Tag Archives: Family

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

The Game Of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An autumn leaf falls. Frost on the window.

En garde!

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

Camp Journal, Part 4

 

Making Legends

Camp Morning

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

Motoring

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

The Jimmy and AquaMarie at the Mohawk River, 2019

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

Scenic Adirondacks

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

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

 

Take care and keep in touch.

Paz

 

Camp Journal, Part 3

Number Thirty-One

Forked Lake Campground

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

Stormy Weather

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

Site Marker

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

Fire Ring

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

Camp Neighbors

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

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

Part 4 next time.

Paz

Camp Journal, Part 1

 

Perfect Storms

Chairs Await

I understand much of the modern science of meteorology. Warm and cold fronts, high and low atmospheric pressures, occluded fronts, jet streams, humidity, moisture in the clouds. One can fathom a pretty good guess with the data from weather radar, computer modeling, and good, old-fashioned experience and instinct. Still, even a meteorologist will admit, foretelling the weather is essentially an informed speculation.
So the weather forecast for our annual trip to the Adirondack High Peaks region and the remote Forked Lake Wilderness called for showers and passing thunderstorms. 25% guess for Friday, 85% educated good guess for Saturday, and back to 25% Sunday. “Looks like we might see our first washout.” Joe texted me. My regular camping companion for this past decade, he followed Sparky’s lead (our other 10-year die hard compatriot), who had hinted at calling it off already on Thursday. It would be the first break in the ten-year tradition. “Bah!” I replied to Joe. “I’m heading north. We’ll see what it looks like when we get up there. Every day is part of the story!”
Friday morning, after we finally got Max awake, he and another grandson, Kacey, climbed in the Jimmy and hauled our boat, the AquaMarie, to her favorite destination. Skies were cloudy and overcast, and temperatures were high, in the 80’s. Perfect brewing weather for thunderstorms. We were packing light and moving at a quick but unhurried pace. We drove past the scenic outlook, where we can see the western edge of the Green Mountains in Vermont, and the north end of The Berkshires. We drove past the hamlet of Sabael. These are two places I like to pause and look and linger.
We pulled into the Indian Lake One-Stop for our traditional cold cut sandwiches. Max’s favorite is the liverwurst sub, not something offered at a lot of places. I do turkey on wheat, and I don’t know if it’s superior bread and cold cuts or the atmosphere and preferred company, but I find it always to be the best turkey sandwich of my year. We ate on the road, continuing our northward trek and watching skies that looked potentially stormy, but dropped no rain on us. Past Lake Durant, past Mason Lake, past Galusha’s Cottages and Lake Algonquin, and the Northville-Lake Placid Trail signs.
After two hours’ travel, I drove past Deerland Road, where three miles hence resided the gravel road, which 2.8 miles later brings us to the DEC Campground at Forked Lake. I turned left at Hoss’s Corner Store, and showed the boys Long Lake, (the lake, not the village) and the place where Ryan and I boarded a float plane for a great ride, much of it right over our beloved campground. Then we made straightaway for the boat launch, and the AquaMarie slid into the cool, clear water, the lake obviously low, with a few rocks poking up where normally they are hidden. We could see the high water mark, and the lake was down by perhaps four inches or so. In a shallow lake filled with boulders, this can mean the difference between boating over rocks or hitting them.
Then we came to our first, and frankly easiest, hitch in our plans. We checked in at the ranger station and asked for two bags of firewood, to which the ranger replied “No wood this year. Didn’t have time to get it.” The campsites in the state had only opened July first, and hadn’t time to put everything in place. “Have to go to Stewart’s for wood.” he said. So back in the truck and up the 2.8 mile gravel road and the three miles of paved road and three more miles back to the hamlet of Long Lake. Passing the Stewart’s and Hoss’s, I again continued down the “main drag” by the beach, where the water taxi was homed and the Adirondack Hotel stood three stories high, facing north. Here we stopped at Mountain Born, and picked up four bags of firewood after nosing around the campy-touristy store. Little did we know that finding this hitherto unexplored trading post would be our salvation from another hitch we would encounter Saturday.
Camp stores are a mesmerizing conglomeration of goods, and seem to be a hybrid of tourist trap, camp store, marina, hardware store, grocery and fishing tackle supply. There are window stickers and T-shirts and sweatshirts for the tourists. Then there is camping supply; stove gas and fire starters, plastic flatware and plastic ponchos and S’mores sticks. Part of the store is a mini-marina; spark plugs for your boat motor, 2-stroke oil, paddles, life jackets, bulbs for your running lights, ropes for anchor lines. At the other end of this aisle is the beach store; sunscreen and beach umbrellas, floaties, checkered plastic tablecloths, disposable hibachis and folding chairs. Next to plastic pails and sand shovels and the occasional snorkel we find the automotive section; motor oil, fix-a-flat, air fresheners and sun shades. In the midst of this will be a miniature fishing tackle department, with poles and fishing line, lures, hooks, snap swivels, and a fish scaler. Then the souvenir section, with those little cedar boxes declaring “World’s Best Mom” or “Lake Life”. There are soaps made from pine needles and candies made from maple syrup and boxes of Paine’s Of Maine balsam incense.
We grabbed up our firewood and hightailed it back to the boat launch, boarded the AquaMarie, and motored out onto the lake, up the east shore to sites 31 and 32, our home for these three days. Clouds came and went, as did the sunshine, and we awaited Joe’s arrival at site 33. We pitched camp in short order, and were ready for some fishing. We headed for “the lily pads”, which actually describes a half dozen places around the lake with several inlets. This spot, however, has two parallel channels that wend their way through half a mile of bog before emptying into the pristine lake at one of our top “hot spots”. From here, Max would land the first of many bass over the weekend. One at seventeen inches, and another at sixteen. Kacey and I would soon join the ranks of successful fishers, and we were well on our way to another perfect day at camp.
As we caught and released quite a few fish, listened to the loons and floated on our peaceful lake, I began a running gag that would punctuate our weekend. With a sarcastic tone and a disgruntled moan, I’d say “This is awful. I should have stayed home.” The other running gag was the “waiting for Joe”. The last I heard from him before leaving my cell phone in the truck was “See you up there.” I fully expected him to show up sometime Friday. I’d see a boat as we were fishing and ask “Is that Joe?”
“Want to troll the south shore down to the lily pads?” Max asked, referring to yet another spot with the same moniker. I agreed, of course. Our road trip to Paradise, added trip to town, pitching camp and catching fish had burned up most of our day. The sun told me we had perhaps two hours before sunset. “Let’s head for the inlet (the “lily pads”) first,” I commanded as Captain of the AquaMarie, “then we’ll troll our way back so we’ll be getting closer to camp as it gets dark.”
We chugged slowly up the inlet as the water lilies fouled our prop and wrapped around it. We shut off the engine and dropped anchor at the spot that produced awesome fishing last year. I saw a movement across the forty-foot-wide channel, and from a pine tree not 100 feet away, a bald eagle leaped into the air, glided southbound down the channel, made two flaps of its nine foot wingspan, and disappeared behind the trees. We marveled at the sight.
“Well,” I summarized, “we drove here, pitched camp, caught fish, heard the loons, and now we’ve seen a bald eagle. Now we just need to eat some fish and sleep in a tent and we’ll have checked all the boxes for a perfect trip to camp.”

Forked Lake Sunset

The action was hot, so we stayed at the Eagle’s Inlet. We watched the sunset from the boat, watched the water calm to glass. Viewed the colorful sky as civil twilight progressed to nautical twilight, often declaring “I should have stayed home.”
Finally, and I don’t recall exactly why, we weighed anchor, lit the running lights, and got underway for our mile-or-so trip back to camp. Perhaps darkness or hunger were our incentives, and we cannot discount plain old tiredness. The air was perfect, and we motored our way up the center channel as twilight faded into darkness. I throttled back, left the tiller, let her plod along her course toward the little light hanging from a tree that marked our home. I stood and walked amidship, between my two boys so I could be heard above the hum of the motor and the churning water.
“I’m so glad we did this. I’m always wanting to be out on the lake at night, cruising or fishing under the running lights. We have fulfilled my dream.” After a moment’s pause I put on a scowl. “This is awful. I should have stayed home.”
“Yeah.” the grandsons nodded in mock agreement.

We cooked more burgers over the fire. Kacey took to the hammock, to sleep out in the piney forest air. I prepared a bed for him in my tent, in the event he might need to escape rainfall. The occasional splash of a fish, a light breeze in the eaves of the hemlocks, and calls of the loons were our lullaby.

Ah, another perfect day.

Oh, Deere

Deere Girls

I love to mow, and mow a lot. This could be a conflict with my alter-ego, Pazlo the Philosopher, who would think that cutting the grass is egregious to the Earth. That may be true, but the lawn was there before I came along, and there’s a certain social pressure to keep your dwelling space from looking abandoned or condemned. So, I cave to fashion, and slash away at the defenseless grass, often with zeal. I must admit I apologize to the grass sometimes, and when Pazlo sneaks into my brain I still consider the grass’s point of view, though I don’t take my foot off the Go pedal while doing so. Technically, I guess I could quit the world and go live under a bridge, which is where my wife would send me if I didn’t mow the lawn. So mow I must.

As a new homeowner, in 1986, my first summer at the Ark, I had the vigor of a 26-year-old, and thought I could mow three acres with a push mower. I quickly came to the conclusion that my sons would need to learn to push the mower. They were home all day anyway in the summer, right? Okay, so that didn’t go so well either, maybe because the oldest was 10. I began a search for a riding mower.

By search, I mean I had to first start saving some money. (Only rich people had credit cards back then. Diner’s Club mostly. You had to put the card on a thingy that would scrape over the top and grab the card numbers on carbon paper ((google it if you need to)). That’s why some credit cards still have embossed numbers, although I bet there isn’t a cashier alive that knows where the machine is or how to use it if the internet card reader goes down. But I digress.)

After pooling some dough over the course of half a dozen paychecks, I was on a keen lookout for a used riding mower that could be had for $280. I’d go $300, but didn’t have it yet. I was lucky at the time to be a cable television technician, and therefore drove around the service area for installations and trouble calls and outages. One fine June day, I saw it. Parked on the lawn of a farm on Barnerville Road down in Howe’s Cave. A very used Cub Cadet 105.

I stopped right away, fisted the $280 dollars at the guy before asking if it ran or listening to him introduce himself. He said I didn’t need to come back next week with the $20, he’d accept $280 (which was close to two weeks’ pay at the time). We (the sons and I) ran the daylights out of that thing. It couldn’t be stopped, even when the grass was a foot tall. It was big for a riding mower. Tall, big tires, a wide mowing deck. Ah, but good things never last.

Finally, after a few years of growing up and earning money, I appropriated a tax return to go buy our first brand new riding mower. It came from the Farm And Family store, which is now a Tractor Supply Company store. If I recall, it took a whopping $599 plus tax to procure the shiny, single-cylinder, 32″- decked machine of our dreams. Life was good for a while with the little green tractor. It wasn’t the most ergonomic I’ve driven, and was an entry level mower with a manual transmission. Still it cut right along for a few years until the shifter started acting funny and sticky. One good yank and it broke right off.

By now, I’d had enough years to come to know something about such machinery. Tractors, mowers. The real difference between an entry-level Monkey Wards kinda riding mower and a mid-sized, two-cylinder garden tractor like the old 105. So this time I set out to look for a good tractor with a big deck and a hydrostatic transmission, enabling one to simply press the pedal, forward or reverse, no clutches or breaking shift levers required.

I went right to the dealer. No retail store mower for me. A place that could service and repair my machine. And deliver it, since it wouldn’t fit in the cable van. Being from farm country, there are a few names that mean real. Allis-Chalmers, Deutz-Allis, International Harvester, Case, Ford, White, McCormick, Massey-Harris and Massey-Ferguson. And between the reds, whites and blues of the competition, populating nearly every farm one passed, was the singularly green of the green John Deere. That’s what I would have. A real John Deere.

I selected the LA120. A 22 horsepower twin-cylinder engine, a 42″ wide mowing deck, a hydrostatic transmission, a manual PTO, and available attachments. I would save a little and buy the snowblower attachment, and ditch the walk-behind snowthrower.  This green and yellow beauty was delivered to my driveway, dealer-prepped, and we were off on a ten year love affair. We mowed more lawn than the Ark had known previously. Stretched the south lawn another 50 yards to the east. We made and maintained a trail system that encompassed a mile of pathways, a rifle range, and two R/C Airplane runways.

It toted around, in its little garden wagon, my own kinder garten consisting of all six grandchildren born during its tenure. It was driven (and perhaps borrowed) by one of the sons originally slated to grow into a pushmower job, as he toted his own children around the heaping pile at our annual Leaf Pile Party. It was a go cart for tween girls and teen boys, and raced about at top speed, even in the snow.

Tires were flattened frequently, cavorting over old farmland, trails to the woods, fields previously tilled for corn, and places where there once stood chicken coops and sheds. I bought “Slime” inner tubes for her. These are tubes filled with a self-sealing gunk (or Slime, if you prefer). Never had a flat after that. After six or seven years of hard service, the anchor points for the spindles began to rust through on the deck. I bought a new replacement deck (something you won’t find for your Farm & Family mower). Ran that for a couple years. This machine is serviceable. Picked up blades right in the Home Depot. Deck belts, too. Ordered a replacement steering gear from GreenPartsDirect online. (Yes, we drove it so much we wore the teeth off the steering gear) One day, I went to start it and heard a snap, a decidedly metallic one, and the engine wouldn’t run. Luckily, I have my own certified small engine mechanic in son-in-law Matt. I bought two new heads and some pushrods, and Matt brought my Deere back to life!

There gets to be a tipping point between a man and his machine. Like a cowboy and his faithful steed, knowing the day will come when we can no longer gallop and rope and ride, and we each of us must go out to pasture. On a fine June Saturday, no doubt a day not dissimilar to when I first laid eyes on the old 105, I pressed the Reverse Implement Operation button to back up, and when I stepped on the Go pedal, she shut right down. I surmised it was a safety switch somewhere in the wiring harness. Maybe the one related to the RIO button, designed to help prevent you from backing over rocks and dogs and children and the like. Well, after a good cry, I realized Old Green had reached the end of her trail. She’d worked tirelessly, long and hard hours, for about every member of our family. I think her clock was approaching 800 hours.

I purchased a new lawn tractor the next week. I called Mr. Jackson, the Mower Man, who also drove the school bus for my children, and subsequently grandchildren that would board the bus at Mam & Pop’s house. I had, “on the lawn”, also Ryan’s old White rider whose wiring was fried, and a little red Craftsman riding mower I had purchased used to cover for the Deere while Matt rebuilt the engine. Would Mr. Jackson be interested in my mower collection, Ryan asked him a few weeks ago. Why yes, of course, he said, and made his way to the ranch with his own son to load up. I wasn’t there when he did so, and when next I arrived home I saw the White and Craftsman gone, but Old Green still sat, looking forlornly toward her former home, the cabana, and wondering about the shiny new machine under the cover.

The next Saturday, Mr. Jackson pulled into the driveway. He had to come back and ask. Ryan had said “Dad wants all those old mowers gone.”, but Mr. Jackson needed to hear it from me for himself; did I really mean the John Deere, too? Yes, I replied, wiping a tear on my sleeve, pretending a gnat had flown into my eye. He insisted on giving me something for it. No, no, I declined, I appreciate your clearing them away for me. Well, I like to feel I gave something, he repeated, looking at Old Green, and I could hear the undertone, “for Heaven’s sake man, are you in your right mind? It’s a John Deere!” Okay, I said, for his peace of mind, and grudgingly pocketed what strangely felt like thirty pieces of silver. I watched as they loaded her on the truck. I watched from the seat of my new mower as I returned to my lawn work, I watched long and fixedly, and spoke to her under my breath, a bon voyage.

In a couple of days, as I drove down Chestnut street, a familiar bright green machine called out to me from Mr. Jackson’s lawn. Probably an easy fix, I thought, just a switch. For a moment I was tempted, now that she was up and running again, to stop in and buy her back. I resisted the temptation, repeating my mantra about getting older and not leaving a whole pile of junk for your children to clean up when you die. I would not be tormented long. As you might guess, that green machine was gone in two days. I can feel good about part of the saga. I can hope some poor young guy who took on too much lawn but didn’t have too much money went driving down the road one fine June day, and saw her. A real John Deere. And I can hope, and will choose to believe, that Mr. Jackson put a price on it of $280.

Into The Sunset

 

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz

Fire On The Mountain

Fire Ring

In his song “The Devil went down to Georgia”, Charlie Daniels’ hero Johnny plays the fiddle on a wager, his soul for gold. He plays a medley of folk songs, and begins thusly:

Fire on the mountain!
Run boys! Run!”

The folk song referenced is nested in bygone days, a different time. It doesn’t sing “Call the fire department!”, nor “Dial 911!”. It comes from a time when there was no 911. Here on this mountain, there was no fire department. If there were, telephones do not yet exist, or perhaps have not reached the hills and hollows of sparsely populated rural areas.

It evokes a vision of mother or grandfather, one hand on a porch post, looking across the valley. Smoke is rising, not from a forest or a glen, but from John and Mary’s, or perhaps the Widow Bouck’s. The conflagration is not anonymous. We can imagine Mary’s face buried in her hands, or thankful that the winds are not blowing toward their home. We can see John, the weight of the entire world on his shoulders, face and hands blackened with soot as he beats back the burning bushes to protect his family, his farm, and every irreplaceable thing he has, no one to turn to or call on for help.

The boys arrive, perhaps on foot, perhaps on horseback, perhaps brimming from the bed of a truck we know from episodes of The Waltons, from The Grapes of Wrath.  They are farmers and millhands and pastors and barbers. By twos and threes they race without orders into the fray, disregarding their own safety. With shovels and picks, axes and hoes, these ordinary men confront the beast, shoulder to shoulder. Through the night the battle rages, and at dawn they will kneel together. They will give thanks for all that was saved, or will share tears for their losses.

In the world of 2020, the majority of people live in densely populated communities. Cities and sprawling suburbs and housing developments. Most benefit from full-time, fully-equipped, fully-trained fire departments, whose heroes are no less brave or appreciated than Johnny and his neighbor boys.

According to the 2000 Census, and I doubt it has changed much, the population of the Village of Sharon Springs stood at 547 persons. I live about three miles from the village line, in the larger tract called the Town of Sharon. It is comprised of about 1,900 people, which includes the village populace. When I moved here in 1985, we had a constable. He drove around in an older Plymouth with a big, round gumball machine-looking light on the roof. Once Phil reached retirement age, the position of the constable was dispensed with. The well-equipped county Sheriff’s department would cover the village in his stead.

Our fire department and ambulance squad are all volunteers. So it is for all of our surrounding communities. One would need to drive about fifty miles before reaching a community with paid firefighters and EMT’s. In this past year, my grandson Max began his training to join the Canajoharie Volunteer Fire Department. My sister’s parents-in-law were both on the Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps. My dear late friend Jim Bixby was a Lieutenant in the Middelburgh Volunteer Fire Department. He was honored, as was my daughter’s father-in-law, with a “Final Call” via radio dispatcher, at their funerals.

We had a blow-down last week at the ranch. A twenty-foot, twelve hundred pound chunk of Sugar Maple #1 along the road frontage fell across the end of our driveway. Already a miracle, it didn’t fall six feet to the west and end up blocking the road, nor did it blow over due east, the predominant wind, which would have placed its top somewhere around the second shelf of my grandmother’s curved-glass china closet in the parlor. As luck would have it, I was only three miles away, just over the village line, when my wife called me home. Unable to use my own driveway, I parked across the road at Tom & Lynn’s. Before I got across the road, Lynn was out the door calling to me.

“Tom and Matt will be here in a few minutes. They’re setting up for Paul’s funeral.”

“That’s okay,” I replied, “I’ll just hook onto it with the truck and drag it out of the way.”

I didn’t need to inconvenience Tom or their son Matt, who were doing some of the behind-the-scenes things done for funeral services. They had just enough time to come home and change in order to attend the services for the friend and neighbor.

I went into the house to don coveralls, and before I made it back to the end of the driveway, I heard Matt firing up the chainsaw, his father advising him as to the best approach for cutting the huge obstacle. We worked together, and in less than ten minutes had chunked up and removed the fallen trunk, and cleared the driveway. Handshakes and thank-yous, and they were off to get dressed. Neighbors are such a blessing.

Lester plowed my driveway until one year, at the worst of times, his plow truck broke down, and he found himself in no position to repair or replace it. Without inquiry, another neighbor, Mike, began to plow my driveway for me, refusing all offers of compensation. This year I have my own plow truck, and have had occasion in the last two storms to cross the road and plow yet another neighbor’s driveway. Betsy lives alone and is no shrinking violet. If necessary, she would clear her driveway with a shovel. It will not be necessary as long as I am “Lester of the watch”.

It must be nigh on twenty years now since we had the chimney fire. I have no head for time and find memorization of dates and years tedious. But I remember that like yesterday. Weren’t we lucky to be standing in the kitchen when we heard the rush of the draft turn to a grumbling roar, a gut wrenching and unmistakable sound. Barking orders I commanded my wife to grab the two girls, go get in the van and drive it across the road to Tom & Lynn’s. Here they would be safe. Now I called the Schoharie Fire line, there was no 911 yet.

“O’Connor’s, Box 66A, Engleville Road,” I related the data, followed by the reassurance “They all know where I live.” It seemed I had just hung up the phone and grabbed the fire extinguisher, mere seconds later, Tony (the Sheriff) pulled into my driveway, followed closely by Lester (yes, the same Lester). Then Ray, who delivered our heating oil when we had a furnace. Then Scott, the plumber son of plumber Ruben, whose family built their modest fortune maintaining the famous bath houses of the village. One after another familiar faces arrived, threw a ladder, advised one another on the safest approach, tossed a chain down into a chimney inferno from which flames were shooting fifteen feet into the air. They knocked down the creosote, eliminating the fuel, it’s flakes ironically smothering the fires at the base of the chimney liner.

They laughed with one another as they stowed their gear, called me by name as they bade good night, drove home as if it were just another day. An hour ago I was facing the utter destruction of my home, and in minutes these ordinary heroes saved it all without a drop of water.

 

Blue Light Flashing

The rising wail of the whistle is heard three miles hence,

It quickens one’s pulse,

fills the hills and valleys, an echoing plea,

“Help!” it’s crescendo cries “Help!”.

 

Leaving us to wonder and worry for whom the alarm is raised. 

 

In an instant we see them.

Family sedans, compact cars, and pickup trucks from the farm hasten past,

Blue Light Flashing.

 

We see neighbors racing headlong into danger without thought

Of reward or return, offering up their own safety,

To help neighbors in the grip of calamity.

 

With great gratitude for one and solemn sympathy for the other,

We pray for both.

 

 

Bless you, all you boys (and now girls, too!) who respond to the call: “Fire on the mountain!”

Take care and keep in touch,

 

Paz

Falling

 

Autumn Glow

It begins quite subtly, this big show. Starts way back in late August, when the Swamp Maples are first to conclude the end of the growing season draws near. They fly their red flags in swamps and bogs, and some folks probably just think they are dying trees, drowning in the muck.

As days pass, each one growing incrementally shorter, the tide begins to turn. Sumacs begin to turn the color of red wine, Sugar Maples will begin to show yellow, then reds, then burst into gold and orange. The demure Cottonwoods eschew the attention, quickly going from light green to tan, then brown as dirt. “No pictures, please.”

Sometime in September I begin to be on the lookout for the curious fungi of fall. One day they are not there, then suddenly they are. Some simple toadstools in colors of yellow and orange and red. Some in unusual shapes and deep brown. As I mow the lawn I discover them, and I scold myself for running them over. I stop to look, though they are the same as last year and the fifty years before, and they aren’t exactly what one defines as pretty. Still, they are regular visitors, part of the whole rolling year that comes around just once. I am glad to see these reliable friends again. As quickly as they arrived, on the next round of mowing, they are gone.

The big Maples that line the road frontage are our main source for leaves. We need leaves. We stockpile and hoard leaves right up to the big day of the Leaf Pile Party. We’ll gather all we can, hopefully with plenty of children. We’ll put out cider and eat donuts. Maybe chili if it’s cold. Then we will pile the leaves, higher and higher. As tall as granddaughter Maddie, twice as tall as grandson Evan. We’ll use the big steel ruler to determine the height. Have we set a new record? I believe it is 56 1/2 inches.

Then the throwing begins. First we throw bushel-sized armfuls of leaves at and on one another. Then we grab up children of throwable size, and pitch them into the pile to squeals of laughter. Then we’ll burrow deep within, hide ourselves, make the dog a little crazy wondering where we went (or in Chuy’s case, he would come to save me). We’ll have leaves in our hair, leaves in our mouths, leaves down our shirts.

These simple pleasures will occupy much of a day for us. A day to be outdoors, seeing and smelling all that makes fall. A day to join together for a party without a cake. It is not without a guest of honor, nor gifts. Our Guests of Honor are the leaves themselves, and they bear the wondrous gift of gathering and joy. Joining hands and hearts with nature.

Mother Earth laughs with us as we celebrate the closing of the growing season in North America. She will shine her warm sun on us, or perhaps cool us with a breeze. She will drop one by one and two by two the few remaining leaves of the ancient Sugar Maple, falling like confetti on our festivities. She will paint the sky gold and orange and red to match her trees. She will thank us for appreciating the million or two leaves with which we play for a day. She is glad someone does not see them as litter to be removed, but as playthings to be enjoyed.

Long after the guests have gone and fall cedes the stage for the next set of seasons, I will find on the Great Lawn a large circle of crushed-leaf carpet. Until the snow covers it, and sometimes still in spring, as I mow I am reminded of the day and the season by this memory quilt.

I will see smiles and hear laughter. I will smell all that Fall Air brings to me. I will revel in the memory of a chilly day filled with warm hearts.

And two million of our closest friends.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz