Tag Archives: nature

Flow

19 Feb

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“We Americans are trained to think big, talk big, act big, love big, admire bigness but then the essential mystery is in the small” — Jim Harrison

We were away, and it was much needed.  Doubt had crept in.  Our little world had taken a turn and much of the unspoken support we relied upon had become suspect.  Along with the broken snow shovel and old clothes, friendships had become frayed, and as if we were traveling familiar terrain in an unexpected snowstorm, we had come up short, lost in a sea of white, unsure of the direction home.

Walking along the Delaware, we swap Heath’s camera back and forth.  The hills are quiet, and the river speaks a language I don’t know, hiccuping, groaning, and burbling its way through a world slowly becoming solid.

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We see things differently.  Heath fascinated by the small and near, while I look for sweep and curve, trying to take it all in.  But his eye is good, finding the beauty at his feet while I continue to scan the horizon.

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Comfortable with the stillness of the day, he’s a pleasure to walk with.  The incessant banter of our life at home has settled down, and we listen to the water and the wind as he walks on, stopping occasionally to look around, as if searching for signs.

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Watching him, I search for signs myself.  What does he see?  In a brain whose synapses gather and splay like a flock of birds, what does a snowy day in the Catskills look like?  How does it feel?

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People are hard, and those that appreciate us are rare.  That’s true for anybody.  The natural world, though, that’s something different.  Perhaps it’s where we can best appreciate ourselves.

I hand him back the camera and he snaps the shutter, catching me unaware.  Taking a moment to check the image, he nods, and walks on.  I catch up, and walking beside him, we follow the river home.

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Glacier

15 Aug

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WEST GLACIER – Officials at Glacier National Park announced Friday morning that the east side of the Going-to-the-Sun Road has been re-opened to vehicles.  The road had been closed due to the Reynolds Creek Fire that has burned an estimated 3,913 acres several miles east of Logan Pass.

I had noticed my eyes burning two days earlier and a hundred miles to the east, and yesterday the mountains before us had been shadowed in a haze.  But today the air at Logan Pass is clear.

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With only one entrance to Glacier National Park open, we leave early to beat the crowds.  Climbing thirty miles on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, we arrive at the pass shortly after 8:00am.

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Open only from May through October, the pass crosses the Continental Divide, has known wind speeds of 139 mph and can be buried beneath eighty feet of snow.  Hard to believe as we make our way through the stillness of the morning.

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Although much better since she’s started walking, stairs are tough for mom, and these are big steps at a high altitude.  She soon finds herself out of breath, and insists that Jetta and I go on without her.  She will sit and rest, and then catch up with us in her own time.

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So we continue on, passing chipmunks, marmots, Mountain goats and a warning that we are entering Grizzly bear territory.  Jetta meets a young man, a friend of friends, who is getting married later that day.  They chat for a time and then, with an amazing lightness, he takes off at a dead run to catch up with his family, heading further up the trail and disappearing over the ridge in a matter of seconds.

Having reached our destination, we turn back to see how mom’s doing.  But she appears just a few minutes later, smiling, her borrowed hat flapping in the wind.

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“How far did you go?”

I point to a large rock in the distance and she takes off, shouting over her shoulder “I want to go as far as everybody else.”

And she does.

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Wayfarers

8 Aug

 

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From her house on house on Echo Lake outside of Big Fork, Montana, mom’s friend Jetta takes us the next morning to meet her friends.

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Today they are hiking at Wayfarer State Park.  Karine and Julie,

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Tara,

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Mom, Jetta and Karen.

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But there’s more than hiking.  There is an ease and a joy.

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Glen helps us with our route, and as I learn more about them all, I find I have misjudged everyone’s age by about 15 years.

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In the afternoon, we go kayaking, something I never thought I’d do with my mom.

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She continues to surprise me.

 

Grand Haven, Summer 2013

16 Oct

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The week has almost passed and I have yet to see a sunset.  I’ve missed them all.  Every single one.  I love my family, but moving all four of us in any specific direction can be a bit like turning an ocean liner.  And as our vacation draws to a close, my patience has worn thin.

“I need to get out.  Just for an hour or so.”

Thankfully, Amy agrees.  As I head for the door, I add, “Hey Heath, do you want to go for a walk on the beach?”  And miraculously, he says yes.

Walking beneath the planks of the porch above, and then climbing the wooden stairs, we leave behind the cool green world of our cozy apartment, tucked down the side of a wooded dune, hidden in the trees which surround The Khardomah, a ramshackle 1870 hunting lodge turned boarding house where we’ve been spending our week.  Heath and I cross the quiet street, and as we head down the gently curving road we pass the original Highland Park cottages; the Loch Hame, the Bonnaire, and others, built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when this land was nothing but forest and sand, and far enough from town that, for a time, it had its own trolley line. 

As we round the bend, Lake Michigan opens before us, a vast, inland ocean whose sudden appearance down these steep, curving roads, never fails to take my breath away.  We look out over the beach, windblown under dense gray clouds, extending north to the town’s most famous landmark, the South Pier, its dark candy red lighthouse temporarily shrouded in the gray primer and netting of a late summer paint job.  The green flag on the lifeguard stand flaps in the breeze, indicating it is safe to swim, but the water is largely empty due to its unseasonable chill.  There had been red flags earlier in the week, not for riptides, as is usually the case, but for hypothermia, and while I did not swim on those days, the water remained cold enough throughout the week to give me a chill that was hard to shake.  

From the top of the hill we make our way down four long flights of stairs, through the sand and dune grass, to the road, where we stop to check for cars, then skitter across and into the parking lot, before kicking off our shoes and stepping into the clean, white sand, cool now this late in the day. The water writhes beneath the overcast sky, a chaotic world of gray and white, and the sunset looks hopeless.  But as we approach the gentle roar of the shoreline, the evening breeze ruffles my son’s hair.

I ask him if he wants to walk down to the pier, and he says “Sure.”  And so we begin.  Walking easily.  Relaxing into each other.

A pair of jet skis scream from far out in the water, their noise, amplified by the open distance, seeming oddly loud to be coming from such small bouncing shadows.  Heath asks what they are, and I tell him that, basically, it’s a couple of guys flying around on floating jet engines, and that on a day like this it must be a pretty rough ride.  He asks why anyone would want to do that, and I tell him I haven’t a clue.

The water is cold against our feet, and Heath is timid at first, skipping awkwardly back up above the waterline every time a wave rushes in.  But slowly, he acclimates, growing bolder and stepping further out into the cold, reveling in his own courage. 

“Oh My God! I can’t believe how wet my pants are getting”

“Well, here.  You need to roll them up.”

I step out into the water and roll his long shorts up above his knees, soaking mine in the process, his laughter contagious.

Heath has Asperger’s Syndrome, and, as a result, so many things have been difficult to share.  His mind is sharp, and his passions are strong, but his palette is limited.  Going outdoors is troubling, exercise is not his friend, and moving him beyond a computer screen is a battle gently waged on a daily basis.  And yet here we are, on a whim, walking the waters of my childhood.  And with every step I can see something inside him ease.

The jet skiers call it a day, their sputtering, high-pitched whine fading into the distance, and as the light begins to retreat, we make our way down the beach, passing three boys who have built a small mound of sand, and are now wrestling about, each one struggling to be king of the hill.

At the pier I show Heath a shortcut up the rocks, and having reached the top, we follow the battered concrete out from the shore, walking beneath the catwalk, passing  the last few tourists as we make our way around the lighthouse and then out toward the foghorn, its deep, melancholy moan, one of my first memories, long ago replaced by a smooth sonic “ping “.  Stepping around its squat red bulk, we come to the end.  Three fisherman, their equipment scattered about, stand before an infinity of water and sky.  A reel hums as a one makes a cast.  His sinker plops as it hits the water and disappears into the darkness. 

As we head back toward shore, the lights are coming on in the cottages, stars among the hills.  Reaching the end, we scramble down to the sand, and Heath heads back to the water, greeting the waves as long lost friends, kicking at them, and delighting in the galaxies that explode off the ends of his feet.  Looking back, I see the pier lights come on, and notice, up above, in the northwest , a small opening in the clouds, it’s edges stained orange and red, the colors beginning to leak across the sky.  Heath continues on, wading up to his knees, smashing at the rushing water. 

Both brooding and vibrant, a vivid rose now dusts  the turbulent blue-gray clouds in every direction.  And then, with no visible movement, the gray is vanquished altogether, and everything above me goes pink.  Neon as far as the eye can see.

“Heath, look!”

Suddenly the lake ignites, the sky illuminating the water like fire on foil, blazes of pink dazzling the crests of the dark blue waves, mirroring the sky to the point that for one dizzying moment, I cannot tell them apart.  

“Heath!” I cried

“Yeah?”

“Are you seeing this?”

“Yes.”

Catching up to him, I wrap my arms around his chest and gently turn him toward the light.    

“This is the most amazing sunset I’ve ever seen.”

But even as I say it, the color begins to recede; the pink melting to orange, the gray closing in.  I hold him for a moment.  We watch, and nothing seems to change.  But when I look away, and then back again, everything is different.

“Heath, have you ever heard the phrase ‘in the moment’?  Do you know what that means?”

“No.” He replies, slipping from my arms and returning the water.

Following, I do my best to explain: the past is gone, the future never arrives, so all we have is now.  How much he takes in, I can’t be sure.  But in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

He’s already there.

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Creation

28 Dec

It has been over a year since I’ve posted.   In an effort to begin again I’ve been going over some unposted drafts, and wondering why I held them so close.  Here’s an emotional postcard from February 2010.  Hopefully there’ll be more soon.

It’s a gray day here in the city and my mind is in a whirl.

My bathtub is draining slowly and my emotions are close to the surface.  It has something to do with creation.

My soul is open and grasping but highly selective.  Whoever or whatever is minding the gate knows me very well and is only allowing through those works which pierce my soul with their love, sadness, beauty and pain. 

It began with Roger Deakin’s Waterlog, the memoir of an English writer and naturalist who, inspired by John Cheever’s The Swimmer, one of my favorite short stories, decided to swim his way across his native land, striking a blow in the process for the right of all to access the simple joy of their native seas, lakes, rivers, ponds, moats and fens.  I’m a sucker for old hippies, and while I never met Roger, who recently passed, anybody who spent a good chunk of the seventies living in a van while rebuilding a Suffolk farmhouse, shared the house with whatever animals could find their way in, and frequently swam in his own moat, is close enough for me.  It is the story of a man with a great love for the natural world and the simple but valuable joys it provides.  There is an added poignance, for just as I stumbled across this mentor to my imagination, he passed, leaving me to find my own way.

From there, fighting the blues and craving the couch, I settled in for a re-watching of Slings and Arrows, which just grows richer on the second viewing.  The show itself is a sweet melange of Shakespeare and the lives of the people who perform him.  The second season plays the youthful passion of Romeo and Juliet and its cast against the struggle for love and validation amongst the aging cast of Macbeth.  In the episode where Jerry Appleby, the balding sad sack understudy to Macbeth, goes on at the last minute and succeeds, gloriously, I sat on the couch, feeding my daughter, and wept like a baby. 

 Since then I can’t get enough of the show, and today, having had my renewed sense of sexual vigor foiled by Hallie’s stubborn refusal to take her morning nap (she knew something was afoot), and having too small an amount of time to squeeze in another episode, I dug through my music looking for something that could sustain this odd, bittersweet openness.  Rodney Crowell’s songs about his own turbulent upbringing fed the need. 

And then there’s the wonderful dream I had last night where I introduced my family to my first love, who I haven’t seen in years, and it seemed to bring a peace to the world, and to further extend my family and the love I feel for them. 

In many ways it has been a horrific few months.  My mother and brother were in a car accident, a week later my mother’s sister had a stroke while standing over her stove and caught fire, burning without ever being able to call for help.  And then they found a spot on my mothers lung, two years after her double mastectomy.  Thankfully, we got the news yesterday that she is cancer free. 

I’ve never understood art.  After years of struggling to be an actor I just don’t know what it is.  And I know I need to write.  But what about?  Inspiration floods my body but doesn’t know where to go.

But  the landlady is supposed to come over this afternoon and snake out the bathtub drain.  Hopefully she’ll work her magic on the hidden blockage deep within the elderly plumbing of our little home.  The drain will clear, the water will flow, and, with thanks, and a little less water around my ankles, I will soldier on.