the meantime, I must keep the plates spinning on the stage as I try to dash off to these accomplishments between mowing the constantly-growing grass and feeding the dog and taking the trash and cooking on the barbecue. Somehow there is always a way to squeeze in a few days in a tent at a lake, quiet sunrises in the cabana, pulling sweet bass from the pond, hiking through the Wonder Woods with Sassy June.

Occasionally, someone will call a time out. A day spent with the boys in pursuit of white-tailed deer or turkeys. A day at daughter’s farm to help host Family Farm Day. A birthday party for dear friends. Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Then, back to the game. What wins do I count for this season? What plays remain on the board? Where did I lose a pawn or perhaps a knight? Where have I broken the lines of my opponent?

Like fencers, we pause for a moment in September, and face one another honorably and cordially. We bow to one another.

An autumn leaf falls. Frost on the window.

En garde!

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

Camp Journal, Part 4

 

Making Legends

Camp Morning

My body clock wakes me between 5:30 and 6:00, so that’s probably about the time it was when I crawled from my tent out into the warm and hazy July Sunday. We still have a long way to go, I think as I brew the coffee and heat water for oatmeal. I won’t be satisfied the boat motor repair will be straightforward until it’s actually done. The prop came off easily, and we had two sizes of propeller shear pins available, so this should be a slam dunk. Okay, don’t get over-confident.
While the boys slept in after a weekend full of action and a march through a monsoon, I headed down to the AquaMarie for the repair. I was glad to see Max had remembered to throw back the single bass from the live well. The breakdown and subsequent trip to town erased all hopes of Saturday Fish-Fry in camp, so this fish won a reprieve. The rain was so heavy the night before that it filled the boat almost halfway. A foot deep or more at the transom, the battery case was submerged, my tackle box afloat.
I grabbed the bilge pump, and returned water to the lake for a few minutes before feeling an urgency to get to the motor fix. The shear pin was just a tad long, and it jammed as I put the propeller on. I tried to pound down the ends with the hammer head of the camp hatchet. It needed to be just a sixteenth of an inch shorter for the prop to slip on over it. I couldn’t get the prop to seat all the way on the shaft, and determined the shear pin was still long, and snugging the ends of its channel within the assembly. Using the hatchet hammer again, I gently tapped the prop on over the tight shear pin until it seated enough to get the cotter pin back into the prop bell. “The use of the hatchet in small engine repair.” I narrated to myself.
The thing I always dread, which is yet to happen, would be striking camp in the pouring rain. Fortunately, there were but a few passing sprinkles this morning as the boys rose and breakfasted. We lingered a little, retold some early stories of the trip. Finally, the task of rolling up our beds and collapsing the tents loomed, and we began to pack the boat for travel. We loaded up, tied the kayak to the stern line as it hauled our cooler. We pulled out from site 34 with one long, last look at our temporary forest home.
“Fingers crossed.” I said as I started the motor and let it warm up. As expected, we put her in gear and she motored off, and headed for the channel marker buoys that lead to the boat launch.

Motoring

For a Sunday morning in mid-July, there were few people at the launch. Normally there’s a queue waiting to get to the water’s edge. Rental canoes are emptied and returned to the racks. Kayaks are lifted to rooftops, and the occasional boat trailer would back in to retrieve a vessel. Now the “beach” was wide open, save two other campers.
Up to the lot to fetch the Jimmy, (aka The Black Pearl), over one lot to hook up her boat trailer, then down to the water. The routine process of trailering the boat was made easier with two young men to assist, and we pulled our beautiful blue fiberglass baby from her favorite lake.
There’s an old adage that says things happen in threes. I hold no stock in superstitions, but as luck would have it…
Onto the beach crawls the trailer, the right tire torn and flat as the proverbial pancake.
“Ock!” came the Gaelic interjection.
I had a spare. Two in fact. Over the years I’ve owned the AquaMarie, I’ve steadily upgraded and replaced parts. New bow and stern lights, reworked wiring. About five horns ’cause for some reason they always stop working after two years. New bunks on the trailer, new LED trailer lights that don’t need three bulbs replaced every year. Along with a stern-mounted American flag and a new winch, I also ordered a pair of tires on brand new white rims.
Now, the boat came from Florida originally, and I’ve owned it a decade or so without ever seeing the lug bolts removed. These are the five bolts per wheel that hold them onto the hub. For the past two years I’ve gone out and sprayed them with rust-busting products, anticipating the wheels that are routinely submerged would not come off easily. I had planned to take the trailer to “The Tire Store” in Canajoharie, where the guys armed with air-driven impact wrenches, torches, and other tools of the trade could “persuade” stubborn lug nuts or bolts to come off. So for the past couple of years, two shiny new, 5-bolt trailer tires have taken a great round-trip joyride into the Adirondacks. It must be like a dream life for a tire; never exposed to sunlight or that nasty pavement, never having to hold up a thousand-pound load.
I’m anxious that the rusty old lugs will not be moved. We grab the lug wrench from the Jimmy, and of course, it’s too small. Well, it’s Sunday, camp is packed up (though much of it is in the boat), we’re on dry land, and the weather was pretty mild. Another perfect storm.
“Maybe I’ll need to find out if Roadside Assistance will change a trailer tire.” I addressed the boys, “Meanwhile, let’s head to town to see if we can find a 3/4″ socket to fit.”

The Jimmy and AquaMarie at the Mohawk River, 2019

We pile into the Jimmy again, and wind our way up the gravel road, up Deerland Road, and three miles up the state highway, straight to Hoss’s. Nothing like tools at all, so on to Mountain Born. Here, down one of the alleys, we find wrenches and sockets. No 3/4″ socket or ratchet drive or lug wrench. “Well, I guess we’re going to get to see Tupper Lake after all!” I called to my mates, and we headed north out of town.
It was a beautiful day for a ride, and this is some of the most scenic country you’ll ever see. We got to Tupper Lake and drove through the town, looking alternately at the lake and boats, then looking for the Aubuchon Hardware store. On Saturday, we noticed the water lilies had bloomed overnight. Places where we fished green pads on Friday sported white flowers. At Tupper Lake, we saw a lot of water lilies, and were enchanted by their colors; red, white, pink and yellow.
We found the hardware store and walked about to find some tools. I had measured the bolt with my fishing de-liar, and was certain it was three-quarters of an inch. I bought a 3/8″ ratchet drive to add to the four or five I already have back home. I picked up a (very expensive) deep well 3/4″ socket. We looked further for a “breaker bar”, solid chrome steel to spin your socket without grinding the gears of the ratchet drive. We came across the automotive department, and found a 4-way lug wrench. There was no 3/4″ on it, but there was a 13/16″, so we’ll take this along for insurance, along with a can of WD-40 penetrating oil. Sixty dollars later, we were heading south again to rescue our abandoned boat.

Scenic Adirondacks

And so this “perfect storm” engulfed us. Like the firewood purchased from Mountain Born Friday, and then the find-of-the-day shear pin there again on Saturday. We’d had a great ride on a wide open Sunday in beautiful summer weather, in one of the prettiest places I know of, and now were equipped (hopefully) for the tire change.
“I suppose I could leave her here and come back tomorrow if I had to.” I reasoned as we pulled out the jack and Max went to the wheel. The 3/4″ socket didn’t fit. My “surely 3/4″ bolt head was actually a standard 13/16”, which was one of the legs on the 4-way lug wrench. Without hesitation, Max quickly loosened all five bolts. “Pretty easy once they started.” he said, “The threads aren’t rusted at all.”
We listed the “what-ifs”, and again counted our luck. This didn’t happen on the way up here. On one of those long, desolate stretches of State Highway 10, where you see nothing for miles. No houses, no villages, no power lines, no stores. Nor did it happen on our way home, when the trailer and boat (loaded with gear) would need to be left on the side of the highway as we went in search of a lug wrench. Just like shearing the prop pin right at the beach, this perfect storm happened at the perfect place. Where we could park our boat in the lot, the rangers on watch. It was surrounded and passed by other campers and boaters that wouldn’t dream of tampering with such a thing. She was in a parking lot at a campground, covered, and could have remained there briefly if necessary.
In retrospect, even the torrent we marched through was perfect in its way, as if collaborating with the shear pin incident. The result was we walked through a rainy forest and had a great tale to tell, and this prevented us from being out on the boat when the storm struck. The very hour we were at the Eagle’s Inlet the night before, catching fish and watching the sunset, a half-hour’s ride from camp.
And so, the Camporee of 2020 will go in the books as one of the most memorable, adventure-filled and satisfying trips to our fabled lake. I can’t relate the excitement of landing fish after fish, or the feelings of self-reliance and accomplishment felt overcoming the obstacles we encountered. Photos do not do justice to the lake or the mountains, or the skies filled with passing storms and the golden red sunset, or the fish. My words can only describe the sounds of the loons calling into the night, the breeze in the pines, the chugging of the little outboard motor or the laughter of my grandsons.
I have added a page to the future. A page that will be turned many years from now, long after I am gone from this Earth. A man named Kacey, or one named Max, will look to his children, or perhaps grandchildren, and tell them stories of epic adventures with their grandfather. If they have learned anything from me, they will dutifully exaggerate the arduous journey, the ferocity of the storms, the efforts required to overcome our difficulties, and most importantly, the number and size of the fish.
And perhaps they will remember the trip made to the stormy lake, just we three. Without buddy-system backups or spare boats for rescue. Just the three of us, and our beloved lake.

Indeed, Camporee 2020 will be vaulted to the status of legend, and we three Musketeers to legendary.

 

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

 

Camp Journal, Part 3

Number Thirty-One

Forked Lake Campground

Of all the days we pass through in a life, the majority will be unremarkable in a lifetime sense. We remember important individual days by date, but it is singular moments, brief flashes, that actually constitute a memory.
I don’t remember everything about the day Ryan was born, but I remember going to the mall and buying blue and pink balloons, printed with the names Ryan and Elizabeth respectively. (Until he joined us in the world, we didn’t know if we’d greet boy or girl.)
I don’t remember all of Miranda’s wedding or reception, but I vividly recall walking her down the aisle and telling her “Take one giant step.” . I recall as well the father-daughter dance hours later, with the newly-minted Mrs. Prime.
And so it is with our great adventures, in the outdoors and at camp. I can total the number of days I’ve spent at this lake. I can list the friends and loved ones that have joined me here. I can show you on the campground map all the sites where we have pitched our temporary canvas homes. But the stories, the ones we really remember, are those times when the ordinary became the extraordinary.
The time I swamped the canoe and ended up, fully clothed, in the lake. The time I couldn’t get the engine of the boat to start, a mile down the lake and approaching sunset. Never was I more thankful for my die-hard camping partner Joe, and his little Bass Tracker boat which towed the AquaMarie back to camp.
The time I arose from my tent, somewhere deep in “the middle of the night”, and observed a single cloud sitting on the silent and still lake, not another cloud in sight. Or another occasion past midnight, the campground practically empty, when I was the sole witness to a great ancient hemlock crashing down onto the forest floor a half mile away in the otherwise peaceful wilderness.
The Camporee of 2020 will certainly be remembered as remarkable in many ways. First and foremost, all other members of our tribe had called off, leaving only grandsons Kacey and Max, and myself, to foray into the piney woods. I must relate that the aforementioned grandsons are not little children as they may come to mind. Kacey turns twenty-two in October, and Max seventeen a month later. They were essentially grown men helping with the work and enjoying the camping trip rather than children that required supervision.
And here we were. The real deal. The real die-hards, eh? There’s some kind of line between “bold” and “stupid”, and we may have straddled it a bit. But it sure made for some great stories.

Stormy Weather

So we were lucky to find a shear pin to replace the broken one on our boat motor’s propeller, right nearby in the hamlet of Long Lake, and we leaped from the Jimmy to try to beat the thunderstorm rampaging up the lake toward us. We weren’t ten steps from the truck when the rain started. Before we entered the woods trail, the skies opened, and torrential rain fell hard. Previously, we had found the sprinkles to be quite warm. We joked that we could shower in them if we had a bar of soap.
Not so true for Number Thirty-One.
“Whoa! That rain is cold!” cried Max, in a t-shirt, shorts and Crocs. Kacey wore jeans. It took about two minutes for the rain to soak my slicker, and the water drained down the back, onto my calves, through the socks, into the shoes. It was nearing darkness, but thankfully still light enough to see in the woods without flashlights. We heard one or two claps of thunder as we marched through the monsoon. It was probably a fifteen-minute hike in good weather, so there was little point in hurrying. We were in it now, with no choice but to keep walking. We’d pass the side trails that led to campsites and shout them out over the noise of the rainfall.
“Site eleven! We’re a third of the way.”
“Site twenty-one, only a third to go!”

Site Marker

The rain made the trail slick, especially on tree roots and the occasional wooden bridge. Troughs in the trail filled with water deep enough to submerge my canvas sneakers over the laces.
“Twenty-six! Only five more to go!”
We plod along, soaked to the skin. My mind hearkens back to many snowshoe walks with canine companions as I cheer on my stamina. How the top of Nishan Hill, only a quarter-mile from the house, seems so distant when the temperatures are far below freezing, and the winter wind sleds down Victory Mountain, gaining speed across the glen until it blasts me in the face. We’ll be sitting in front of a hot fire sipping coffee in twenty minutes, but for now it’s one more step, then one more step.
We sloshed our way along, losing the trail just once, but we quickly corrected. I was mindlessly plodding along, head down, watching my footing. “Here we are!” Max declared. I looked up to see the Site 31 sign on the tree three feet from me.
The rain continued heavily as darkness settled around us. Just in time. We crawled into our tents and stripped off our wringing wet clothes. Within half an hour, Number Thirty-One finished its performance, and the rains stopped, leaving the air cooler and more comfortable.
We crawled from our cocoons and battled wet everything to try to get a little fire going. We fried hot dogs in the cast iron, and commenced to fill our bellies with another delicious camp meal. Max discovered the can of Spam, and that followed the hot dogs.
The umbrella chairs were soaked, pools of water in their seats, and to say we were tired would be quite the understatement. The lingering over the dying fire would not last long this night, and our little beds on the ground called to us.

Fire Ring

In the tent, I was too excited to sleep. The adventure of it all, and unflinching accommodation of all the hurdles the lake, the sky and the little boat threw at us. I spent some time jabbering away at Kacey, mostly about my camera, which was conspicuously absent on the boat for pics of our catches. I talked about the way I love photography and documenting all of life’s adventures and beauties. Certainly the rain was a threat, and helped convince me to leave the all-electronic gadget in the camera bag. Yet there was another incentive, and that was to simply enjoy this time with my grandsons. To be grabbing the landing net at the call of “Fish on!”, not grabbing my camera. To see the bald eagle, and watch it fly through the great wide beautiful world, not condensed and cropped to the size of a viewfinder. To marvel at the colors in the sky, the smiles of my grandsons, reflections in the water, the passing rain clouds. To live these moments and tuck them into the memory banks and galleries of my mind.

Camp Neighbors

In fact, on this trip, I was glad to have just one photo to bring home, of a family of ducks swimming past our camp. (All the other images in this journal series are from years past at Forked Lake) That single image will be iconic for me, and will always transport me back to this lake, and the time just the three of us shared camp. The time we had no Saturday Fish Fry because we were trekking through a hurricane fetching emergency repair parts for the boat. And running my mouth like Chatty Cathy as the loons called into the pitch black night.
Fifty-one years later, those rings deep within, that ten-year-old boy, still excited as ever to be at camp.

Rains fell off and on as we slept away our last night in this incredible, amazing, memorable place.

Part 4 next time.

Paz