Author Archives: Pazlo

About Pazlo

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

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

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