Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘childhood memories’

October Piece

As an October tradition here at ACZ, the annual posting of “October Piece”

– Paz

 

(Click any image to begin slide carousels)

 

October Piece-

 

O! To be that Canada Goose, and see through those geese eyes,

That patchwork carpet below arrayed,

All Nature’s vainglorious color displayed,

As I fly through blue-gray October skies.

Ah! To be that white-tailed deer,

Browsing ‘mongst the elms and pines,

Walking the tumbled-down rock fence lines,

As I bid the first snowflake “Appear!”.

 

 

Oh! To be that fox of the glen,

Who seeks all manner of food and forage,

To fatten his flanks with winter storage,

When drifting snows will surround my den.

 

 

Alas! To be that little one,

Raking leaf piles, carving pumpkins,

Stuffing a scarecrow country bumpkin,

Breathlessly awaiting Halloween fun!

 

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Beautiful Yesterday

Ordinary Folk

I saw my Beautiful Yesterdays in the passing strangers.

Perhaps I should refer to them as “The Unacquainted”, as they are far from strangers.

Now, at 57, and having raised five children, they are almost a flashback.

They are walking in the park, these four, this pack. Two in the prime of their youthful adulthood, the four-year-old toddles along behind him, and she is pushing the stroller with the littler one.

He (and toddler) string out ahead a bit, pause, wait for the other two. They catch up. He looks up from his phone to address her. (I cannot hear their words, if any, at this considerable distance.)

She is saying “Put up his hood, it looks like rain.” or “Do you have three dollars?”

He is saying “Do you want to get lunch?” or “What time will your mother be over?”.

Their clothes are ordinary. Not old or worn, nor necessarily new or fancy. Perhaps they’ve bought these things, perhaps some were gifts. A winter coat from Grandma. A new shirt from sister. Fuzzy lounge pants from a sweetheart.

They’re walking and pushing a stroller because they have no car. Maybe they are saving for one, hopeful for this summer. That he may reach out for that better job across the river, so she can bring groceries home in a trunk, not a stroller laden with bags and bundles. So that they may drive to the lake on a Sunday afternoon and have a picnic while the children play in the cool water.

Maybe they are city folks, and have no need for the expense and burden of a car. Buses take them to work, to the barber, to Cub Scouts. They will almost never use a taxi. Cab fare that could be spent elsewhere. Two suppers. Formula. Diapers.

The apartment is small, in Woodbine Square, known to be…affordable. Perhaps they dream of moving to the Gramercy Apartments. Tall windows, Victorian stairs. Maybe this year.

The challenges laid before them come at a steady and manageable pace. They appear not as mountains or even boulders in their path, but rises in the road ahead.

She wants to take up knitting. Has a few needles and things from Mom. She parts grudgingly with the six dollars for a skein of yarn. She knows she will have three warm and pretty scarves to give to her little family when her labors are through, but still feels a slight twinge of guilt spending this money which could be milk and eggs, apple juice, bus fare. Still, she must have this small comfort. The price of one small beauty in this world surely will not break the budget.

He is saving his money. He thought he was saving for a new pair of waders for himself, just in time for Trout Season.

But then, next month is Mother’s Day, and his savings are three-quarters the price of the Mother’s Day ring she admired in an advertisement. Perhaps waders will wait.

Each day they bring the energy and spirit gifted to the young and the young at heart. He rises with the sun and goes off to work, to return twelve hours later, a little richer, a little older, and a little tired.

She follows a different clock, independent of the sun and Earth and the world spinning around her. The slightest coo in the crib that shares the master bedroom, and her “mother alarm” sits her bolt upright.

“Hey little girl” in hushed tones, heard only by these tiny ears, quiet, so as not to disturb the others, “Is it time to get up?”. A beaming smile greets the child.

Life is far from care-free. Fortunate enough to have a decent job in the richest country in the world, they are taking care of themselves, independent, paying their own way. Some bills may need to be put off a week, and there are few extravagances. Yet there is comfort, and simple joys.

There will be a few arguments. There will be some heated debate about topics which are very important to those in this stage of life. Sometimes it’s about money. Their goals and desires, the someday place we want to be. Sometimes the money is a tyrant, lording over them mercilessly. Slaves to monetary society. Sometimes it feels like the money is so finite, we fear our little tribe will go under. We think this last thought in silence, in the darkness of night, the solitude of rational fear.

Sometimes the argument is centered on symbols. Behind the argument is a ponderous pile of memories and imaginings. Childhood dreams she feels are slipping away. A dream of the person he imagined for himself, before he vanishes into the “Mr” of “Mr & Mrs & Family”.

Underlying the sentiments are fear and uncertainties. health and success for ourselves and our children. The not-knowing of the future. How can we be sure we’ll “Be okay” as dad says? Will you really stick by me? Like the old song about old people, written by a man at the ripe old age of perhaps twenty-five, “Will you still need me when I’m sixty-four?”

The little family walks on, down the path and turning left into the apartment complex.

And I see in them the beauties of untold tomorrows. It’s not necessary to make a morbid account of those (we pray few) Black Days which seem to visit most lives. I see in them all the beauty of my own beautiful yesterdays.

Lunch in the park over, I must return to work now.

You see, I’m saving my money…

Earthbound Angels

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

The Boy Within

Boy Me, ready for adventure

Boy Me, ready for adventure

 

You’ll never guess who I ran into this week. The boy within.

In Armchair Zen World, we follow a thought called Ring Theory. This says that as you grow, like a tree, your inner rings or younger years exist beneath the newer rings, the outer bark, your present age.

It’s sort of like that “inner child” thing that was popular philosophy in the 80’s and 90’s. I’m not sure what the pop philosophy was about, but I know I am the same person, within the same mind, as the me who was a boy long ago. I can still be as excited over a favorite toy or a rainbow or a shooting star or a fish on the line as I was then.

Boy Me suddenly popped into conscious reality one day recently. I suppose I may have conjured him up a bit as I posed the question “What would boy me think of now me?”.

Boy Me was very excited that we could drive a car, for instance. A dream of the future for a ten-year-old. Boy Me was astounded that we had so many wonderful grown-up toys we’d only imagined owning. A house, a car, a pickup truck, a fishing boat. More guitars than one person needs. And money! Money in my pocket, the freedom to spend it and the transportation to get to the store!

Grownup Me was a bit surprised. Grownup me had made the mistake of viewing his world from a rough patch of bark on the shadow side of the tree.

There are bills to pay. Work to be done, 60 hours a week dedicated to the prospect of bringing in enough money to pay the bills, hoping for no surprises. No end in sight to the treadmill, but a long upward climb to the end-phase, “retirement”. A future worry to worry about. Worry about how we’ll make money and spend money in a time that doesn’t even exist yet. A time whose conditions are entirely unknown, and could be better, worse, the same or non-existent by the time the human calendar and the endless clockworks arrive at that place.

There is rest to be had. Rest after work. Rest after dinner. Rest after resting. Rest up to go rest. There have been many years of working and mowing and painting and marrying-off children and burying friends and relatives. There have been decades of mortgage payments, nights in the emergency room, the decision to unplug life support. There have been cars stuck in the snow, stuck in the mud, stuck on the side of the road. There have been ruts in which I was stuck. Sometimes for years.

Boy Me was flabbergasted. Rest? Really? A house and land and money and a family and a car and a dog and so many wonderful things to be excited about, and all that can be imagined is rest? Are you kidding me?

Boy Me remembered being 10, 12, 15. Imagining someday. Someday had a house and land and a car and a family and a dog. Someday had money to spend, a fishing boat, a snowmobile, and time to enjoy them. Someday there would be grownup-ness, and I would be the decider. I would decide what time was bedtime, if there was to be any. I would decide what is good for me to eat or drink or how late I could have a snack or how many cookies were appropriate. I would decide if I would empty a candy dish in one sitting.

Imagined Someday would find me with the freedom to do as I please, within reason. To do as I see fit. To do, or not do if I so chose.

Grownup me was a little hesitant. A little grumpy. A little achy. A little tired. Worried about the weather for Sunday’s Leaf Pile Party. Worried about the approaching heating season. Buying gas, buying pellets. What if the combustion blower needs to be replaced this year?  There’s too much tired and worry and work and winter to be concerned with. Perhaps this is not a good time for childish thoughts.

Boy Me laughed. You grownups. You just don’t know when you’ve got it good, do you? From the perspective of the age of ten, I’d say you’ve achieved a place similar to a god, or perhaps a king. No one to tell you what to do but yourself. Thankfully, you still have all the functions you had as 10-year-old you. Arms and legs and eyes and lungs to go forth into the world, to read books, to select satellite channels, to buy gas for the mower, to haul in a smallmouth bass, to have lunch whenever and wherever you want.

Power tools and model airplanes and you don’t need anyone’s permission to use them!

It's good to be the king.

It’s good to be the king.

Sure, the whole having things and money and toys goes against the grain of eschewing wordly possessions, I suppose. Then again, this is Armchair Zen, not a temple.

Boy Me: What? You even have your own blog site and your own brand of philosophy?

Grownup Me: Well, yeah. It’s pretty easy when you’re a grownup.

Boy Me: But isn’t this exactly what we wished for as a child? To be able to have and do all these things? What are you waiting for? Let’s go play!!

Grownup Me: I, um. I thought there was something that prevented me from acting like a child…

Boy Me: Race you to the car!

Grownup Me: Bet I can be there first!

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

 

Love Is Forever

Wynonna Judd recorded a song in 1993 entitled “Only Love”. The lyrics refer to the flags flown on a ship’s mast, often called pennants, though historically, they’re called pennons. Flags indicate a ship’s activities, such as commissioning, religious services being conducted or inviting officers for drinks in the wardroom.

Out of all the flags I’ve flown,

one flies high and stands alone.

Only Love.”

As far as I can see, the lyrics continue, on this island of green, I can put my trust in just one thing.

Only love sails straight from the harbor.

Only love will lead us to the other shore.

These lyrics may have been written by an Armchair Zen Master, or perhaps they just sounded good and fit the meter. Somehow, it seems a deep level of philosophy is conveyed.

Peaceful waters, raging sea,

It’s all the same to me.

I can close my eyes and still be free.

When waves come crashing down, 

Thunder all around,

I can feel my feet on solid ground.

I like the metaphors of the boat, the sea, the threatening weather. In the first verse:

I’ve sailed a boat or two, on the wild blue.

Yonder do dreams rarely come true.

It’s not often you’ll hear poets come out and say that “dreams rarely come true”. But it’s truth.

How can love be forever, you may ask. Isn’t that one of the great heartbreaks of life, losing those we love?

Love is not something that comes and goes. We’re talking about real, honest-to-goodness love here, not infatuation, obsession, fascination. Love is kind of a magical thing, a wonderous thing. While other children don’t know me from Adam, might even be afraid of “the stranger”, my kids and grandkids love me deeply.

It’s a wonderful and predictable thing with babies. Being the grandfather, I could only see the babies intermittently. A holiday here, a visit there, an afternoon of babysitting. At first, baby sees me only as not-mommy-or-daddy, and that’s all that counts. Nothing but mommy and daddy will do for those first few months. Before too long, after witnessing the same wide grin and squeaky “It’s Pop Pop!” greeting, complete with hand gestures, baby begins to recognize me. Then, somewhere around the six month mark, suddenly baby remembers me! My ear-to-ear grin is met with a wiggling toothless smile, and we officially love one another.

Love is forever. It doesn’t die when those we love die.

I love my departed mother as much today as I did when I was a child. Perhaps not more than my younger self, but in a way deeper, broader. I know not only the rigors of raising children as she did, but by now appreciate the fashion in which we were raised. Safety and security, fun and wonder, guidance, support, laughter and hugs. Coursing along through my life I’ve had to come to recognize and appreciate the other aspects of adulthood which she navigated. Loss. Death. Insecurity. Divorce. Illness. Tragedy. Gone a decade now, I think of her as often as when she was living. At crossroads and challenges, I’ll often listen, trying to imagine the things she would say to me on the occasion. At times, she is still my mentor, as I ask myself “What would Marie do?”. She was absolutely decisive.

 

My Dad, Mom, sister & me. Circa 1966.

My Dad, Mom, sister & me.
Circa 1966.

 

My dear friend Richard died, just a couple of weeks ago. We met through work, lived our lives in parallel, raising kids, buying cars, high school graduations, weddings, grandchildren. We spent about seventeen years together, a better record than many marriages! We spent a lot of time together on the road. Shared some philosophies. We were sometimes mistaken for brothers.

Love is forever. It doesn’t die when those we love die.

My grandpa, the original Pop Pop (from whom I take the sobriquet), has been gone for more than twenty years. I never heard his voice raised. Never heard him utter a profanity. He was the gentlest and kindest, most patient person I’ve known throughout the course of my 56 years. With him, I felt secure and loved. My mother’s father, he was the next best thing to mom, almost equal in my book. I find I love him no less today than I did when he was with us on the planet.

Love is forever.

 

Pop Pop, Nana, my sister, and me. Circa 1970.

Pop Pop, Nana, my sister, and me. Circa 1970.

 

As the road behind me grows longer with each passing year, I’ve come to know the simple sense behind a life with an end. While there are babies born to bring me toothless smiles, and there are beautiful young people standing together promising love ’til death, while there are green springtimes, bright summers and glorious crystal winters to look forward to, there will also be sorrow. There will be loss and pain and hardships to witness, presuming life continues as it always has.

It’s comforting to have all that love stacked along the road. Up the hill or down the hill, I am bounded by those who love me on every side. My heart is filled with the love of all the dear ones I am now honored to see in the flesh, and also with the love of all those that have gone before me, to the resting place where dreams do come true. Love is something that comes out of nowhere and fills a space that didn’t exist. It’s free to give and never runs out.  Another song, Minutes to Memories, by John Mellencamp, puts it this way:

My family and friends are the best things I’ve known,

Through the eye of the needle, I’ll carry them home.

Love is forever.

 

And of all the flags I’ve flown,

One flies high and stands alone.

Only love.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

 

Shore Dinner DeLuxe

Editor’s note: this is the second of a 3-part journal entry, preceded by “Sojourn” (ACZ Archive, August 2015), and followed by “Return to Civilization” (ACZ Archive, September 2015) – Paz

 

 Sunrise

Sunrise

I awaken before sunrise in a tiny green and tan canvas hut to the sound of morning bird song and critters foraging about on the forest floor, what seems like inches from my bedroll. I can’t even remember the last time I slept alone in a tent. I was probably fourteen, camping on Scout Island on the Great Sacandaga Lake with my family.  Best rest I’ve had all year.

Up and out, get the coffee going first thing. Percolating coffee on the stovetop. Turn the heat down when it starts to perk to prevent scorching. How do we know when it’s done? No automatic drip or brew-and-pause or beeping sounds from the Keurig. When it looks like coffee in the glass, it’s done. No, that’s tea. No, it’s getting there. Patience. And finally-coffee! The littlest things seem like luxury at camp. This is a perspective I shall try to retain when back in the modern world of convenience and comfort.

It’s probably between 6:30 and 7 am, Joe steps out of the woods from the direction of his camp. We share the morning coffee minute briefly, then we’re ready to hit the water for the early morning rise. Greg and I strike out on the AquaMarie, head for the favorite hot spot with hopes the morning would bring a better result than yesterday. Joe and Bowin in the Tracker cruise past us as the engine on the AquaMarie begins to give us some trouble, trouble that would dog us all day. Overheating, fuel-starved, stalling.

Bowin lands the first keeper of the trip, a big bass, 18 to 20 inches or so. The rest of us snag sunfish and toss back the 10-inchers. At mid-morning we retire to camp and place Bowin’s bass inside the minnow trap so it won’t be eaten by the beasts that comb the shores for chain-ganged fish, unable to flee.

We’re feeling the pressure to catch fish now, expecting thirteen people in camp for dinner. By noon we have one fish. We troll, we drift-fish. We head for the dropoffs, we head for the inlets, we head for the weedbeds. Finally, by late afternoon, we’ve begun to add some keepers to the live well. Greg and I each add a nice bass, and Joe crosses the lake to hand off several nice fish. We’re well on our way to a traditional Forked Lake stringer-full of fish dinner.

Forked Lake Stringer

Forked Lake Stringer

By four o’clock, we’ve landed a little more than twenty pounds of fish, all bass this year. I set to work scaling and filleting the fish, then washed the fillets off in the crystal clear lake water from which they were liberated. I did the cleaning in the woods, away from camp, and carefully cleaned up the area including the leaves drenched with fish stuff. Then the remains were moved farther into the woods, a couple of hundred yards, away from campsites and the trail. This is black bear country, and we didn’t want to invite any into our camp (or our neighbors’!) Behind each site is a bear safe. A steel box in which to place your food to deter bear raids. The box has a heavy steel lid and not one, but two spring-loaded clasps that latch into hasps to keep the box closed. I typically use just one latch. I figure if there’s a bear smart enough and dexterous enough to open one spring-loaded catch (sometimes tedious for me), a second one would only make it aggravated.  Who wants an aggravated hungry bear in camp?

The bear safe

The bear safe

Joe whipped up a batch of beer batter, and heated oil in the big cast iron dutch oven over the open fire at his camp. Joe’s wife Danielle, their son Luke, and the other guests arrive in camp and preparations begin for a Shore Dinner DeLuxe, complete with grilled potatoes with onion and garlic, chips galore, watermelon and a number of other complements. In fact I can’t remember all the great offerings on our table.

Joe dropped fresh batter-dipped fillets in boiling oil, and in few minutes we were partaking of one of the finest meals in recent memory. Everyone had their fill, and plenty was left over, including some fish. And we were worried we couldn’t catch enough!

As darkness closed in on the day, those not staying took their leave. Joe ferried a couple folks to the launch, and others took the trail, a quarter-mile hike, back to the parking area. As we cleaned up, we marveled once again at the bounty of fish. So much fish we had leftovers, even with all the people we fed.

“Next year, we should keep just one fish each. Any more is a waste.” Joe stated, and I agreed.  “We brought way too much food this year.”

Somewhere around nine o’clock, Irv and his boy Collin bade us good evening and headed back to their camp. As is Saturday camp tradition, the remainder of us gathered around the open fire as the cool July night settled in. A wide variety of topics were discussed, not the least of which was our hard-won victory at fishing to feed the clan. One by one, the weary campers nodded off in their canvas umbrella chairs, Sparky finally retiring to his camp. The last one awake, it must be around eleven, and I thought of a regular Saturday night at home. Wondered if my wife (and dog) were watching monster movies on Svengoolie, falling asleep on the soft couch (or deep carpet, depending on species).

A call to my campmate, and Greg stirred. We headed back to our site next door, incarcerated the food supply in the bear safe, and hit the hay for our last night in camp.

Alone again in my little tan and green canvas hut. I fell asleep to the gentle evening breeze, punctuated by calls of the loon. Slept like a hibernating bear.

Next time: the return to “civilization”.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

As Bob Lies Dying

My brother-in-law, my sister’s husband, is dying from cancer.

 

My Sisters, circa 1970

My Sisters, circa 1970

There are lots of details of how it started five years ago with a simple skin cancer. Treatments. Recurrence. Spreading. Treatments.

Now he is leaving the hospital after his kidneys began to fail. He’s going home, to finish his journey “on his own terms”, as my nephew, his son, states.

Not only a beloved family member, but a contemporary. Just a few years older than my wife and I. Stuck in denial? It’s unreal. It’s unfathomable.

I’ve always looked up to and admired Bob, since I met him when I was about 16. I remember the first time I saw him. My sister Bonnie and I were driving through Johnstown and there he was, playing basketball on an outdoor court.

“There’s Bob!” Bonnie screamed as she saw him, turning down the volume on the rendition of “Bobby’s Girl” she played repeatedly.

We couldn’t stop right away because she’d just finished a cigarette, and Bob hated cigarettes. We hit the drug store for soap and breath mints.

Thirty-plus years later, Bob lies dying.

Bob is a third-generation farmer, but a college-educated one. A degree from Cobleskill Ag & Tech. When his father got out of the dairy business, Bob went to work for the town and stayed there until retirement.

He was cantankerous, sarcastic and flawless. He never smoked, and drank little.

When they were married, Bob, along with help from friends of all kinds, built the house he and Bonnie would call home, (I mean he built it, he didn’t have it built for him) eventually filling it with a girl and a boy and dogs and cats over the years.

Bob went down to the creek and hand-picked the stones to build the double-faced fireplace, the centerpiece of the living room and kitchen.

I guess I really don’t simply look up to and admire Bob, but am in awe.

As I grew into a young man, Bob’s example was quite a high bar to reach for. Like great people from history, Lincoln, King, Kennedy, Salk, I always felt that Bob was one of those people whom I could never equal. I could never be all the things Bob was, but I could try to emulate as best as I could.

Now, Bob lies dying.

These days are fractured. At work I am distracted by demands, and the pace of the day engulfs me. A tech calls for support and I run to the parts room. FedEx Freight is on the line about shipping from Houston. Someone relates an anecdote and I laugh. Then I remember. How can we be laughing? Bob lies dying.

At home I fall into the routines of daily life. Filling the pellet stove. Letting the dog out. Letting the dog in. Then I remember. How can these things fill my mind while Bob lies dying?

I drive to work. I drive home. I think of Bob as he lies dying. I think of my sainted mother, our dear late friend Mary Mone, her husband Frank. How life and work and laughter and driving and letting dogs in and out just continues as we lay dying, as we entomb our loved ones and friends, as the flowers on the graves fade and wither and are removed by cemetery caretakers.

I think of my own death, my own funeral. How strange it is to think that family and friends will be mourning my passing (perhaps), while all around them and dead me the world will keep going. It won’t hesitate for a moment. It will make little difference to anyone other than the undertaker.

With this thought I am kindred with Bob. And all the Bobs and dead me’s that have come before us. We are never ready to say goodbye.

And the world and the pellet stoves and the dogs and FedEx carry on. It’s a strangely warm sensation that they will continue with nary a skipped heartbeat for those that still have them. The world will keep spinning, and the universe expanding. Babies will be born, Bonnies will be married. Bobs will build homes.

Many years ago, behind the hearse in a procession of cars a mile long, we wound our way to the cemetery. The procession moves slowly, as if it helps to slow down the parting, spread out the pain and loss. Someone at the back of the line was not in the procession. They peeled out and raced past the cars and the hearse, on their way to work or responding to an ambulance call or going to see their sister’s new-born baby. Even in that moment was an understanding that we can’t all join in the procession. The world can not slow down because you died.

And I am writing blog posts and approving overtime and buying Gravy Bones for the dog and I remember.

How can we write and approve and shop as Bob lies dying?

In New Orleans, the band plays jazz ahead of your casket as it wends its way to the cemetery. I don’t know much else about a creole funeral, but I know it embraces the concept of celebrating a life as we move the decedent to their final rest.

My mind is fogged with all of these thoughts. In little glimpses, my armchair zen reveals lessons learned. The sense of the constant and timeless universe. The sense that we are all but specks on a speck of a rock in a far-flung galaxy arm. We come and go as through a revolving door and the universe is unaffected.

Still, something in my upbringing, my life, my past, my desire and attachment, feels impending loss despite conscious efforts to navigate this in a learned and wise fashion. Now is the time to bring all my living and zenning and caring to my sister and Bob. Their kids. Their grandkids. There is work to be done. I must go now.

As Bob lies dying.

 

Seek peace,

 

Paz

Wonders in the Woods

To the Woods!

To the Woods!

Headed out into the Magic on this New Year’s Day with two of my favorite beings.

Of course my canine companion Chuy was the catalyst, and my grandson Max joined us in the 28-degree air. In my super-eager, always-ready grownup fashion, we were striding past the barn before I realized Max hadn’t any gloves, and was rather underdressed for an hour or two of outdoor play. Back to the house, and he donned my spare “jumpsuit”, some gloves, hat & scarf. Now we were ready. We headed up the runway to the rifle range, and at the crest of the hill Chuy crossed through the hedgerow to “The Widowmaker”, a big hayfield which has seen many radio-controlled airplane crashes, and has claimed the scale pretend lives of many scale pretend pilots.

“Can we go to the woods?” Max asked.

Inside my forced-order grownup brain, the responses line up:”Well, your dad is on the way over to pick up you and your sister. He might be here soon, and we don’t want to keep him waiting. It’s a bit of a hike over the hill, and I hadn’t planned on it. And it’s pretty cold.”

What came out of my mouth: “Sure we can!

As we walked the treeline atop the Widowmaker, a sudden thunder exploded nearby on our left. In a flurry of wingbeats, a ruffed grouse made its escape, placing trees and distance between it and us. “Partridge!”, Max declared. “Never saw him.”, I replied.  As we entered the hardwood stand, the ground before us was free of snow, a blanket of tan, brown and bleached leaves carpeted the forest floor, ankle-deep and noisy.

“Which do you like better, winter or summer?” Max inquired.

This was met with a lengthy response about all the things there are to love about summer, followed by all the things to love about winter, a circling and recircling diatribe that ended where we started, without a real direct answer to the direct question. The summary was a vague “there are so many things to enjoy in both seasons, one precluded from the other, resulting in sort of a tie.”

As we walked through the woods, the ground seemed to crumble beneath our feet often. The sensation was one of walking on foot-deep piles of saltine crackers. A crunching sound followed by our boots sinking 3 or four inches into the humus. We stooped for a closer look. Upon examination, we found most of the ground to yield crystal structures rising six inches out of the soil.

“Crystals.”, I marveled, to which my companion replied “Are they valuable?”

Crystals of the Forest

Crystals of the Forest

This lead to a dissertation about the definition of crystals, crystalline structures, common types of crystals, and their definitions as common, semi-precious and precious gems. I theorized about the formation of these dirty glass ice crystal structures. We had a warm spell, and some rain, followed by a dip into temperatures well below freezing. Water evaporating from the ground met freezing air, and the crystals formed.

Dirt Diamonds

Dirt Diamonds

“Can we go look at the creek?” was Max’s next request.

Again, my brain tickled through a file of grownup reasons why we might not, followed by the exclamation “Sure!”.On the way we saw some interesting tree-ear formations, and I stopped to take a photo.

“They look more like tree noses.” said Max, and I agreed.

Tree Noses

Tree Noses

At the Little Beaver Creek, ice rimmed both sides of the frigid, flowing water. We stepped on the ice at the bank and it crunched underfoot. Then we had to throw rocks onto the ice on the opposite shore, trying to break through. The rocks were frozen into the ground on the creek banks, and we had to kick them to free them from their resting places. Three million years it took that rock to get there, and suddenly in one day it moves 20 feet. Changing the course of geological history, we pelted the ice to no avail.

Max vs. Ice

Max vs. Ice

Along the North Loop trail we came across a shotshell wad, and Max narrated last weekend’s rabbit hunting.

“I was here,” he began, taking his position and holding his arms in shotgun-wielding formation, “and Pierce was over there.” Max gestured to the other side of a tangle of brush. “He called ‘Are you ready, Max?’, and kicked the brush. The rabbit went right through here,” a sweeping arc of the arm, indicating the bunnies course, “and BAM! BAM! I shot twice, but missed him.”

Conservation of angular momentum is the cosmic force brought to bear on objects circling other objects in space, the push & pull, the yin and yan of gravity versus centrifugal force resulting in an orbit. Some orbits are close, such as that of our moon. Some orbits are millions and millions of miles long, often ellipses, hanging a tight turn around their gravitational anchor, then sling-shotting off into the far reaches of solar systems and galaxies. Objects moving through space are affected by the pull of the objects they pass. Sometimes ever-so-slightly altering their course by degrees over millennia. In other cases, objects are drawn close, and the cosmic dance begins between host and satellite, and the once-free and boundless travelers become residents, orbiting moons or rings of debris.

My days and times with my grandchildren affect me in similar ways. I am pulled from the ultra-ordered, prepared-for-retirement, insured-for-everything, time-honored traditions of middle-aged American patriarchs, and drawn back into the world of wonder, the endless hours of childhood. To walk almost aimlessly, to stop and identify every type of scat. To play at edges from which grownups recoil. Throwing rocks onto ice, skirting the near-freezing water without cares, without worries of “what would happen if…?”

What would happen if we fell into the swiftly-moving current, plunging muscles and lungs into 34-degree water wearing 10 pounds of clothes?

“It would be a bad thing if Chuy went into the creek and couldn’t get back out.” Max observed, as the old dog approached the banks of the Little Beaver Creek. It was a parallel of too-grownup thought, the same things I am thinking about the boy. The boy on the brink of becoming a man. Let’s not hurry that, okay? Let’s have another year, another winter, another walk in the woods, where you are a child of Neverland, and worries are unwelcome. A place and time before you set out on that endless highway of adulthood. Before you fall into the traps, reading the road signs “What would happen if…?

“He’ll be fine.” I answer casually, carefully concealing the legitimacy of his concern. “Not likely to happen.”

Max the meteor streaks past Grandfather planet. I am pulled toward him by the unseen forces, trying to hold him.

He pulls back, as a glorious tail stretches out across the cosmos, hurtling by me at phenomenal speed.

My orbit affected, I reach out with my own unseen force, and try to grab that tail.

Max Meteor

Max Meteor

Be at peace,

 

Paz

 

 

 

The New Dreams

What will you dream?

What will you dream?

 

 

In my childhood, we had a phrase that no longer exists.

Not because it faded in popular lexicography, but because the dream came true.

We’d hold up a fist as if to threaten a punch, and we’d say “How would you like to be the first man on the moon?”

 

In my high school, there was girl named Debbie in my class that had an older sister with physical infirmities. She walked like President Roosevelt, and for the same reason.  She was the only person I knew that had suffered from polio. The disease was eradicated during my early childhood. The vaccine was a pink fluid, dropped on a sugar cube, dispensed in the school cafeteria.

We’d read Dick Tracy, watch him on TV on Saturday mornings. You could only watch him on Saturday mornings. At a specific time, on one of the four television stations we received at home. Tracy would talk into his wristwatch and communicate with HQ.

On Star Trek, they had these little communicators that flipped open. Everybody had one. Right on their hip at all times. The ship had a COMPUTER, and First Officer Spock would plug in little things that seemed similar to thumb drives (jump drive, USB storage drive, whatever you call them). Although he didn’t use the term, he could google all the knowledge living beings had placed in this repository! They also had a sleek space vehicle they called the Shuttlecraft.

Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962, warning us of a grim future if we did not stop and take stock of our treatment of the environment.

In the 70’s, we were just waking up to world science. We took DDT (a powerful insecticide) off the market when we discovered it was killing off our national emblem, the bald eagle, by causing the shells of their eggs to be too soft to survive incubation.

The Fish & Wildlife Service captured the last California condor in the wild in order to attempt captive breeding to save the species from extinction!

 

Now I wonder, what will be the new dreams of this generation, and those that follow?

Polio, smallpox, mumps and other life-threatening childhood diseases have been virtually wiped out.

Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. The title is taken.

We pull our Star Trek- Dick Tracy phones out of our pockets. They aren’t even phones anymore. They’re “mobile devices”. We can google all the stuff Spock googled.

California condors have some healthy flocks out west, and yesterday I watched as a bald eagle flew up and down the Schoharie Creek, just a hundred yards away.

We have 200 channels of satellite TV. We don’t even need to buy “tapes” to record our Saturday shows. They’re on three times a day, nine times a week, and available on demand for “streaming media”. If we want a recording, we just press the TiVo button.

The dream of the space shuttle has been realized. I show my age with that remark. Most kids today have known the space shuttle all their lives. The dream that came true became a nightmare. I remember the moment I heard that the space shuttle Columbia had inexplicably exploded on re-entry. All hands lost.

Now the space shuttle program is so old, they had to scrap the space craft! 

The deepest parts of the oceans, the Marianas Trench, Challenger Deep, have been plumbed by humans.

 

There are many, many challenges still ahead. Rachel Carson would be pleased at much of the progress, particularly in our own country, but there are still species on the brink of extinction. It’s a bit presumptuous to say, but I’m betting there are many countries around the world that haven’t even reached their “70’s” yet. Still pouring molten lead into the ground, clear-cutting ancient forests, poaching white rhinos with such ferocity that they are now guarded by armed soldiers.

Cancer is eating us alive. Medical science has made amazing progress here, but people are still dying from this “disease within”.

Still, the glory of being the first to land on the moon, the amazement at a communicator smaller than a transistor radio (google it if you need to), the computer that can search all of space in 1.4 seconds… these lofty goals have been realized.

 

What are The New Dreams?

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

 

The Storm Approaches

This is the second of a 3-part journal entry beginning with Off The Grid and culminating with The Storm Strikes. -Paz

Mists of morning

Mists of morning

 

Awake at dawn, I step out of our tent into a perfect July morning. The temperature hovering in the mid-60’s, a thin, misty fog covers much of the lake, the sun is just climbing over the hill to the east, and it begins to burn a hole through the magical veil of vapor. The coffee has just begun to percolate when I hear Joe’s boat motor approaching. Ryan arises and immediately begins to prepare breakfast; eggs scrambled with crumbled bacon and cheese. Within a few minutes, Sparky joins us for morning victuals, and so our day begins.

Scout Island, circa 1971

Scout Island, circa 1971

 

I am reminded of those August mornings, awakening on Scout Island to the sound of small waves lapping the shore, making rhythmic sounds as they strike the Honey Doll, moored with her bow facing the wind. Forty-or-so years later I still recall a morning when, around age 15 or so, I awoke with the sun and crept to my 11-foot boat The Li’l Skipper, and rowed out onto a fog-covered lake for “the morning rise”, an angler’s term for breakfast time among the fishes. As I quietly pulled in the oars my focus was on preparing baits, casting, trying to perceive any drift. There was not a stir in the air, nor a ripple on the placid water.

I looked up from my industrious activity to find I was completely surrounded by fog. There was no island, no shoreline. No boats tied up across the bay at Vandenburg’s Point, no motors pulling out of McMurray’s Boat Livery, no clamoring of bathers and boaters unfolding and consuming the beautiful summer day. Silence. I remember it like yesterday. The first time I felt truly alone, isolated and entirely one with the nature and world engulfing me. Perfect peace.

Today there is a full Saturday before us, and a lake full of fish awaiting us. We hit the hot spots and land some lunkers. By noon we have a stringer full of bass, and a surprise catch as Joe pulls a nineteen-inch land-locked salmon out of 15 feet of water. We return to camp for lunch and place our 20-pound stringer of fish in the cool lake water. I’m a little conflicted by this, keeping the fish on a chain only to await their death and consumption. It occurs to me to clean and fillet them now and put them on ice. Better for the fish and for our dinner. Alas, the lake, the sun, the water and the fishing beckons, and we return to our activities, leaving the stringer tied to a tree root, the chain gang of fish flopping occasionally.

Joe's Landlocked Salmon

Joe’s Landlocked Salmon

Stringerful of dinner

Stringerful of dinner

After lunch I decided to take out the Ranger 16′ canoe for some silent-approach fishing. My first cast meets with a strike and my mind turns to landing the fish, completely forgetting canoe rules. I rise slightly and snap the rod back over my shoulder to set the hook- and this is too far for the canoe. She tips, she swamps, and in a second I am in the lake. Thankfully, the flotation vest makes maneuvering easy in spite of the fact that I’m fully clothed including fishing vest, sweatshirt, long pants and hiking boots. Ryan comes alongside with The AquaMarie, and pulls the old man into the boat. Back to camp for a change of clothes, and we’re right back at it.

Folks that ply the waters of our world are always looking to the sky. Sailboats seek the wind, and we all keep a watchful eye on the cloud formations. By afternoon, the skies to the northwest held tall thunderheads just beyond the next ridge. Curtains of rain could be seen falling on those beneath, probably 20 or 30 miles away. The forecast called for a front to move through tomorrow, so this must just be the leading edge, but the wind made some hauntingly familiar wave patterns, and we could smell the rain.

Storms Approaching

Storms Approaching

We changed our dinner location from our camp to Joe’s for tonight. We wanted to fish “the evening rise”, on either side of sunset, and it would be dark by the time we arrived at Joe’s and began to clean our stringer of dinner. Ryan and I stopped by our camp to pick up the stringer and a few kitchen essentials, and as I pulled the stringer out of the water I was shocked to see half of the fish were devoured! Something had been feeding on our captive (and probably dead-by-then) fish. A few were whole, and the rest had varying degrees of remains. One just a head, one completely devoid of innards, and most upsetting, the salmon was simply gone!

We arrived at Joe’s with the sad news of his salmon’s disappearance, but we had plenty enough fish flesh to feed our tribe. Sparky canoed over from his camp, and we would tow his canoe as he hitched a ride back to camp after dark. Our boat is the only one with running lights, hence the decision to have dinner at Joe’s camp again. Chef Ryan cooked up the fish in the cast iron cookware over the open fire. A side of fresh mashed potatoes with onion, and for veggies, sauteed fresh zucchini. Served buffet style on the picnic table, we gathered around the fire for the best meal ever in camp!

Night in camp always feels like we’re going back in time. A time when people lived like this every day. It’s a big world out there, and it’s no surprise that people banded together in cave clans, and shared the warmth and safety of a fire at night.

Fire ring

Fire ring

Sparky

Sparky

Bowin

Bowin

We ate our fill of the fine fresh food, lamenting the loss of the salmon and inhaling the fresh-cooked bass. Just as we were finishing our second helpings and considering a toasted marshmallow, I felt a single drop of water on my head. “Pat, pat, pat” went little taps on the leaves.

“Is that rain?” Sparky asked, and as he finished the sentence, the pat-pats picked up their pace, and the skies opened.

 

 

Next chapter: The Storm Strikes!

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

Off The Grid

This is the first in a 3-part journal entry, followed by The Storm Approaches and culminating with The Storm Strikes. -Paz

Wild Space

Wild Space

Forked Lake, Adirondack Mountains.

I grew up in “The Park”, and after living 50 miles south of it for 30 years, it still feels like home. The Adirondack Park is so big you could put Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Glacier National Parks inside it, and have 800,000 acres left over! Of the remaining large, intact tracts of land areas, the Adirondacks ranks among the top three globally.

Two hours on the main road, a couple miles on the secondary road, another mile on the dirt road and we’re at the lake. Then we load our boat, The AquaMarie,  with camping and fishing gear, and ply the waters to reach our camp site.

There’s no road to the camp, not even a logging road. On the south shore of the lake, there’s a foot trail that leads to camp sites on that side. Around the north shore, where Joe & Bowin camped, there isn’t even a foot trail. Like the original Adirondack frontiersmen, French Louie & Trapper John, if you can’t cross this lake you’re bushwhacking over a mountain to get out of here.

And leave the cell phone in the car. The High Peaks Region is one of those rare remaining respites from cell towers and signal. We are truly off the grid now.

As a kid, my dad would pack us all (our dog Buddy included) into his boat, The Honey Doll, and we’d pitch camp on Scout Island on the Sacandaga Lake for a couple of weeks in August.

Camping on an island was great fun as a kid and teen. Like Robinson Crusoe, but with tents and outboard motors.  Now here I am, four decades later, boating to our camp site with my son, Ryan.  This place is so much more remote. The lake is an ancient vestige of the last ice age, its water is clear as glass, and it is bound by rocky shores. There are no sandy beaches. While it reaches depths of 40 feet at its deepest, there are boulders strewn about in the water. No water-skiing, big power boats or jet skis here. The boat launch can barely handle our little fourteen-foot Magnum fishing boat.

Rocky shore at camp

Rocky shore at camp

We started this annual thing, Joe & I, as a “Camporee”, inviting folks from work to join us for an off-site get together. The first year we had a good turnout, a half-dozen campers and some day visitors on Saturday, enjoying a wood fire and grilled foodstuffs. That was when we held the Camporee at Moffitt’s Beach, where you can drive your air-conditioned SUV right up to the “driveway” of your camp site. You can “rough it” in a tent, pitched alongside the pop-ups, travel trailers and RV’s.

Since moving the Camporee to the remote and desolate Forked Lake, it’s been down to the true core of adventure-seeking wilderness lovers; Joe & his son Bowin, Me and my son Ryan, and our dear friend Sparky. It’s become something of an intimate affair, all the more special because the experience is shared by just the few of us.

View from the bow

View from the bow

We’ve lived, however briefly, like a little tribe out in the piney woods. We caught fish to feed the clan. We visited each other’s camps for dinners and breakfasts. Joe & Bowin fishing from their Tracker, Ryan & I on The AquaMarie, we’d catch up to and pass one another during the day, sharing fish hot spots and sporting our catches.

During the day, it’s outdoor sporting at its best. Boats and fishing. A contest for first, largest and most fish. One appreciates the lack of phones ringing, televisions playing, lawnmowers running, cars & trucks passing. It takes a little while for the brain to adjust. There are chores at camp, but few real responsibilities. No gardens to water, no houses to paint, no stairs to build, no dog to feed.

 

Forked Lake Sunset

Forked Lake Sunset

 

As the day draws to a close, we make dinner plans. Tonight at Joe’s camp, tomorrow at ours. Joe is serving up loose meat sandwiches, cooked over a wood fire in a cast iron Dutch oven. It’s a mix of venison, some pork, and a ground-up leftover hamburger from lunch. Is it the air, the activity, or the lack of a fridge and pantry to raid that makes all food taste so much better when camping? Served simply on rolled bread, your hand as the plate, it was the best thing I’d tasted all day.

After dinner it was probably around nine o’clock (I have no time piece with me. We tell time by the position of the sun when we’re in the bush!). Ryan and I boarded the AquaMarie and turned on the running lights, and made our way across the lake under a full moon.

Waxing gibbous moon

Waxing gibbous moon

Back at our camp, Ryan and I found that Sparky had arrived late (hitherto he was MIA, and we wondered if he’d make it this year).  Following our best homo habilis manners, we started a roaring fire and commenced to stare at it for several hours. Loons on the lake let out their calls between dives. Across the water, the sounds carry from other camps. As the moon raced across the sky, the sounds and the visible camp fires dwindled until all fell silent.

Bed time, and tomorrow is a full day in camp.

It would be the best rest of this year.

Next chapter: The Storm Approaches

 

Be at peace,

 

Paz

 

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