Author Archives: Pazlo

About Pazlo

Armchair Zen Master, father, fisherman, grandfather, poet, brother, naturalist, collector of old things, dog person, human.

Summer Place

The honorable bonds of patriarch’s duties ebbed in the first week of July. At liberty, at last, and without constraint, we fled to our summer place, the dog, the cat and I. My soul was hungry for respite, and our Wee Haven in the woods was the prescription required.

My river has taken many tumultuous turns in the two years prior. After running the rapids and plunging over a cataract, I found myself in new and unrecognizable places. Strong currents continued to have their way with my days. This observation I make only as a matter of record and preface to the present, for these currents brought me countless unexpected and cherished moments, filled my days with sunshine and laughter, and the many charms to be enjoyed along the journey.

Now the Sirens of Away entranced me.
“Away from what?” I called out in defense, “What possibly could compel my exodus from Eden?”
The sirens would not be refused, and plied their guiles and filled my chalice with their sweet liquors until the call of solitary reflection became equally my desire.

To break to the summer place is at once a going-away and a leaving-behind. Away carries with it a connotation of escape. Escape from stresses or from the heat of town. Escape from the din of modernity, the money-changers and the marketeers, mechanized monsters and moaning machines of industry, the pious preacher and the pan-handling pantomime. The fun and excitement of Life’s daily carnival commands an admission price of voluntary or involuntary sensory overload. Away implies a distance from which these things cannot reach you.

Leaving always seems like loss, and we doubt our own sense and haste. Escape will not eliminate the tow lines you lay down temporarily. Perhaps Leaving is imprudent now. Irresponsible. Self-indulgent. Selfish. Immature. Childish. Wasteful.
Why do our minds torment us so when it is keenly in the interest of same that we seek to leave?

Sirens or liquors or minds notwithstanding, at another turn Leaving is invitation, begging you, for the pleasure of your company, to abandon your chores and exercises in vanity. Surely you can find it in your heart to sacrifice your precious time battling weeds and balancing books, painting posts and pruning pines.
“Out of sight, out of mind.” Leaving cajoles. “All of your work and worry will still be here when you return, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Suddenly, Away is paradise, and Leaving my utmost priority.

It’s not unlike setting sail on a voyage, in that now there is a time before you over which you have no influence. The sea will not swell, nor the winds blow, nor the currents compliment your course by your insistence. Now you need only tack and climb in the riggings, smell the salt air and listen to the seabirds. For here is Away’s addictive tonic: despite your greatest ambitions, you are required to relax.

The lure of Wee Haven wafts to me like the smoke of the wood stove. Like pre-dawn pancakes on the cast iron griddle. My imagination races at the chances to explore the nooks and crannies of the old rooms, the drawers of heirloom dressers, the attic, and perhaps most tantalizing, the library.


My zealousness is tempered slightly as I climb the stair and enter the hallway. Things of all kind seemed to be scattered everywhere, thrown down without conscious reason. And dust. How long has it been since last I attended to these humble quarters? The answer eludes me and is irrelevant now, and compulsion has me tidying and cleaning before I have even settled in.

Implements of sanitation in hand, I head hesitatingly to the great master bedroom. Its image has been like a guiding star, drawing me hence hitherto, the very heart of my Wee Haven. The brightly colored walls, lit by three big, old-fashioned double hung portals. The creak of the plank floor and rattling of window sashes as one walks about. The huge king bed beneath Grandma Grace’s seven day clock, facing the west windows to watch the dancing shadows painted by the sunset on the walls and ceiling, through the leaves of waving trees.

Without equal is the breeze coming in through those windows and up over that bed, a drug as effective for me as any sedative. Through the summer night I am serenaded by the rustling leaves, the patter of raindrops, chirping crickets and calls of the owls. By the chaotic and boisterous yowls of the coyotes. I am anesthetized by the smell of the Earth, and rain on the wind, dosed with fleeting scents of roses and milkweed blossoms.

Imagination is a great boon to marketers of destinations, for it is always better-imagined in our quest to be Away than is the reality upon arrival. The master suite was no exception to this rule, and as the squeaky door opened I looked upon a dusty heap left by the last inhabitant, and furnishings akimbo and wedged into places incongruous with the space. Now cleaning ensued once again, adding the rearrangement of furniture to which no small amount of time was devoted.

All such industrious activities are a labor of love. For moving the vanity requires removal of the drawers, and the removal of the drawers reveals their hidden treasures. Photographs and hundred-year-old postcards from the McGrattans, prayer cards and wedding invitations, tattered baby bonnets and faded blue ribbons from the fair. Dusting under the bed disturbs a stack of photo albums that must be perused briefly, or perhaps not-so-briefly. Opening the steamer trunk to stow the down comforter reveals a carefully folded wedding gown.

As I grazed through my tasks, the sun began to set, and I strung the lead cord through the hole in the closet wall to have a light in the library’s reading nook. It began as a tidying-up. Just enough so I could walk past without fear of my mother reaching down from Heaven to slap me for neglecting, disrespecting, that which we hold dear to our hearts and are honored to care for; books.

Tidying in a library requires, as a matter of course that does not surprise you I am certain, the handling of some books. It starts with “these need to be put away” and “this goes here”, and progresses through “that doesn’t belong there” and “Oh I forgot all about this” and “would you look at this!” and “I had no idea this was here!”

Sassy June stretched and gave me the yellow eye, breaking the spell after who knows how many hours lightly dusting but mostly reading in the nook. As I let her out I was eager to return to my lair, to the 1910 Gazetteer, to the 1902 Smart Set Magazine touting the greatest of the latest Pan-American Exhibition: electric lights. There were good passages of advice from 1942 and predictions of the future from 1959.

Away does not imply alone. You can go with a companion (of your preferred species) or you can go to an Away full of people, like the beach. I, however, had anticipated sharing my time only with my furry friends during this stay. To my astonishment, I found here secreted within my own walls, hundreds of quiet, patient friends, and familiar names like Cooper and Steinbeck, Parker and Homer, Dickens and Orwell. Folks I’d met before. Away can surprise you like that.

I pulled out an oversized volume wedged atop the shelf of cookbooks, It was The History Of The United States Navy To Present, published in 1915. In it, my mother had stashed some pictures from calendars. Cowboys on the plains, horses, native people. A brochure from Grumbacher led me to believe these were subjects she had wanted to paint. My mother took up oil painting, along with my dad for a while, no doubt my inspiration and incentive to follow suit. It felt like I was reconnecting with her through the books and pages we shared. Much of my life is an homage to my mother. She shaped me, and taught me innumerable things, and continues to do so many years after our parting. It is often I hear myself declare “My mother would have loved this.” I can hear her laughter at our inside jokes, and see her beaming smile, pleased with the ways I am spending my living years. Perhaps our likes are the same, and for good reason. I have always done and continue to do things that might please her. Solely to please her, for she merits such treatment! I never had to do anything for her attention, as it was always given in unlimited quantities and unconditionally.

At last when I sought to exchange the volume in my hand for the next that caught my attention, disagreements were to be had from my spine. Removing my glasses felt like doffing a diving helmet, and one leg was entirely devoid of feeling. The dog and cat, exhausted by our expedition, compounded by watching me work like a mule, had long since retired. I rose, thankful I’d made up that king bed, and looking forward to its feather pillows.

Here I am now at the culmination of day one, or is it the start of day two? It was indeed a wee hour here at Wee Haven when I deigned to close my eyes for a brief rest, and bade good night and good morning to all my dust-jacketed and paper-backed friends. I couldn’t tell you the time. I was overjoyed there was not a working time piece in sight, and vowed that I shan’t care at all for clocks on my escape to Away.

It was then I realized how potent and perfectly-administered were the potions and brews with which the Sirens of Wee Haven had bewitched me.

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

Eden And Cat Puke

The Summer Wood


Sassy June pulls me from the heat of the July sun into the shade of the hardwood stands. The aged forest has grown tall, a great green canopy enshrining a clear understory that has lived wild for decades. Here the sorrels and trillium and wild gingers spread horizontally more than vertically in their efforts to gather the sparse light of that brief season of green.

Juney is mostly Husky, and it is in her nature to keep moving, keep trotting. All day if necessary. She’s given the broadest rein possible, and chooses our course, though it typically traces a sort of route that is comprised largely of our trail system. I follow along dutifully, at a quick, almost-husky pace, my eyes glued to the earth seeking my next footfall, or winding in zig-zags through saplings in pursuit of prey. Occasionally, my canine companion will hover and orbit around a rotten log or scat pile of particular interest, and I am granted the opportunity to raise my eyes.

Wild Lilies

On this occasion, on this perfect Pinnacle Day of July, Sasha and her nose have pulled me down from the crest of the hill at the trail’s entrance to the wood. Down through the little hollow that bends its way slowly to the banks of West Creek, an isolated stretch where it winds between the hardwoods and the swampy wastelands behind the hayfields. This place sees more raccoons and bears than humans or dogs, but we are equally welcome, the chortling water seems to say. As my furry friend excavated a dead beech stump, I was enraptured by the verdant glen in which we stood. The floor as far as one could see was covered with the low-growing emerald green of the forest. Above, the tops of gargantuan trees swayed and creaked in the wind, the blue sky and dappled sunlight trying to peek through the thick canopy.

Perpetual Motion

I gasped at the splendorous beauty and peacefulness of this place.
“Eden!” my voice broke the quiet of the wood, and I was nearly startled at the utterance. “Am I dead?” I asked myself (not for the first time). “This is Heaven, or we have found Eden.” Snazzly paused just a moment and looked at me, then returned to digging.
The grandeur of this simple glade was overwhelming and defies description, and I examined it closely, finding it to be the very picture of what we see when we think of that garden of perfection inhabited by Adam and Eve.

My spirits were buoyed by our walk in the Wonder Woods, which is so often the case, and upon our return to the homestead I couldn’t help but to continue thinking about how fortunate and grateful I am to live in such a place. We took to the south porch for sunset that day, and I gazed out on the lawns filled with trees and flowers and birds.
“Even an apple tree.” I observed. “This is perfect. This IS Eden.”

Evening In The Garden

I swung open the squeaky screen door and stepped into the living room.
“Well,” I continued, eyeing the white carpet, “except for the cat puke.”
Doone is an avid puker, usually after she overeats, so it’s not unusual to find these little gifts left for me.

When I returned to the porch, there sat the cat. Preening her fabulously-perfect coat and looking for affection.

“Well, Doone,” I postulated, “they didn’t write about it in their book, but if Eden was such a great place I’ll bet Adam and Eve had a cat.”

“Meow.” she replied.

Again I am at a loss when it comes to describing the beautiful sunset lawn that was my view. The long dancing shadows of trees waving in the wind, the passing flocks of cowbirds, the peach and pink and rose and salmon clouds.

Jeff’s Rest

“Yes, Doone,” I said as my feline friend ran off to kill one of my beloved hummingbirds, “I’ll bet there was cat puke in their Eden, too.”

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz

Thoreau-ic Measures

On our way to Gloucester Massachusetts to meet a friend for deep-sea fishing, Joe and I made a slight detour to visit Walden Pond, made famous by Henry David Thoreau’s writings of his time in the woods along its shores. It felt like something of a pilgrimage to me in many ways. I had read Walden, and a few other compositions, and knew the author to be a naturalist and outdoorsman, and outspoken advocate of The Duty of Civil Disobedience. He spent time in the Maine woods on guided bear hunts, and wrote many short correspondence articles about such adventures. He would probably prefer to be remembered for his political essays, but just being remembered is the golden idol of creative people. I like to think I embrace Thoreau’s admonition to “Simplify!”. Not so much in the sense of minimalist living conditions, but in the way we choose to relate to our place in the natural order. Also the ways we choose to allow civilization, indoctrination, and the expectations of modernity to influence our behavior, our self-sense, and our outlook.

Thoreau and I shared so many things in common, I feel as if we would be good friends had we known one another. Nature and the outdoors, the Adirondack Mountains, my times in the piney woods at our remote and wild lake, all became fodder for my writing machine. There is often a philosophical bent to my poems and journal entries.
While I lived in the modern world and had a family to support, (and partly because of that!) a humble and frugal lifestyle suited me just fine. We had a huge old farmhouse in the country that we bought pretty cheap and before the real estate boom. To this day my car is simply a machine to replace my horse. When in need, I’ll choose something that makes sense and can be had used at a reasonable price. (A car I mean, not horse.)

Fast forward through a life of raising kids to fledge from The Ark and burning the mortgage (we didn’t really burn it, when the time came, we wanted to keep it) and through burying my parents and my wife, and retiring from work this year. Here I have The Ark to myself in a peaceful rural glen, with the woods backed up nearly to my door. The government dole we’ve partnershipped on over the last forty-five years is slim, but might just be adequate to support one old man and a dog and a cat if we live like old Henry this year. There are savings to subsidize the budget, but “tax burdens” make it inadvisable to tap into that before January 2023. I don’t want you to think I’m trying to cry “starving artist”, though it would play well to my painting sales. This really is a further incentive to embrace the spirit of simplicity, and even the minimalism to a degree. Wait, I guess you can’t have minimalism “to a degree”, but you know what I mean.

When one announces an intent to retire, or makes the rounds of goodbyes at work, the question is posited like clockwork; “What are you going to do?”. At first I was entirely unprepared for the question. I would begin to narrate a daytime dream of my retired life to the poor wretches yet slaves to ambition.
“Bake.” A moment’s thought. “Fish. I look forward to fishing. Playing music. Mowing.”
As their eyes glazed over I realized they expected some coherent answer. Some Big Thing to replace the Big Thing Of Work. Or perhaps some Big Dream of owning your own hot pretzel cart or trying out for a Broadway musical. Hobbled still in the trenches of the working, perhaps they worry for the old man that has quit his job. Maybe they want to know if an adult child will have room in their home. At the very least they expect to hear some modest indentures on your Forsaken Dreams.
“I’ll still have remotes with the station once in a while.”, they want to hear, or something like: “I’ll be riding herd on my nephew’s rutabaga ranch. You know, enough to cover the bills.”

Then it occurred to me. I do have a Big Thing to replace the Big Thing Of Work. I do have a Big Dream and I’m ready to audition. Like Henry, I am as free of the indentures of modernity as one can be. I have studied long about this very singular chapter of my life, and have journaled my way along the circuitous path that has brought me, perhaps through a series of unfortunate events, to this Now. A blank slate pregnant with promise and boundless beauty. With all that, I think people still remain puzzled when I answer their inquiries with a single word. I’ve Simplified my Big Thing, my Big Dream, and my retirement plan into a frill-free, direct-to-the-point, answer I like to think old Henry would be proud of.

When asked “What are you going to do?”
I’ll reply:
“Live.”

Take care and keep in touch.

Let me know what you’re doing these days.

Paz

The Retiring Kind

In our last episode, I talked about making the decision to retire from the working world. After Family Leave for my wife’s terminal illness in 2020, I returned to work on a semi-retired schedule of 3 days per week. I retired officially on April 15th this year.

It’s a big step and and something of a drastic change in one’s life, and I am keenly aware that the subconscious brain is not particularly fond of change. Perhaps that’s unfair. Closer to the truth to say brain goes into a certain “scramble-the-jets” mode when substantial changes occur. It’s doing its important job of keeping us healthy and safe from our environments. It’s looking for the landmarks that remain, and sorting through every bit of new data that is sent its way.

So I decided I better go on vacation before I tell my brain that I have retired. Vacation is mostly a good thing, and brain is accustomed to the concept. I say “mostly a good thing” because I have planned and taken more than one vacation dedicated to wallpapering a kitchen or building a porch or changing the engine in a Subaru, so they aren’t always relaxing and reinvigorating, let’s say.

The plan ensued to slowly get brain comfortable with throwing away the alarm clock and not caring if there is a clean shirt for tomorrow. This could pass for vacay, easy. I figure this will be good for about two weeks or so, then brain will start getting antsy about not being awakened from a perfectly-sound (and needed) sleep, or getting that after-work rush of running around to feed the dog and the cat and serve dinner and change clothes and maybe mow a little or clean the pellet stove.

My new plan is to suggest that when I return from vacation from my semi-retirement after leave, I will go on sabbatical. Sabbatical is all about rest and recharging the spirit, and usually lasts up to a year and specifically excludes paint and wallpaper. Hopefully, subconscious brain will start to take a fancy to all this nothing-doing-ness and perhaps think about going on retreat for a while before returning to the world. Rest is good for the brain, too, y’know. It’s not just for muscles and spirits.

“Vacation” is going well, pretty much. I’m real glad about a lot of things like having time to paint (landscapes on canvas, not clapboard on houses), and have been able to mow the lawn at my leisure, enjoying it from the morning window in the kitchen. Writing seems to elude me, but I guess one needs to vacation from many aspects of daily routine on sabbatical. I get an urge to write and subconscious brain is so slick it’s right there behind me with a suspicious sneer, “I thought we were on vacation?!” And I’m so afraid of letting the cat out of the bag and throwing a wrench in the works and upsetting the apple cart that I zip my lip and hold my tongue and don’t let on and close the journal on that, so-to-speak.

I have been writing a lot of poetry. That’s an acceptable vacation thing, I guess. Just one page at a time typically, and you don’t even need to fill a page or have a topic or anything. Almost like doodling. Or writing your name in the sand with a stick. You can write poetry from a hammock or an Adirondack chair. Heck, you could stay in bed and write poetry all morning, Way late. Like 8 o’clock. Yeah, that’s vacation alright.

On sabbatical, I think it would be alright to keep a journal, don’t you? Not like just a diary like “I got new roller skates today” but more like a place to make note of all you appreciate in that now or the wonders on which you ponder in a spiritual battery recharging. Those sound like nice things for a subconscious brain to go along with for a while, wouldn’t you agree? I sure would. Sabbaticals can have more than just poetry.

‘Cause y’know I really like to write, and it’s really a part of me and has been for a long time before I got to retir this year’s vacation and subsequent sabbatical. Retire This year’s schedule has allowed me to relax to degrees I have not been able to experience for decades. It was fruitless trying to recall what it felt like when last I was a bachelor. Technically, a widower, but I am a man who is responsible only for himself now, one who answers to no one and can grant any preference. It’s simply normal life for so many, but it is new-ish to me. Sure, I lived as a bachelor before I married and had children and grew from apartment to home and from job to career.

Writing was one of the things that has always connected to the real root of me. In many ways it joins other artistic pursuits as an indelible, inalienable core. Perhaps an alter ego. A face beneath the many hats of son and father, husband and citizen, supporter and leader, guest and friend, mentor and grandfather. For all of those strong spokes of my life’s wheel are directed outward and connected inward. They return joy and glory and pride and love and feelings of accomplishment, drive, duty and productiveness to the eyes on the face beneath the hat. And aren’t “the eyes the windows to the soul?”.

Yes, I agree with you. Thanks for seconding the notion that journaling is good for the soul. That’s a solid statement subconscious brain can sink its metaphoric teeth into and symbolically chew on for a while as our virtual vacation nears its imaginary end.

A little distraction as we speed-bump over a small change and move on from vacation.

On sabbatical, we’ll have time to consider going on hiatus for a while.

Take care and keep in touch.
(You may experience some delay if my mail is held while away)

Paz

Reiteration

Top of The Hill

Write something. You’re a writer- write. Writers write.
Even the word looks wrong, the pen feels foreign and slightly out of alignment.

There are several mistakes and cross-outs already by the fourth sentence.

This is stupid now. I’m just filling up space with ink. Exercise for my quill hand. Oh look, that familiar penmanship has returned. Good morning, Mr.Hyde.

Exercise not only for the muscle, but the brain.
Slow to the speed of the pen.
Watch the ball roll across the paper, magically depositing universally-recognizable symbols to communicate distinctly and eloquently the vaporous rambling in which I am now mired.

Okay. I haven’t “really” written for a year. More cross-outs.

I can’t tell you how many compositions I’ve begun. How I intended and wanted to write when I get to the right time and place. How good it felt to take some short laps, play nine writing song lyrics or a meaningful blog comment.

Well, whad’ya know. Turning a page in the journal. I’ve filled 29 college-ruled lines. (OK, 28 ’cause of the cross-outs) 70 square inches of dribble, writing about not knowing what to write about or doing any writing in a year.

Cross-outs again. That was a stupid line. Another 28-er.
I’m not sure- can’t quite see myself posting this particular piece to the blog. I’m in a Salinger-esque mood and slamming things together into enunciations as if I am speaking aloud and the pauses and inflection will carry me through. Ooh! I see a segue coming. Get ready.

I was walking through the pantry, my ever-whirring mind at mid-throttle.
“Tone it down a little.” I spoke aloud.
I almost startled myself with the noise. It was comical and amusing that one’s own utterance could be startling.
And but also it was like a rocket, sent from a million miles away from deep within the far reaches of my brain’s right hemisphere. It was telling me that I had overwhelmed myself with options. A have a few small responsibilities and a dozen compelling options for the application of my time otherwise. This amounts to a LOT of time, really.
Now I’m not saying “a lot of time” like “on my hands”, like implying boredom or anything. Just the opposite.

I have so many pursuits, hobbies, interests and passions that sometimes it’s difficult for me to choose one. Crazy, right? Some are easy, like stopping at the kitchen window to watch birds at the feeders and the other goings-on out there. Or a few minutes on the couch watching the woodpecker at the suet feeder on the south porch.

*************************************************************************

Several days later:

I’m writing constantly in my head. Everything I see and do on a daily basis I am describing in well-constructed sentences. I wish there was some magic machine that could record and transcribe all of these ethereal bits and pieces then print them out for my perusal at a later date. I write in my head all the time but find it difficult these days to commit to the assembly of a respectable composition. Do you want to hear the ten-thousand excuses or are you a writer (or other artist) that already knows them all? Somehow my brain tells me these hobbies and pursuits are frivolous wasting of time. There are responsibilities to be responsible for, work that needs to be worked on, chores that need to be chored. How can one stop and play when the work is not yet done?


When I was a kid, my mom would ask me to clean my room. She’d remind me several times and wait. Then one day she would sweep all of the toys and clothes and what-have-you into a pile in the middle, and upon my next arrival home would announce: “No going out to play until your room is clean.”
I suppose I’ve only compounded the problem with my hyperactive accumulation of “interests”, and my propensity to take up “pursuits” which are complicated and time-consuming like writing and painting and music. Why couldn’t I have stuck with some simpler things like tennis and crosswords? Sometimes I stand in place and turn circles like an excited three-year-old in a candy store. I’m torn in multiple directions, unable to choose because I want to do everything all the time. Then I hear mom.
“No play until your room is clean.”

I’m cyphering these things out now as I embark on “Year 2” as a man in later life, suddenly and unexpectedly single. Widowed well over a year now, the black crepes come down and it’s time to get on with the living of my life from here forward.
I’ve been running a lot in the past year from one thing to the next. Perhaps denying each the proper amount of attention. The blogs have fallen by the wayside a little, for no reason other than being overshadowed by other activities.

Writing, however, is not about making blog posts for me. It is an inexplicably enchanting siren that calls me to return to the craft of it.
Diction and grammar and dynamic components that compel the reader ever on, through the commas and the semi-colons; the dangling participles, to the very punctuation mark that signals its end, like singing along with a song until it is over. For the longest time (roughly before blogging existed) my writing consisted of journaling my own personal experiences. In a way something of a diary, yet the commitment to paper seemed to imbue relative value on the thoughts and recollections.

These journals are part of my journey, the entries within like the proceeds of the way I “spent” my time. For each day recorded we count the till and revel in our profits. Once catalogued, these pages remain as receipts, proofs-of-purchase, warranty registrations. Here are all those things we can take with us when we die, iterated in physical form.
Rewarding works, triumphs of the soul and spirit. Adventure, wonder, curiosity. Beauty, nature, the arts. Community, camaraderie, company and companionship.
Living, laughter, love.

In “Year 1” I thought I had recoiled a bit, an almost-over-corrected reaction and change in my attitude toward the World. I had for the longest time been developing an allergy to it, and my wife’s death provided a worthy excuse to extricate myself from it. It became something of an unintended sabbatical, and now I am woe to return to “civilization” from the perfect and beautiful sanctity of my mountaintop lair.

In fact, I am resistant to doing so. I’m cashing in my chips and retiring from the working world. Probably another two weeks and we’ll be ready. Now at this very cusp of my dream life, my mind and spirit are listening to those sirens, impatient for the days when I can give each of them their proper due.

It’s 17 degrees F today, March 28, ’22. With wind chill 8. Now it has risen as the wind gusts dropped to 12 miles per hour. I have decided to sit at the table- my favorite place in the world- and write. Even if I don’t come up with some Earth-shattering concept or Pulitzer-winning poem. Even if I just write words.

You’re a writer- so write.

Slainte,

Paz

Richest Man In Town

Snowy Sunrise

A nod to Frank Capra and his Christmas masterpiece, It’s A Wonderful Life.
When a simple, joyful life becomes a yoke, then subsequently is befallen with disaster, George Bailey looks around the fixer-upper he, his wife and three children occupy, and can see only his disappointments and shortcomings and failures.
Restless and angry, he lashes out.
“Why do we live in this drafty old barn? Why do we have all these kids?”

This line became a running gag between my wife and I, surviving some impressive winters in our own “drafty old barn”, The Ark of Engleville. It’s as big and as old and indeed as drafty as that home in the movie. Each year I go about sealing cracks and stuffing holes and promising to do better next year. Still, when I lean into the kitchen window and a slight breeze arises from between the sashes, I am greeted with the wonderful aromas of the world outside this portal. The scent of the wind and snow, the smell of 115-year-old clapboard siding, hints of human inhabitance; smoke from a wood fire. It is invigorating and nostalgic and genuine all at once, and never does the thought enter in that this is not an economical window.

But this post is not about the Ark or windows. It’s not really about the movie, either. It’s about perspective. In the story of George Bailey, he feels all is lost from his perspective when things go wrong at his family business. He already lived with the sense that he had sacrificed his worldly hopes and dreams to care for the institution founded by his father and uncle. He is young in the grand scheme of things, with school-aged children at home, and many years to face of toiling away as an everyman at an everyday job.
He accuses a prominent businessman, Mr. Potter, of being “a warped, frustrated old man.”, and when things turn bad, his words are echoed back to him.
“And what are you now, but a warped, frustrated young man?”

I’ll not spoil the movie for you with too much detail, in the event you haven’t seen it. Suffice to say that after a long personal trial of himself, George realizes the greatest gifts in his life did not come from globetrotting escapades or success in business or social prominence and status symbols. He sees the true and real value in his life; having a father that took pride in his children, not his income; saving his brother from drowning when they were young boys; friends and a community that respected and revered him because of his character and kindness and generous nature; his wife, his children.

The contrast is Mr. Potter, an aging bachelor whose only “children” are the myriad business holdings he owns. He is painted as selfish and miserly, always looking to take advantage of others for his own monetary gain. Indeed, he is without a doubt the richest man in Bedford Falls, the fictional location of the tale.

The story involves a tremendous financial disaster that occurs in the family business, one the family does not have the resources to solve. George is faced with bankruptcy, and possibly a jail sentence for embezzlement. When, after the trials of the story, he puts things into perspective, he sees that his life is filled with precious and beautiful things, and is worth the living even under dire circumstances. Friends and community rally to raise the funds needed, and in the final scene, George’s brother (the one whose life he saved as a child) raises a glass to toast him. While Harry may be referring to the money raised in support of the family business, we know George is thinking about more important things for which he is supremely grateful. His brother; his wife and children; his mother; his uncle Billy; this little town with a big heart, an endless stream of friends.

“To my big brother George,” Harry proclaims, “the richest man in town.”

Here in Engleville, the sun is just setting now. The beauty of December’s snow has been melted away by the day’s rain. The wind is up, and that means I need to run around now and pull closed the heavy drapes in the parlor and at the front “coffin” doors, stuff the draft stopper tightly against the south porch door, clean the pellet stove to fire it for the night. I’m glad it’s above freezing because I have neglected to plug in the heat tape in the cellar to keep the water pump switch from freezing. I left the storm windows out for the Thanksgiving company’s benefit, and the single pane view is nice, albeit chilly.

I’m closing curtains and turning up gas heaters and asking the dog and my wife’s spirit and this ancient Ark: “Why do we live in this drafty old barn?”

A smile stretches across my face as a tear wells in my eye.

I know damn well why I live in this giant old Victorian Ark with its giant old windows and its sagging floors and crumbling foundation.

It is my mansion.

And I am the richest man in Engleville.

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

Summer Storms

Curious Clouds

(I realize it’s not exactly summer anywhere on the globe right now, but I submit this slightly yellowed composition for your consideration nonetheless.- Paz)

“Water in the well.” is my response to any talk of rain, particularly if the conversation drifts toward the forbidden: complaints about it. Every drop of water is sacred in my book, even when it overwhelms the flat roof of The Ark and drips into the kitchen where the old part of the house meets the new.

I threw the extension ladder up, and stood on the second-story roof, re-examining, for the thirty-sixth year, the joint and flashing in question. Last year’s spray-on rubber sealer was no match for the century-old Goliath settling on the crumbling hand-laid stone foundation. And so my labors of love continue this year, and I’ll be up there with a bucket of roof tar and a trowel. What might seem like a maintenance nightmare to some is to me one of the surest continuities in my life. This year, these continuities hug me with a certain knowing.

I’m on the way back to life now, from the dark and lengthy hiatus to the Island of Grief after my wife’s death. I’m readying to write again, blog entries that don’t feel as though they require continual reference to that event. Regular readers are well aware of this, and it didn’t seem appropriate to simply begin writing posts without addressing the subject.

I began to think of the summer’s storms, like the threatening black thunderheads I am watching now from the porch. There is a metaphor in there somewhere for this time in my life. We never complain about the rain, but it can bring with it burdens, and damage, too. Too much water is defined as a flood, and I have been brought to tears bearing witness to that kind of devastation firsthand.

If there is one certainty, it is that the storm will pass. Sometimes we’ll need to pick up a few branches torn from my precious cottonwoods, or climb the ladder to unclog the roof drain, but these things are done at a most welcome time. It is not part of the storm, but the storm itself is essential, entwined, and intrinsically a part of that time: when the storms have passed.

The air is left fresh and cool, even after an oppressively humid and hot July day. Roads and driveways and sidewalks are cleaner, the grime of the grind of the everyday washed down storm drains and drainage ditches. Trees, flowers and grasses sparkle when the clouds move away, and if you put the sun at your back and look to the opposite horizon, you may be greeted with a rainbow.

That’s where I am now. Like the aftermath of the storm, I’ve had to pick up limbs, unclog drains, and mop up the leak in the kitchen of my heart and soul. It’s not quite as simple as everything going “back to normal”, as there is now a new normal. The limbs torn from the tree will never regrow, but the tree is still alive and well, and will continue its own life as a beautiful tree, minus a few branches.

Back to the Ark. Reality raises its head as I return from my altered state. A number of projects have been let to slide, and some of them significant. I was to make more concerted effort this year at jacking and leveling the sagging floors, as the 115-year-old locust trunks that support them begin to decay and compress. These are normal things for a house of this vintage, but if neglected can become bigger problems. Just the other day I looked up from the front porch and saw daylight through the roof. Another roof with a drain issue that’s needed attention for some time, and whose demise has been hastened by industrious nesting birds.

She is always a few steps ahead of me, this old Ark, as we age together. The ambitious twenty-six-year-old that was catching her up (even getting ahead in a few places), is now a tiring sixty-two-year-old widower. The ambitions remain, but the flesh is beginning to flag. Throwing the extension ladder is not as easy as in the days when I was a cable TV technician and threw it a dozen times a day. The wood pellets seem heavier than when I installed the stove a decade ago. And I have newfound respect and admiration for several homemakers that worked full time and took care of a house and family and made it look easy. I have only myself and the dog and cat and I’m still up ’til 10 o’clock sometimes doing chores.

Still, daily I give thanks for this life, The Ark included, and its leaks and the ladder and the dog and cat. I make these observations not by way of complaint, but simply to note them. I love the old Ark and everything that goes with it. It is my rock, and that of my children and grandchildren. It is our Tara, even if some days she looks a bit post-Sherman’s March.

The front porch

When I sit on this porch and look out upon the green field and wind-swayed maples, hear Bob’s grandkids squealing down at the farm or wave to Tom as he drives to Mike’s on his four-wheeler, I am immensely grateful for this little glen, and this little life I’ve built in it. And the summer storms, and the times after. Indeed, the thousand seasons of my Earthbound days.

And these continuities that will ebb and flow, and settle like a century-old Ark.

Take care, and keep in touch.

Paz

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