Metaphors

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David and I went for a walk today in the warm, wet woods.  There was a bit of snow several days ago, which had left a crust of white, but it was nothing that lasted, and all washed away in the rain we’ve had since.  We were talking, as we almost always are, and the topic today has been a pretty consistent topic — what are we doing, how are we handling this passage into a life without very challenging jobs as a central organizing factor, how do we balance family, friends, consulting work, play, creative ambitions, etc. etc. etc.  Yes, sometimes we are very etc. etc. etc. but we both are, so it works.

We took a turn off our usual woods path, towards the marsh that opens in the woods north of Canterbury Road.  And there on the path, right where the decades-old cars are rusting into oblivion beside the trail, was all that’s left of the snow around here, a snow man, covered with oak leaves.  Who made it, why here, and what’s the metaphor?

The next metaphor was easier to figure out.  We were deep into etc. etc. etc. as we walked up the east side of Narrows Brook, looking for a place where we could cross and get to the woods road that would bring us back to Canterbury Road.  There were occasional logs across the brook, but they were all narrow and slick with the day’s earlier rain.  Rocks bridging the span of water were scarce, as the brook is running high, and mostly covered with ice.  We kept bushwhacking upstream and finally came to a place where the span of rushing water narrowed, and there were ice-free rocks to provide secure footing across.  The brook bed and rocks were ringed with goblets of ice along the water line, but there was plenty of clear surface for crossing.  We crossed, and made our way out of the woods.

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Holiday Hiking

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What a quirky collection of beings we were, 10 humans and 5 dogs, coming down from the summit of the south mountain in Pawtuckaway State Park.  We had started with 7 dogs, but 2 immediately ran into the woods at the beginning of the hike and “won’t be back until tonight,” Mark said.

David, Sam and I had planned to hike Pawtuckaway with Will and his family the Friday before Christmas, but the boys ended up playing basketball all morning, followed by lunch at Johnson’s where Sam and Mike (also home in Northwood visiting for the holidays) worked for years, then decided to forego the hike and play disc golf instead.  But yesterday we did get the hike in.  Marianna had arrived from Knoxville the night before, and Will lives with Sam and Marianna in Knoxville, so it was also a chance for all of us to see the house where Will grew up.

We drove a long dirt road in from Rte. 107, past various trail heads in the State Park, all the way to the end, in front of Will’s family’s garage.  Hordes of dogs bounced around our car.  Will’s mother was just back from a ride on one of the 10 horses (4 hers, the others boarders) and needed to change to come with us.  Will’s sister was wearing her new boots, and was ready to hike.  Her recent move home, awaiting the next step in her veterinary career, increased the already large number of dogs living there to 9.  Mark, Will’s mother’s boyfriend, accounted for the cleared acres bounded by stone walls, a serious excavation playground for a serious machine man.  Sam says the land looks nothing like it did when he and Will were in high school together.

The top of Pawtuckaway has a fire tower, and from the top I was able to easily pick out the other small mountains we hike in this area — Nottingham, Parker, Fort, Saddleback.  The humans took turns going up the fire tower, so there would be a group at the bottom to keep the dogs from trying to climb the steep, open steps.  On our way down from the ledgy summit, we ran into Frank and his girlfriend, who had arrived late for the hike.  They’d driven part way up one of the roads, Frank got out to get his boots out of the trunk, realized they weren’t there, and hiked in his slippers.

Ten people, 5 dogs, one pair of slippers.  It was a lovely afternoon outing.

A Different Golf

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Sam plays disc golf on a regular basis, talks about disc golf all the time, and has been taking his NH friends to play at a disc golf course just north of here since he got home for a visit a couple of weeks ago.  On Tuesday I went with Sam, Will and Kyle to the Woods at Beauty Hill disc golf course to see what it’s all about.

Like traditional golf, disc golf is about hitting a target, through various obstacles.  But the disc golf “holes” are standing buckets of metal links that capture the disc, a frisbee-like device built for long throws or putting.  Instead of a bag of various clubs to hit a ball, Sam and Will carry backpacks with a small collection of discs.  Instead of a course of constructed fairways, tees, greens and rough, this is all rough.  The course wove in and out of open fields and trees, across a ridge of land.  The “holes” may be across a stone wall and through a stand of white pines and oak, or up a steep pitch of ridge.  Discs bounce off tree trunks and land in the snow, no obstacle to a good round, as the dogs run around in the woods.  In most places, disc golf courses are free, constructed in city parks and on college campuses.  Here, at the private Beauty Hill, the cost is $5, honor system, put your bills in a slot in the wall of the little golf course shed.

As I trudged up and down the ridge with the guys, watching some amazingly long throws of the distance discs, I was impressed.  Mostly free, fun, outdoors, challenging and rewarding, the boys played on.

Another Turn of the Wheel

Eric’s sister called me yesterday evening, to let me know she’d heard Jim Borson died.  Eric, Jim and Jeff were best friends in high school, all members of a Jewish youth group.  They didn’t go to the same high schools, but found a bond of love and friendship that endured through decades that included pretty tough times for Jim and Jeff — substance abuse, career missteps, failed relationships.  But Jeff eventually married, got a bit more sober and was loved fiercely by his wife.  Jim had two wonderful daughters before divorcing, and in spite of continued difficulties with making any of his dreams come true, was always ready with a smile.

Jeff died first, his over-worked liver finally giving out.  In the year before he died, during a visit, he called Eric upstairs to talk with him alone.  “Jeff wants me to have his Grateful Dead poster collection when he dies,” Eric told me later as we were driving.  “He knows he doesn’t have that long left.”  He always always called Eric on his birthday.  The year after he died, Eric turned 53 and the silent phone was as much a reminder of his long friendship as a call would have been.

Eric died at 54.  Jim came to the funeral, stunned that his two oldest friends were now gone.  Wednesday night, just hours before the solstice, Jim’s car broke down in the middle lane of I-95 in Connecticut.  According to the article I found online, he got across the right lane, and was crossing an exit lane when he was struck by a car and killed.  He was 60.

Three close friends, all dead by 60.  I hope they’re having some fun tonight.

The Story of the Wheel

Written on the plane home, 12/21/11, hours before the Solstice:

This story began last June, when David and I left for his family’s annual get together on the Jersey shore, and David’s father finally admitted the care arrangements for Betty, David’s mother, needed to change.  Or maybe the story began even longer ago, maybe when David was born, or when his parents met, or when they fell in love and married.  Or maybe this story began on Monday morning, when we woke up before dawn to catch our flight to Baltimore.  When I went out to get the paper, the hard frost on the lawn was sparkling in the lights from the porch.

We flew to Baltimore and rented a car to drive to Lancaster.  We were there to do the final sorting of David’s parents’ belongings, to be at the house as the estate auctioneers emptied it, and for David to sign the closing papers for the sale of the house.  David’s sister-in-law met us at the house, and for the first time since David’s father died and his mother went into Country Meadows’ Memory Connection Support Unit, Lars was able to look through the house and think about what she might want, what her son Owen might want to help preserve his memory of his grandparents.  Lars looked at paintings and lamps and small pieces of furniture.  I went through Betty’s desk and was again struck by her good taste in stationary and note cards, impressed by the box of cards sorted by occasion – anniversary, get well, birthday.  Lars and I together found a box of beautiful antique linens and agreed they needed to be kept in the family, the delicate lace of the placemats and napkins making them probably impractical to use, but too pretty to let go.

I still remember the first time I visited David’s parents and was struck by how beautifully their house was decorated.  A stunning and eclectic collection of art and ceramics and silver from their world travels were arranged attractively in the living room and dining room, even as the kitchen and porch and sunroom were sinking under the inevitable accumulation of stuff that comes with aging.  David and I spent a good part of this summer sorting through the stuff that wasn’t going to be interesting to the estate auctioneers, the cases of paper towels and endless bottles of dishwashing liquid, the stacks of old newspapers and magazines, the banded piles of Christmas cards with return labels on the envelopes but nothing written inside, the countless paperclips and big black binder clips, the cough drops and pens and yellow paper pads, the cases of Coke and pyramid piles of soup cans.

Lars rented a small storage space, and we spent yesterday taking loads of her final selections and ours to be stored until we can come back with a car, her with a truck.  More clothing was taken to Goodwill.  All day the estate auctioneers were moving quickly through the house, disassembling the family home room by room.

This morning I ran through the neighborhood as I did this summer, admiring the grand old trees and lovely homes and yards.  I returned to 1503 Hillcrest Avenue for the last time, and the auctioneers were there, ready to do the final clearing, including the last room, the bedroom we’d slept in.  David walked from empty room to empty room before we left, saying good-bye.  I thought about a dinner we had with friends a couple of months ago.  Two of the men at the dinner had been at a funeral earlier that day for a colleague who’d died, in his 60’s, of cancer.  One of the men raised his glass in a toast and said, “The wheel just keeps turning, and here we are, on that turning wheel.   So let’s enjoy ourselves.”

I thought about that wheel, how it’s been whirring in the background of my life for years now and will only get more insistent in the years ahead, I’m sure.  I woke up in an emptied house and had an email from Adrienne, with a video of Emilio watching the candles being lit for his first Hanukkah.  He burbled and chattered and ambled around the room, and I got up and made coffee.  When it came time to take a final photograph this morning, the clusters of bright red berries on the big holly tree in the yard were what struck me.  Already, the lawn beneath the tree was sprinkled red with fallen berries

Surrender

I’ve surrendered to the holiday season.  Finding it almost impossible to keep up any kind of regular writing schedule, a week ago I finally admitted there is just too much to do over the next few weeks to be trying to stay on track with all the writing projects both on paper and in my head — finishing the first draft of the NaNoWriMo novel, continuing edits on my memoir, An Island Journal, to be sharing with my prose writing group for feedback, or returning to some focus on poetry.

Instead I’ve been shopping for holiday gifts, making gifts, polishing the poem for my annual holiday card, visiting with family and friends in small and large gatherings, and enjoying having Sam at home, including a rousing game of Rummy 500 with Sam and Will yesterday evening.  And then David and I went dancing!

Last night a friend celebrated his 60th birthday with a big party and fundraiser for a local soup kitchen.  He formed a band to play at the party, and another good friend was also playing in the band.  When David and I arrived, shortly after the band started playing, the dance floor was empty, so David and I got out there and started to fill it up.  By the time the band got to their last song, the dance floor was full.  The band was great and obviously having a great time playing together, the crowd was lively, and the fundraising successful.  Fun times on a dark December night.

Moon Camp Fire

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It started in September.  A group of us went for a full moon kayak on Pleasant Lake.  Then in November Anne, Alison and I hiked up Neville Peak in Epsom during the full moon.  While we sat at the top, the moon in and out of racing clouds, Anne had the idea of planning an outdoor adventure for every full moon.

Yesterday eight of us gathered in the late afternoon and hiked up Parker Mt. in Strafford.  Last weekend David and I had done the short hike to the summit, then across the ledgy ridge to the cliffs that overlook Bow Lake.  On our way back, we saw two young men starting a fire in a stone fire ring right off the trail.  “Perfect full moon hike gathering spot,” I said.

We brought wood and paper and matches with us, as well as snacks and tea and wine.  Soon a camp fire was crackling and we watched the moon coming up behind the trees.  When the moon rose high enough to clear the trees, standing out on the open ledges was like standing in a shower of silver.  We stood around the fire and welcomed the light, marking the coming solstice with talk of change, wishes, intentions and the fun of being in just that place, with a group of other like-minded people, the moon bathing us in luminescence.

We needed our headlamps to follow the twisty trail back, when our cold feet started to take over our delight in being outdoors.  At the open summit of Parker we paused, turned off our headlamps, and looked at the lights of Portsmouth on the horizon, the sprinkling of street lamps in the small village below the ridge, and the big circle of open moon now high above us.

What the Wind Does

We live in a very windy spot.  This morning we woke to blasts of winter air rocking the house, and crusted snow on the roof and lawn.  Walking on our usual trail, there was a piece of birch that must have come down in the night, part of the trunk piercing the wet ground, the rest crossing the trail.  We were talking, as we usually are, of our families, our ambitions for our art, both for today and the long-term, our emerging sense of what our work is, seeking a new balance in how we get to all the channels calling for attention in our brains.  And here was a bit of art wind, free form sculpture, the morning’s lesson.

Rainy Morning

The warm November is sliding into a warm December.  It’s raining this morning, but it’s still plenty warm enough for writing on the porch.  Now it’s time for a run, and I’m waiting for the band of showers I can see on the radar loop to pass over.  Slowly, I’m beginning to figure out how to manage my days without the overwhelmingly intense central focus of a big job.  What is my job now?  Is it okay to not have a “job?” How much consulting work do I want?  When will David and I have an actual vacation, a real step-out-of-our-lives break of a week or two?  What matters beyond being with my family and friends?  How often can I manage to be with Emilio?  What do I want to do?  What am I doing?

Noticing how the beads of rain are hanging from every horizontal surface this morning, the twiggy branches of bushes, the red winterberries, the prickly foliage of the barberry, the wire fence of the pasture across the street.  Be. Here. Now.

Walking

There was a list in my head, when I contemplated leaving my job last spring, of things I knew I wanted to do, things that take more time.  I wanted to drink more tea.  That sounds ridiculous, I know.  Anyone can find the time to brew a cup of tea and drink it.  Except I never did.  And now I do.

I also wanted to walk more.  Walking is great exercise and an excellent alternative to, and break from, running.  But it takes much more time to get a workout equal to running by walking.  Now at least once or twice a week I go with David on his morning walk.  Yesterday we walked the snowmobile trail through the woods, where the first skims of ice are forming on puddles.

The night before I’d gone to the retirement party of a friend and colleague.  I saw many people there who I hadn’t seen since I left my job, and everyone wanted to know how my retirement is going.  “Well, I’m actually working a good bit,” I said, not able to call what my life is like now retirement.  I have several hours of work a week on various projects, and am considering taking on a fairly major commitment (more about that later).  But I’m also writing a novel, working on poems, reading, spending lots of time with family and friends, drinking tea and walking.  And stopping to admire the patterns of oak leaves locked under cross-hatched ice.