A Yankee's Musing

Monday, September 25, 2006

Things Worth Remembering

Sunset comes and goes and we are not yet in harbor from our kayaking trip off the coast of Harpswell, Maine, when suddenly we are surrounded by seals who seem to be escorting us into port safely. When we had seen them earlier on a rocky wedge of an island, they immediately spooked and dove for cover not to be seen again that day. But on the way in, just as the sun went down and the reds and pinks faded to greys and darkness began to swallow our sight of land, suddenly their heads poked up all around and between us, and they stayed with us until we reached the shore. How cool is that? And when I told a friend at work about the powerful, mystical feeling that came from that experience, she told me about a film I should see, "The Secrets of Roan Inish." I had trouble finding it, but finally did and discovered the mysteriousness and spirituality of my experience with seals are contained in Irish folklore and revisited by the John Sayles movie.

As I walk from the 96th Street subway stop next to Central Park at 11 at night, I suddenly spot a full moon as it edges its way above the trees, but only for a second then it is gone from sight. I step back, step to the side, and ahead again trying to recapture the moment, but cannot. It is so rare to find the viewing space between buildings, glare,and smog to see the sky from the pavement, let alone something as wonderous as the moon. It was reassuring to see it.

I watch in awe as 34 college students from 16 different countries as well as the United States are completely focused in small group discussions as they try to figure out whether or not "The Narrative of Frederick Douglass" is relevant to their own lives today. Within those groups are individuals from competing, and in some cases, warring nations;yet they work together, laughing, puzzling, discovering.They all seem to be focusing on the idea of freedom within, as well as the importance of reading and writing in that process of freeing oneself. And I think that perhaps here lies hope for the human race.

I realize the bear who is now two feet from me is the cub I befriended last year and he is not afraid of me and actually seems excited to see me. His ears are perked straight up and he is looking at me straight in the eyes with what I can only describe as sheer glee. My hands are full with two buckets of water from the well pump. I want to take them inside without spillage, but my route to the door goes through this rather large, eager creature whom I hope is not hungry, just friendly. Finally I find my voice and quietly say, "Back up, come on, back up now. I need to go in," and wonders beyond wonders, he does. Black bear expert Ben Kilham says bears are able to distinguish individuals and actually relate to individual human beings differently. They do form relationships. And it is so true. This bear and I share a connection, one that Ben says will last a lifetime.

Four rememberings: two from up north, and two from the city. Unexpected connections with animals other than human beings punctuated with vivid details and inner awakenings mark the two examples from up north. In contrast, the city moments are also a contrast within themselves. The first city one is a surprise glimspe of something beyond the city, greater than. The other is a result of the immense diversity of this particular city and the connections that can be made to remind us we are all part of the same species. Four examples of moments worth remembering that I, at first, listed lightheartedly, which I now find not to be superficial in the least, but in fact, hold the key to why I call two such different places my home. One is the touchstone for my soul, while the other awakens me to the world beyond self, and in doing so, challenges me. In the Native American way, it is most important for the individual to find a balance between the universe within oneself and the universe without. I find that the process of discovering and rediscovering a balance is called living, not simply existing. It is not always comfortable, but it is surely, for me, enlightening.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I'll always see him in that big ass green truck of his
hauling gravel for road construction on the Strip
looking down at me in my Subaru
laughing because he scared the shit out of me when
he blasted his torn, and then, only then, I found the
good sense to look up to see not only was there a real live
person driving that big ass gree monster dump truck, but
he was my neighbor, Maynard.

My friend from up Camp Road always came in on a
Friday night for the weekend and sometimes other days
when he had an hour or two to unwind. He came in his
green pick up truck. What was with that green truck thing
anyway? His only passenger was his yellow tiget cat Tiger
who was stretched across the back of his seat, draped across
my neighbor's broad shoulders. I knew in a short time,
Carolee would arrive in her gold SUV with her 95 year
old mother as copilot.

He'd been married to Carolee for 40 years, so he'd been my
neighbor for the same. He tore down the old family cabin
and built anew, then did it again when a monster limb from a
100 year old pine speared straight through the roof. And I
believe he built Carolee's aunt's cabin directly behind theirs
to share the water and leech field, and more importantly,
family. He vigilantly watched over all of our cabins
along the road when no one was around.

A busy guy, he was building, always building, a big
family, a home, a retreat, a business, a sense of
community wherever he was. The last thing that I know
he physically built at his camp was the back screened in
porch, not time for a building permit, so he could sit
and enjoy the outside inside, away from the sun and
New Hampshire's state bird, the black fly, as he
battled his way through one chemo-treatment after another.

Through the years we talked about the necessity of
drilled wells, and about animals like coyotes who
one night kept the whole road awake yipping and whining
and running their new offspring on a first hunt after
some imaginary prey. Or how the bears knew we were the visitors,
not them and we needed to respect that. And how a little bear
cub provided a comical moment when he decided to climb
the flagpole. Sometimes we talked about fishing for native trout,
not stocked, and we never did divulge our own secret fishing holes
in the Swift River. And we talked about how he and Carolee
loved this place like I did, and how there was no place on earth
we'd rather be.

We were pitted against each other once in a civil case as expert
witness for opposing sides. But when all was said and done,
it was just that, done. In recent years we shared our individual
battles with cancer and the toxins used to fight it. We both subscribed
to the philosophy of putting our head down and keep on going
despite adversity. We encouraged each other and listened,
understanding each other's struggles as insiders. It was a
bond that Carolee acknowledged and shared, one that reinforced our
struggle to say, I'm still here and I'm not going anywhere
and neither are you because we are both from tough stock,
you from Maine and me from New Hampshire and both of us
from this particular road and community surrounded by the
White Mountain National Forest. It is our healing place for the soul.

When Carolee stopped by recently, you were riding with
her this time with no cat, no energy, and no smile.
I was hauling chunks of just cut maple out of the woods
to my wheelbarrow, and you shook your head and said,
"I don't know how you keep it up. You've got to be careful
and not get too tired or it will get you. I know because I think
I pushed it too hard and now I have no energy at all." And I
smiled and made excuses that I only had less than two weeks
before I returned to the city and the dreaded treatment routine.
You said you understood because less than a month ago you
drove your big ass green dump truck at work, before you told
your doctors to make the treatments as strong as need to
get things taken care of once and for all. And I wished you
luck and I'd see you soon.

But I didn't.

I heard
Carolee brought you back from the hospital
to your healing place,
a place you wanted to see one last time and
where your spirit will always remain,
a place that will never be the same.