Friends and Silences

If you have a friend you have a treasure. So the saying goes. Certainly. How many treasures can one have? True treasures, not so many. Or they wouldn't be treasures. I'm thinking about this having just read a little of an article in today's El País about some guy in Spain who is described as a really intimate friend of lots and lots of famous people. But he remains anonymous. Can you have hundreds of intimate friends? Maybe you can. I feel blessed to have a good handful. The intimates. Maybe a friend is someone who can share silences with you. Silence is not an easily shared thing and unless we're with real friends, it's better experienced in solitude. Carlisle affords some pretty good opportunities for silence, but not yesterday: Corvettes in Carlisle. We noticed that there seemed to be many fewer cars than in previous years. The recession? The photo above was taken in July in Little Compton. You don't get silence at the beach, but the sound of the waves can be hypnotic. And it's one of the great losses in leaving Malaga. In Carlisle we have the hypnotic buzzing of crickets. I feel reassured knowing I have a few friends with whom I can talk about crickets, waves, and silence.


The Chase

When I take Waldo for his bedtime walk, we usually go right across the street to sniff out the rabbits that hang out at the Y. Waldo loves to chase rabbits, but it has been a little sad to observe that this behavior sure isn't what it used to be. Some chase! And to add insult to injury, our neighbor bunnies seem to know when it's Waldo coming. They let him get real close, knowing that he poses no threat. Last night the largest rabbit I've seen this summer was happily feeding in plain view when we crossed the street. Waldo is not too good at spotting the bunnies anymore, and so I had to help him out, but when he did get it in his sights, boy did those genes kick in. You'd think my buddy had been hired to make an instructional video: How to Look Like a Very Serious Hunting Dog in Three Easy Lessons. Forepaw bent at right angle, ears cocked back, shoulders low... creep forward one step at a time. Someone call Wild America! The hunt is on! 20 feet, 15 feet... easy does it boy. 10 feet? The rabbit is letting this mass of canine masculinity within ten measly feet? One more step, and the bunny scoots off. Go! Waldo trots in the general direction of the rabbit for about three seconds. Three seconds! That's it. Ufff. No, that's not much fun. Rabbit gone. And for a minute or so after that little fiasco Waldo seems to be avoiding me. Is he embarrassed? That's it? Yes, that's it. Who needs to chase rabbits, anyway? After all, Waldo never was a hunting dog, and his chase is the scent. There's a lesson in this, lurking somewhere around the Y, but I sense, indeed I hope, it will be many, many more walks before I figure it out.


Green Pennsylvania

On our way back from Ithaca yesterday we took the slower route, coming down route 14, which parallels the interstate-like 15 a little to the east. Beautiful! A seemingly endless green valley, with the classic Pennsylvania ridges to our sides, running on and on. Along the way we stopped and bought some good Paula Red apples. We passed through some interesting little towns: Alba, Ralston, Roaring Branch... I can imagine that people from these (disappearing?) communities have a very strong sense of place, and feeling the enchantment of the valley, I was reminded of an observation of Washington Irving's that I read when we visited Sunnyside a couple of weeks ago: Irving wrote of the importance of growing up in the shadow of a major natural wonder, and believed in the advantages of having a connectedness to a shore, a mountain, a lake, etc. Perhaps this is a significant deficit many of us suffer, a weak or non-existent relationship to a major natural feature. I grew up in the suburbs, with no natural wonders anywhere in sight. Little by little, however, I did develop a feeling of connectedness to "the woods". That might just be my "natural" environment, a New England woods. Shadowy, cool, inviting. You can smell it. Hear the murmur of a small stream. Our poets and essayists have so defined it that one easily becomes trapped in the idealized version of it. Another of my many, many bits of good fortune: the natural feature most dearly connected to my imaginary Arcadia is hardly disappearing; to the contrary, the woods are expanding and here in Pennsylvania there is a miraculous abundance. Lots of space to get lost in!
And incredibly, these seas of green have some impressive islands. Cayuga Lake, for example. Our paella picnic on the water's edge was great fun. Jay and Karen brought a big salad to accompany the rice. Fortunately, there was a very large bush to protect us from the breeze coming in off the water. It would have been impossible to keep the gas going without that shield. More good fortune: Alma and Cristina brought friends with appetites, so a paella that could have served 25 people was almost completely consumed by just 16. It was really a lovely evening.


Far From the Sea

For the first time since being back in Carlisle I woke up feeling momentarily confused. Where's the sea? The sun? Maybe it's because yesterday I saw Fernando and Luis, who are in town for a brief visit. But it's ok: looking out the window at our little garden, the quiet neighborhood... this is a good place to be. We've been in NY twice in recent weeks and the excitement of Manhattan is an experience I enjoy tremendously, but I'm not complaining about being here. Walking through the Dickinson library yesterday afternoon with Fernando and Luis reminded me just how lucky I am. (And curious to think that Steve and Noah were walking through the same library just hours earlier. It was great to see them here, even though it was so briefly.) Places... what an incredible luxury to have the time to even consider the advantages of one over another. And how about all those expansive, mainly-empty-of-human forests between here and Ithaca! (Good luck finding anything remotely like that in Europe!) Every time we drive up there I get such an urge to just veer off to the west a little, spend a few days exploring the great Pennsylvania wilderness. One of these days... As Asun and I were driving back to Carlisle, having dropped off Cristina and visited too briefly with the Ohlstens (Arcadia north!), we talked about how lucky Alma and Cristina are: the opportunities! Yes, they are fortunate indeed. Higher education in this country is quite a universe. It's so easy to criticize! True, many of us have had the experience of speaking with a college graduate and thinking, wait a minute, a college graduate? Did this person learn anything? Etc, etc. And it's so easy to make fun of college course catalogues. And we pay good money so they can study... this? But, the opportunities are truly fantastic. Young people, but certainly not just the young, in this country have spectacular opportunities, and you sure don't need to go to Cornell or other elite schools to get them. Even community colleges can be impressive gateways. I guess what I'm getting at is the notion that we live in a society that is impressively fluid in terms of socioeconomic mobility. Elites are not predetermined. Well, we talked about that for a while and it helped overcome the sadness of saying bye to Cristina.
(Last night I saw Peg and Mac for the first time in two years. Poor Mac had a major stroke ten months ago, but he seems to be recovering well. He's walking, talking, and it was just great to see him. Mac, you're right, in spite of it all, it keeps getting gooder and gooder!)


Modern marvels

Prednisone is a powerful drug and even very low dose treatments can have significant effects. Yesterday I started a modest course of the drug to treat the symptoms of poison ivy. After six days of worsening symptoms, I decided it was time for more dramatic measures. The results became noticeable within three hours, as the sores on my left arm were starting to dry and the itiching was noticably diminished. I am eagerly awaiting my second dose! It's true, I can't be 100% certain the improvement is due exclusively to the prednisone, but it seems pretty clear that is the case. I had tried Benadryl, Cortisone cream, caladryl, baking soda, etc., all to little effect. And the rashes were steadily spreading, which is what alarmed me a little yesterday. I went to the doctor on Monday afternoon because my left arm was looking pretty gross. Yesterday it spread to my legs and no end seemed in sight. Initially I turned down my doctor's idea of the prednisone treatment on the general feeling that letting the immune system do it's slow but effective work on its own would be the wiser choice. But yesterday I woke up quite miserable and called the doctor's office to tell them I had reconsidered. Baseball's ban on steroids does not apply to me! (In the photo, after the prednisone has worked some magic--it was worse!)



A week ago I took Daniela and Elisa to Washington for a quick visit. Our first stop was the Lincoln Memorial. I've been there at least a dozen times, but it never fails to move me. In general I'm very leery of grand memorials or monuments of any kind, but I've always admired Lincoln and his way with words, so I feel tolerant as I look up at the massive figure in his big armchair. The Gettysburg Address is a real gem, a marvel of concision. On the other hand, when I look out from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument and, way back there, Congress, I feel it's unfortunate that some of the more intellectually interesting figures of our past get such short shrift in the capital, and in our collective memory generally. Where's the monument to Thomas Paine? Benjamin Rush? Hamilton? After paying homage to Abe we went by a very different kind of memorial: the one dedicated to those who died in Viet Nam (and Southeast Asia generally). Always sobering. Then it was a superficial museum tour: Air and Space, the new Native American museum, and Natural History. Impressive places, that's for sure. On the way home we stopped by Gettysburg and so Elisa got an extra dose of US history and was able to connect the words inscribed inside on the right hand wall of the Lincoln Memorial to the place where they were pronounced.
Yesterday a different kind of memorial: the funeral service for Rod Hough. Lots and lots of people. Rod died quite unexpectedly, so I was a little surprised at what a "festive" atmosphere seemed to dominate. I stood in line for over an hour to make my way to the family to offer condolences and during the wait got to greet lots and lots of folks, mainly from AA, who I hadn't seen in a couple of years.
And today it's up to New York to bring the young malagueña to JFK. Another little detail for my memory: as I write my forearms feel on fire: the itching of poison ivy. Oh man, am I stupid! Know your weeds!


On the Island-2

Last week when we went to the ball game I had an "interesting" moment, kind of a flashback to one of my favorite alcoholic fantasies: drinking endless amounts of beer while watching an endless baseball game on an endless summer evening when the sun is setting but never quite set. What happened? We were walking along the new 'boardwalk' that wraps around the outfield. The bar style seats facing the field look most inviting. Lots of people drinking beer. Damn, wouldn't I like to join them! An understatement: for a second I'm thinking I'd do anything, give anything to join them. It was just a moment or two, but for that brief instant I was seeing one of my great fantasies right before me: perfect summer evening, starched white uniforms against a backdrop of deep, lush green grass. Balls being tossed. And the beer stand not ten steps away. Perfect! 9, 18, 27 innings, play on! One beer, two beer, sixty thousand beers! I don't care if I ever get back! Unfortunately for my addiction, reality intruded in two ways. First, I recalled that my attempts back in the nineties to actually live this fantasy right there at City Island were doomed to failure and ended up filling me with dissatisfaction, anxiety, and a handful of nasty hangovers. Here's how it would go: drive to the game (alone! God forbid some reasonable person interfere with my meditations), drink, enjoy, drink, drink, drink. WAIT: I've got to drive home and they're going to close the beer stand anyway. One more! Or two... Then drink coffee! Make many trips to restroom. Pray that my blood/alcohol level has returned to a level that isn't too far above the legal limit. Walk to parking lot slowly. No hurry. Drive carefully, take back route home. Nuts!
Get home, celebrate successful return with a few more beers! Go to bed. There'd be fleeting moments when it was just right, but it always ended in frustration. Back to the present and the second intrusion, the clincher: I had promised myself in the morning that I wasn't going to drink that day. (Blessed routine, indeed!) It would have to wait, so there went that fantasy. Briefly, very briefly, I'm feeling the weight of a grand, cosmic injustice. No fair! For about thirty seconds I felt resentful of my own stupid promise, but that too passed quite quickly. But, oh those thirty seconds, really like being on an island, a miserable, stinking little pisshole of solitude. Luckily for me there are millions upon millions of swim instructors and it's easy, and essential, to get off. Fast. In a flash it's all gone, the notion of injustice turns out to be hysterically funny. So I want to join them? Be my guest, step right up. I think about it. Nope. Maybe another day, for another ball game. Experiences of this kind are quite infrequent for me, but it does happen every once in a while.

I write this entry in memory of Dr. Rodney Hough, who died last week at age 65. Rod recovered from hardship and addiction with great determination, usually with good cheer, and always with an unbeatable sense of humor. Rod, baby, you did good! Oh man, will we miss ya!


On the Island

Yesterday we took Daniela's friend Elisa to see a Senators' game on City Island. It was a beautiful evening and we all had fun. (And the Susquehanna looked gorgeous! Not sure I've ever seen it with this much water in August.) I hadn't been to a game in some years and was very pleasantly surprised. The last time I went I remember being bitterly disappointed with the changes that had evolved: too much loud music, treating the fans like morons who needed to be constantly distracted by idiotic "entertainment". Well, either they've toned down the nonsense or I've simply been dumb-downed myself. I hope, and believe, it's the former. The stadium looks beautiful and they've made some nice improvements, including a wonderful "boardwalk" that wraps around the outfield, complete with bar-style seating. Very impressive. And for five bucks. Unbeatable! The game, won by the Binghamton Mets, was interesting. The Senator's starting pitcher, Erik Arneson, has been having a great year and was recently featured in Baseball America. But he looked like a dud last night. The Mets' hitters were really smashing the ball around. On the other hand, the Mets' starter, Dylan Owen, with very mediocre season numbers, pitched six and a third innings of shutout ball. I hope I can take in another game or two before the season is over. Another surprise: OK, so you assume that these double A players are really itching to move up and achieve their dream of playng in the big leagues. So what's with the half-assed efforts? There were at least two, maybe more, rather eye-popping instances of lack of hustle. (Maybe there's still too much prosperity.. ayy, I just can't kill that Calvinist streak in me; not that I'd ever dream of letting that ethic interfere with my own enjoyment. Ha!) And an amazingly bone-headed base running error when a Senators' player got caught too far off of third on a grounder to a drawn-in infield. Bush league! But it did lead to a pretty good pickle! Score that 4 to 2 to 5 to 2 to 5 to 2 to 6! But yes, I do identify with the runner. Which way I am going? Is there any escape? Aldrich, you knucklehead! I guess I wasn't paying attention.
In the photo: you can see that it takes many bridges to sustain a tear drop.


Trying to Catch Up

These days it seems mainly about trying to catch up. In many ways, including with regard to this blog. Catching up and undoing. And redoing. Undoing an overgrown garden, undoing boxes. Redoing connections, offices, accounts... Maybe the most delightful moments right now are spent puttering around in the garden, pruning back plants in my unartful and somewhat brutish way. I wish I had been here the past few months to experience this incredible growth. Water! It's also a delight just to be recentered with the family. Before Alma and Cristina head back to Cornell, we hope to have a few days all together. It's frustrating how little time there is to be all together.
Last night Manny DelCarmen pitched out of a bases loaded, no out jam. But for naught: the sox had blown their opportunity in the tenth and the Rays went on to win in thirteen. Longhoria, of course, with a game-winning homer. That guy is a real Sox killer. Sox. I just bought myself some new socks, so I'm feeling pretty good. And remembering that I'm not really a sox "fan", I feel even better. I can "follow" the sox and get great enjoyment from the unfolding of their adventures, but I don't suffer like a fan anymore. I gave that up after the 1986 fiasco. And I was reminded of that at the conclusion of the game we took in last week at Fenway. Right after the game ended, I found myself next to a little boy on our way out of the stadium He must have been around eleven or twelve years old. The sox had blown a three run lead in the ninth and gone on to lose. This kid was really distraught. Angry. I felt bad for him. Sonny, I feel your pain! Some adults never really move beyond that kind of childish reaction to sporting events. Maybe I didn't until 1986. Neuman had it right: what, me worry? None of this makes too much sense, but I know I enjoy watching Pedroia. And any ball game for that matter.