Tonight I Ran

Tonight I ran. Maybe faster than I ever had before. I get faster every day. I no longer care too much about this, because it has always been about the journey, not the destination.

For the first time it was a sort of running away.  Before it has always been a running towards.  I like the latter better than the former.

I saw two swans nesting in the marsh, together they guarded their most precious possessions- themselves.  For what are our children but an extension of ourselves- a way to keep a scant fragment of ourselves alive.  Such a nest for swans I had never observed.  It was bittersweet to see them huddled together, hunkered down preparing for the evening together.  For a swan the night is dark and full of terrors.

I recalled the dead swan I had seen in the same cove five weeks ago.  Not all of us are destined to make it.  It made me sad, to see its neck stretched out with the tide, but it was not the first dead swan I had seen.

I went into the forest and it seemed to darken.  Perhaps more than it should, despite the time of day, so I headed back sooner than I would have otherwise.  I came through the marsh again and was acutely aware of all life pushing towards and against everything around me.  Here some poison ivy masqueraded as innocent branches on a shad.  Virginia creeper stayed true to its name and crept along a crack in the asphalt.  Four birds with white wings faded into the mist. I could smell only earth, and wet, and rotting things.  The air smelled like life renewing itself.

The sky cracked and opened up in the distance, and I thought, “Come  Take me.  I don’t mind.”  I swiftly reconsidered and hastened towards home.  If only it were true that there is one person in the world who can understand you perfectly, and you just have to find them.  How marvelous that would be.

I am still the little girl in the boat who has run too far with a swift tide and a following wind.  I can no longer turn back lest I abandon my boat.  The cows on the shore will surely protest nonetheless.  I hear them braying, protesting, in my darkest dreams.  They come less often now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nashawena to Whenever

I’m up at 2:00 AM making turkey cutlets, and that’s a bit of a pain in the ass.  I only bought them because they were on sale, and I don’t even eat turkey, except on Thanksgiving.  I’m practically vegetarian.  But I see that sale sticker, and I’m like, “OOH scoop that shit up!”  And then I end up on the verge of throwing it out because I wonder, how can I eat that?  But what’s worse is buying it and NOT eating it.  WASTING IT.  So.  I’m up at 2:00 because I’m on prednisone, and I can’t sleep.  And I don’t want to be doing this crap, but I’ve already listened to three albums, and I feel like I’m never going to sleep again.  And there you have it.

So, in the midst of sprinkling semi-random spices and “seasonings” (sort of a ridiculous word, no?) I have this sudden flashback to Nashawena.  The Old Days.  Those magical, summer, golden light, wind swept, never ending, life-is-perfect days.

When I was young we used to sail to the Queen Elizabeth Islands.  Our favorite destination was Quickshole, on the eastern end of Nashawena.  Nashawena is fascinating.  I was fascinated as a child, and I remain on the edge of obsession to this day.  We would always approach from the northern part of the island, inevitably traveling from one of the Shelter Island anchorages.  Coecles Harbor, or even West Neck- both favorites, we would peer through binoculars at the shipwrecks beneath the bluffs.  Quickshole had a special kind of enchantment.  It was unspoilt.  Perfect dunes spanned the stretch between white sandy beach, and the large tidal pond that was fed by a small inlet, ever shifting its shape, but behaving more or less the same over the years.  How I’d love to see it now.  As children we would clamber over the dunes, an experience that always reminded me of cresting the peak of the pine orchard behind my grandparents’ house, midway up a geographical pleasure named Bloom Hill.  So different, these landscapes, and yet so similar an emotional experience traversing them.

The pond was always teeming with fowl of every kind, live and dead.  Visitors were few, and these animals were able to live mostly undisturbed.  If you followed the rules, and did not trespass (as some did, but never we) the animal life was able to thrive.  Many a time we strapped on our lifejackets, and floated on our backs either inward or outward bound on the inlet, depending on how the tide was running.  It was perhaps 18” deep at the most.  I marveled at the enormous blue crabs, and other crustaceans  and schools of tiny fish that flowed with or struggled against the current.  I would reach out to touch, never with the intent of ensnaring, but in the pursuit of satisfying my childlike fascination with these creatures.  I identified with them, in a way.  At that moment, there was perhaps nothing better than drifting in or out of this beautiful place, and taking in all I could along the way.

But inserted into the idyllic paradise of natural refuge and expression, was the domesticated cow.  This island is split in two.  Having formerly been used for WWII target practice, so the story goes, it was turned over to private ownership.  If you were to search it out on google maps, you would be able to make out the faint trace of a stone wall bisecting the island.  The imagination runs wild upon examining the outbuildings, imagining their function.  It is clear that there is some sort of working farm on the eastern end of the island.

Many memories were made there, but one particular experience consistently resurfaces more than any other.  My father used to borrow his best friend’s boat, for a time, which was a lovely vessel named Surf Song.  Many years had previously been spent rafting up with the family that owned this boat- it is still in the family, and I love them all to this day.  This boat was, and is, special for many reasons.  But the significant fact about Surf Song, for this story, anyway, is that she has a tender.  A gorgeous little Dyer Dhow that hangs off the stern on davits, and is just a fantastic little boat to putz around in.

One day in Quickshole, around the age of fourteen,  I decided to take the tender for a sail.  And wouldn’t you know, I decided to go with the current, and with the wind.  I’ve never been known to be particularly good in the judgment department, but this was idiotic.  However, there’s something wonderfully thrilling about running with both the wind and the tide, isn’t there?

As I found myself being sucked into Long Island sound by a riptide I should have anticipated, I jibed and headed back towards Surf Song.  Close-hauled and tacking  for 45 minutes, white knuckled, hiking out to the point I thought my quads and ankles would give, refusing to even consider the possibility of letting go of the sheet, though my hands burned with the effort.  And then Salvador Dali’s ghost made an appearance.  Cows on the beach.  Big brown cows carrying on like you wouldn’t believe.   Cows on the beach, braying and mooing at me as I went by.  I will never forget the sound of their voices on the wind, as I fought with all my might to make it back to Surf Song.  I don’t think they were cheering for me, I don’t think they were vocalizing against me.

I think they were saying:  Hello!  We live on an island, and we cannot escape.  Life is ok, but we have no frame of reference.  What is happening out there, and who are you?

These seem like reasonable questions.

The rooster ran in circles on the lawn

when the New York weekend Rolls Royce neighbors

would not endure the five AM alarm.

I wondered if the sun would cease to rise.

 

Sunday woke in grief to match my mother’s,

weeping over fresh earth, cursing her pain.

Still image flash burned bright in my eyes

 

outlining mother, running with her stove

flames licking fingers, desperate last ditch measures

efforts to halt the inevitable

 

wild blind determination.  She took flight

clutching cookbooks, wooden spoons, her eggs.

Nothing quells such passionate destruction.

 

Thinking of my bear, trapped and burning,

I also ran in circles on the lawn

when my mother said, “The house is on fire.”

 

Through a crowded window we watched the hull

of our house still shifting in her ashes

lonely and shivering in the cold.  Then it snowed.

 

Springtime came and melted into rivers,

puddles formed made mushy mud from soft earth.

Flood lifted lost objects onto the lawn.

 

For years we gathered up the contents of that house,

things thrown out windows, things that were on fire,

we found them in bushes, trees, in gardens.

 

Everywhere, dirty singed forgotten things.

For my sister something saved, resurrected,

soothes the ache of losing what is loved.

 

She smiles as I hand her a button.

I know she remembers where it’s from,

traces memory in circles with her thumb.

The Great Ed Rapp

As I write this, my Great Uncle Ed is in hospice with kidney failure.  He is almost 95, and has lived an incredible life.  I mean that in the true sense of the word- most would not believe even half of the stories he tells, but they are all true.

I’ve lost count of how many times he and my Great Aunt Laura moved.  I’ve lost count of how many newspapers they’ve started.  The most notable to me, simply because I was incredulous that such a publication could succeed, was the newspaper they started in Provence.  Written in English, it was targeted towards expats who had come to the south of France to retire.  Succeed it did, which is probably what caused my Uncle Ed to grow bored, sell the newspaper, and move somewhere else- an artists colony in Mexico, I believe.  They were in their seventies, and they would continue to relocate every few years or so into their nineties.

Growing up we were lucky to get to visit with Aunt Laura and Uncle Ed often, sometimes a few times a year.  In the past ten years or so the visits were less frequent, but my mother always made an effort to travel to wherever they were for visits of her own. At one point my mother even flew to the south to join them for a leg of their cross country journey in their Airstream.

When my Aunt Laura died at 96, I worried about my Uncle Ed.  I worried that Ed would fade a bit, would suffer from the blow of losing his lifelong companion.  Of course it changed him, but his spirit remained the same.  I recall my mother asking me one day if I would be willing to meet him at the house for dinner on a Friday.  He was coming for an unscheduled visit, and she and my father would not be home until Saturday.  I remember laughing.  Would I be willing?  Of course I would be willing, it was an opportunity to have him all to myself.  I recall that I made a list of all the questions I wanted to ask him.

One story in particular sticks out.  I had asked him to tell me the most interesting story he had ever had the opportunity to write.  I was well rewarded with a riotously funny story about Henry Kissinger and a blueberry farm in Kent, Connecticut, where he started his very first newspaper.  He interviewed Henry Kissinger for his paper, but was not allowed to bring up blueberries in any way shape or form.  The story is too long to tell here, but it was just one of many he has told that have made me laugh and shake my head in amazement.

What troubles me about these stories is that I remember the specifics, or even subjects of them so little.  What I remember is the way these stories made me feel, and the manner in which he told them.  I will say that I’ve never met anyone else who can claim that they’ve driven an heiress’s second hand Cadillac through a rainforest in Puerto Rico.

I am going to miss Uncle Ed.  I will miss knowing that he is in this world.  I am already grieving the loss of this treasure trove of wit, information, and insight.  Ed is a wonderful writer.  He has a clear voice and a discipline that has never waned.  In 2008, my mother set up a blog for him.  He writes every day, and she saw this as an ideal outlet for his often political journalism.  No longer having a newspaper, the blog was a way of giving him back an audience.  He posted an entry just last week on July 1 entitled, “A Glimmering of Progress on Obamacare.”  The entry before that is entitled, “Lingering on…” and needs no explanation as to the subject matter.

This is my thank you to my Uncle Ed for everything he has unknowingly given me, but most especially for believing in me.  That is perhaps one of the greatest gifts anyone can give, and one I do not believe he is aware that he has bestowed.

I would encourage any and all to peruse his blog.  It is a chance to peek into the life, and hear the voice of one of the most fascinating individuals I have ever had the privilege to know: www.edrapp.com

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2012 Backgammon Tournament

Harold and Michael

What a fabulous day we had yesterday at Heather’s Annual Backgammon Tournament!  The weather was beautiful, the food was delicious, and the company was divine.  Typically the tournament is held in the late fall at Heather’s, but this year we thought it would be fun to take advantage of the backyard at my place.  Many thanks to Heather for hosting an incredible party at someone else’s house!  I was impressed- she showed up with everything- tables, chairs, a sizably stocked bar, tablecloths, decorations, balloons, food, everything!

The Backgammon Tournament is traditionally a pot luck, with an Around the World theme, and it seems every year the food gets better and better.  I particularly enjoyed the fact that many of the dishes were from Southeast Asian countries- some of my favorite cuisine!  We were treated to some delicious pho made by Pete, and Corrie made some amazing enchiladas.  We also had some great sushi and potstickers, among other tasty treats.

This year we decided to structure the tournament with a single bracket, unlike the previous years in which we’ve done double elimination.  We will probably go back to double elimination next year, but this was an interesting change in the format.  I think everyone agreed that the tournament moved too quickly.  It was also a shock when Pete, our reigning champion was knocked out in the first round!  In the end, Michael and Steve competed in the finals, and Steve won in just one game- earning six point after gammoning Michael.  Steve was the champion of our first tournament, so we know he’s happy to have that trophy back on his shelf!

Jen and Heather

Corrie and Jen

We missed seeing Bruce and Alison this year, but were psyched for Krayne, one of my D&D buddies, to join us.  Much laughter was shared, and a wonderful time was had by all.  I wish I had taken more photos, but I was simply having too much fun to remember to do so!  Cheers to everyone who contributed to a wonderful and relaxing Sunday afternoon.  I simply can’t wait for the upcoming Backgammon Invitational….

Everything falls apart

 

Today I took apart a stone wall with the intention of rebuilding it.   I admire this wall.   It is old, but not too old.   You can read the passage of time in its slouchy collapsibility.   It wasn’t well made, and it’s given up on every former function save marking the boundary between field and forest.   Trees, young but not too young, grow along its length, standing like solemn sentinels or soldiers frozen in a march to the sea.

In the adjacent field you would find a grove of Eastern White Pine and a soft ground covered with a dense cushion of amber colored needles.   In forest you find relatively young maples, poplars and oaks.   The wall has watched them grow, has known them all their lives.   There is a standoff of sorts between these two spaces, these imaginary or explicit enclosures.   The human believes the field to be enclosed by fence, the forest has no need of human concepts and encloses itself.   These energies are not discrete.

This wall cannot truly be described as standing, and so its qualification as a wall could be brought into question.   It has fallen in on itself, collapsed, sunk into and been consumed by the earth, and the soil itself has slowly reached up to embrace it.   As I slowly worked my way through the process of carefully dismantling an entity that has been in the process of dismantling itself for decades, I wondered at the structure.   How like the life of some people this wall could be said to resemble: derelict, unattended to, defunct.   Abuse has no part to play in this mutability, merely neglect.

I accept that.   The wall is beautiful in its sloppy repose, but I acknowledge it was never well built, if it was, indeed, built at all.   It’s not falling apart, it has fallen apart, been dissembled by nature and the passage of time.   The wall and I, our paths have intersected, and somehow it has now become my responsibility.   I have made it my responsibility, and for no particular reason than to make order out of chaos.     To take something that wasn’t and make it better, simply because the materials are there, and I know that I can.

It has become almost a living thing to me, this wall.   Elastic is not the word to describe it, but nearly so.   One senses some force of attraction between the individual stones, as if they’ve strived to stay close, but in doing so, have fallen further apart.

I began to accept that this wall was never planned, nor was it carefully laid.   It was, like so many creations, simply dumped.

I took apart this wall, piece by piece.   There was garbage in the wall.   I must mention again, the age of this dumped collection of stone is old, undetermined.   But now that doesn’t matter, does it, because my job is to take it apart.   Well, actually, my job is to build a wall, but taking apart the bitter remains of what once was is a necessary prerequisite to accomplishing this task.   And now the garbage: I found glass in the wall, and I wondered, “Where did this glass come from, and why did people throw glass in their walls?”

As I removed these fragments of glass I marveled at their variety.   I wondered at their forms.   What whole objects had these shards once been a part of?   I realized that our lives are like this wall- in the process of falling down, always conforming to an entropic force, slowly being pulled apart, being pulled into the ground, spreading into the earth, moving surely away from our former whole “selves.”

And the bits and pieces of the past are like these shards of glass, and they aren’t meant to be put back together.   They aren’t even meant to be recognized.   All we can do is wonder which fragment of our past they are a relic of.   All there is to do is gently and patiently remove the broken pieces and pile them up to one side as I dismantle the stones and stack them in preparation for rebuilding the wall: a new wall with a fresh start, containing no glass, holding no secret, broken things inside of it.

And I will try to make the wall better this time, and stronger.   I will build it knowing that everything eventually falls down, but with the hope that it will last longer than I do.   That, for me, would be enough..

Chorizo and Cheddar and Embroidered Whales

First off this morning, I’d like to say that Chorizo sausage and cheddar cheese is a fabulous combination, especially with scrambled eggs on baguette. It’s a special sandwich at Olive Oyls this morning, so if you have a chance, go get one. You will not be sorry. You could also pick up a raspberry flavored ice tea, and your breakfast would be nicely rounded out.

I had a GREAT time this past weekend. David’s cousin Aaron surprised us with a visit Friday night, and we had “so much fun” that I became convinced that there were two moons shining brightly in the sky, one in the west, and one in the east. I was disappointed to be informed that the moon in the east was actually one of those plastic balloons they put on the power lines over the Baldwin Bridge to make sure planes won’t hit them. If I were flying a plane, I would definitely do everything I could to avoid hitting the moon.

Saturday was David’s company picnic at Meigs Point, Hammonassett Beach. Despite their pavilion being hijacked, it was a great day, and the highlight, for me personally, was getting to fly a Sponge Bob kite. Actually, Patrick the starfish was on the kite too, but Sponge Bob is more prominent, and everyone knows he’s the real star anyway. (Not to be confused with real moons.) Anyway, a really nice girl named Ashley let me borrow her kite. It was also her birthday, so I’m not sure if she is always filled with such good will and generosity, but I will just assume that she is. Here is a picture of Ashley with her boyfriend Brian. You can catch a glimpse of the pavilion hijackers in the background. Stupid baby shower.

I had to take off a little early to meet up with Mister Feeney, because we had to go to the big McCurdy Midsummer Night’s Barbecue Blast! Yay! George and Heather drove the van on to the lawn by the field, and we set up a little camp. We had three tents set up, and we sat around as if there were a campfire. It’s pretty useless to try to describe that evening. Let me sum up: I watched fireworks from the pool, and Mary and I played a game called “Beirut” against my brother, and is friend Will, who was very nice, despite his ridiculous green pants with embroidered navy blue whales all over them. (The funniest part is that another guy showed up wearing the EXACT same pattern, but in shorts.) Personally, if you’re going to go for embroidered whales, why not go all out and get the pants? That’s atleast twice as many whales!!

Everyone claims that I gave Will a really hard time about the whales, but that’s not really true. Just because you start a conversation with, “Hey, can I ask you a personal question? What’s up with the whales?” does not mean that I am being critical. What I think, is that everyone else there really thought the whales were weird, and I was the only one willing to say anything, and everyone else just sort of hopped on the bandwagon and were like, “Yeah, your whale pants are stupid!! Haha! You’re a dork!” and then all that anyone can remember afterwards is that it was Julie who brought it up in the first place, and so therefore, I gave him a hard time.

I mean seriously, after it was explained to me that “his family had always been down with whales,” I guess I kind of understood the pants a little better. I mean, I have no idea what it means to be “down with whales,” but it sounds pretty cool, and since I’m trying this whole new non-cynical approach to life, which involves taking everything at face value, I really did think the whale pants were cool. In the end.
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Mom’s Wall

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I have been neglecting my blog, big time, and  I blame Facebook.   Anyway, I realized that I never put up photos of the first finished section of the wall that I’m building at Thirsty Boots Farm.   Mom had requested that I get it done for the annual summer picnic, and miraculously I did, even though I procrastinated and  left the cheek end til the last minute, and had no idea how I was going to cap it.   All in all, I think it came out pretty nice.

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Steve Seeley was kind enough to lay some of the base course, as many of the stones were unmanageable for me with just hand tools.   Not unmanageable for Steve, though; if you happen to know him, you know what I mean.   It took him about an hour and a half to get an amount of work done that would have taken me several weekends of torture with a pry bar.   He’ll be coming over to do the next run of base course within the next few weeks, and then I’ll be able to get started again.   Mom has been helping me dismantle the wall, and she’s done a ton of the prep work, to the point that I’m starting to feel like I have an assistant.     She is also very good at sorting stone.   Thanks, Mom!

I’m also including a couple  photos below from the first Parmelee Farm Dry Stone Walling Workshop with Andrew Pighills and Dan Snow that took place over Halloween Weekend last fall.   Alison and Steve also attended, and we had lots of fun meeting new wallers, and building this pretty wall.   There is another workshop coming up in May, and you can register now if you are interested:   http://parmeleefarm.org/walling/index.html   This link also shows some great photos from the weekend.

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