Tag Archives: The Ark

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

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

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

Built To Last

South Lawn And Barn

March and April are the best time to shop for a home. You really get to see it at it’s worst. By summer all the winter’s mess has been raked, flowers are growing, Hostas skirt foundations. The mud room is swept, the gentle breeze wafts through window screens, and the paint on the porches may have seen a touch-up. September is the worst time to shop for a house, because you’re already inebriated with fall and everything looks prettier. Not to mention the present owners have had all season to spit-shine the place. By October, trees are starting to get bare and you remember to think about things like heat and drafts, and sellers may be anxious to escape before the onset of winter.

I first saw The Ark in July or August. We closed on September 11th, before it meant anything else, in 1985. Jake was a farmer. His wife Joanna had passed and it was down to him and the turkeys. It was a big house, and an old one. I was twenty-six, and optimistic as well as capable and ambitious. It was a tough winter, and we lived paycheck-to-paycheck, sometimes buying five gallon cans of kerosene to keep the furnace on ’til payday. Between seasons, heating with those catalytic kerosene heaters that were really popular then.

So, the first spring in The Ark was as welcome as the surprise daffodils on the south side. Who knew they were there? Shortly after, the lilacs bloomed. When I say the lilacs bloomed, you must imagine hundred-year-old lilacs, lining the road frontage and growing in great hedges around the shed. Fifteen feet tall, full and lush with flowers that perfumed the whole yard. Only the peonies of June would out-smell them.

I didn’t know the water table was about a foot higher than the cellar floor. I didn’t know much about wet cellars, as my parents’ house was dry as a bone. What a shock to discover the water so deep it flooded the burner for the boiler and the water heater was submerged by a foot. I was broke, and still weaning from my folks, so I drove up to their house and grabbed the sump pump my dad had in the basement. Not entirely sure why, as there was never as much as a drop of water in the basement of that house. I grabbed the pump and flew home, stuck a pool hose out through the basement window, and began the 34-year battle with the water.

I’ll tell you a story about how things were made in the old days. I may sound like an old man talking about bygone times, but then I’m an old man talking about bygone times. I ran my dad’s pump for a couple of years until one spring when I spent some of the tax return money and bought my first, very own, brand new sump pump. It even had a float so we didn’t have to flip the cellar light switch to turn it on and off, as was the case hitherto. I chucked dad’s pump on the cellar shelf.

Within two years, the pump made some funny noises but wouldn’t move any water. I pulled it up out of the cellar and dismantled the bottom part and found where it was plugged up and jammed with sediment. Cleaned that out and put it back to work for another year. One day, I opened the cellar door to check, and there was a foot of water down there, flooding over the bottom step of the wooden stairs that led from the pantry. The pump had failed. All the tinkering could not make it come back to life, and so I threw my dad’s pump into the sump, crossed my fingers, and plugged it in.

Vzzzzzz- Whoosh! That pump came on sounding like it was brand new, and it cleared hundreds of gallons out of the cellar in a matter of hours. I cobbled together a float switch and ran the pump’s power through it so we didn’t need to control the pump with the light switch. I suppose I should try again for a modern update before this ancient pump fails. Let’s see, my dad already had the pump, and had lived in Broadalbin for twenty years or so. Let’s guess it was ten years old when I “borrowed” it. Now add the 34 years I’ve been at the Ark, and we can guess this pump must be 45 years old or more. Maybe I should wait ’til it dies, if ever.

I ran the pellet stove for about eight years, during which I replaced a couple of components. Routine failures one might expect. An igniter (or two), the room blower fan, which failed around the five-year mark. Inside a pellet stove is a nasty environment for electronics and motors. High temperatures and a lot of dust. Clingy acidic dust. So at the beginning of year eight I did one of those decidedly-unlike-me things, and I replaced the working convection blower with a new one as a form of anticipatory maintenance. Year nine I fired it up, and within a few weeks, the one-year-old combustion blower failed. It would not surprise you, I’m sure, to hear I cleaned up and stowed the “old” working combustion blower as a backup. It’s still running.

There was a time when people wanted to build things that last. Like L.L.Bean and his original guaranteed-for-life policy. Even that has changed. Like Craftsman tools which were guaranteed for life. I had a Craftsman router fail (a long, long time ago), and when presented at the store it was summarily replaced with a brand new one. Now Craftsman is just another brand, sold at Home Depot.

The Town Of Sharon has a few snowplows. We still have the big Oshgosh plows. I don’t think Oshgosh is in business any more. But their trucks are still going. Still plowing Engleville Road each winter. Some things were built to last.

Oshgosh B’gosh

The Oshgosh #13V is from 1959. So am I.
I guess I was built to last, too.

 

Take care and keep in touch,

Paz

The Ark: Windows

From My Window

 

All of the windows in my 113 year old farmhouse are original, except for the one new triple-track aluminum deal in the kitchen that looks out onto the driveway. Much of the glass is original, too. “Albany glass” they call it around here, but in other parts of the country it probably has other names, or perhaps the name of the town where the glass factory stood. The old glass has ripples in it, actual wrinkles you can feel with your fingers as they pass over the otherwise smooth glass. And bubbles. In some places, quite a few tiny air bubbles, and in other places, individual larger ones. I’ve had to replace a few panes of glass during my 34-year tenure caring for the Ark. It always makes my heart ache a little when I must break up and throw away this antique glass.

The lifting and latching of the windows brings a mixed bag of the original workings. A single spring-loaded latch is in the center of each lower sash. On some windows, the ancient cast iron pieces within have cracked and broken off, and the latch does nothing at all. These windows get propped open with retired curtain rods. On a few of the windows, the latches still work. Most probably had window weights concealed within the window frame. A rounded length of iron about the diameter of a cigar, usually about a foot long. These were originally attached by sash cord, long since decayed within its wood confines. The window weight would offer a counterbalance, an assist to lift the window as well as a resistance to slow the sash’s descent.

They are as inefficient as one would expect an original 1906 window to be. Pretty sure I have actually seen tiny crystals of snow driven through them in the height of a winter’s blizzard. In the frozen season, condensation on the inside of the windows often freezes on the glass. Whenever we see this, we call it “Zhivago glass”, as it reminds us of the scenes in “Dr. Zhivago”, when he and his charges are holed up in Siberia. Giving it ringing names and associating it with the stark beauty shown in the movies helps distract us from the fact that the window is no better than the one Zhivago looked through in 1890.

 

Juney

 

The windows are large and ornate. Houses don’t have large and ornate windows anymore, just vinyl rectangles. The tops of the windows out front are rounded. 10 round-top double-sash windows frame the coffin doors, with two round-top lights of its own. (“Coffin doors” refer to the main entrance at the front of the house. ((We call that “the dooryard” around here)). One door is used most of the time, the one with the doorknob. The other side of the double door was intended to be opened to bring a coffin into and out of the house. When it was built, this is the way funerals were done in the sticks.)

We had a sales person call on us to pitch us custom vinyl replacement windows. His first shock was the sheer number. For living spaces alone (excluding the “attic” windows) there were 18 of them. He measured and calculated. Were we sure we wanted them the same size? “100 united inches” I think was the term. Surely we would want a standard, smaller vinyl rectangle? Less expensive and more energy efficient. He choked a little when quoting the price (more than twenty years ago) at $18,000!

Okay, last thing, window guy. You know your custom windows that are made-to-order to fit the openings in my home? Well, will the ten out front have the same rounded tops? Well, not exactly, window guy says. We could fashion a mask for the outside that evokes the shape of the round top. Nope. Stop right there.

 

The Coffin Doors

 

There is a tremendous beauty in these windows. Like most things I love, their inherent beauty is the attractant. Not efficiency. In the fall, I make my rounds to each one. A couple of screws jammed in the sides will hold the lower sash tightly against the upper. Then rope caulk is applied to the gap. In the spring, I visit each again, removing the caulk and the screws. Flinging them open, however briefly, symbolically putting winter to bed.

I could have had eighteen modern, efficient vinyl rectangles in these places. A lower heat bill. No need for rope caulk.

In June I will go upstairs and open the front and back windows in the center hall. This is the official start of summer for me. Breezes will move through, and birdsong. And the smell of the rain, and the sound of the neighbor’s birthday party across the road. The rumbling of summer thunderstorms, the voice of the wind in the leaves of the great maple trees which tower over the two-story house. In spring, the sound of the robin leaping from the nest it has built atop the window frame. In August, the smell of the third cutting of hay, drying in the field adjacent. The smell of the diesel tractor crawling up the road with a wagon of hay bales stacked impossibly high. The sound of lawn mowers and dirt bikes and dogs barking.

 

Windows go both ways

 

In the peak of the summer heat I will go upstairs to fetch something. At the top of the stairs I am met with a unique fragrance. It is the smell of a very old house. Century-old wood. Horse-hair plaster over hand-cut lath. Ancient wallpapers. It smells of all the things it has always smelled like, and not unlike the attic of my parents old farmhouse. I can’t know how much longer I will be in this house, or in this world. But I know in the meantime I will delight in that old familiar smell of an old, old house owned by old people. Unchanged but for those few places where it was deemed absolutely necessary. And my kids and grandkids will share this experience. This smell. This old Ark.

And until I go, you will not smell vinyl. You may be a little chilly in the winter. And you can look out at ancient trees which are as old as the wavy, bubble-filled glass you are looking through.

 

Take care, and keep in touch.

 

Pazlo