A Yankee's Musing

Monday, July 30, 2007


"Do you mind when Alisha and I talk in our language?”
No, not really.
“Most people do.”
That’s probably because they think you’re talking about them.
Daniel shrugs, lowers his head, and grins. There is a mountain of hell-raising hidden behind that grin.

We are kayaking. There are six visitors to this country, all from either Moldova or Romania. They are working in the mountains of New Hampshire for the summer. Some are related, and others are couples. It doesn’t take long to sort out who is who. It is also easy to see that some are more daring than others. Two of the braver, or more foolhardy get wet—one swamps his kayak and learns how to haul it back to shore and dump the water out as best he can; the other simply falls out and learns how the tide carriers his paddle in one direction and the kayak in another, and then, how to mount the kayak in the water without capsizing it. I think its comical how these young men, Sasha and Victor, try to swallow their pride and still save face.

Larry and Debbie are their hosts in this country and on this trip to an ocean they have only seen from an airplane. Douglas, their enigmatic friend who looks like a version of either early Kris Kristofferson or else late Stephen Stills, keeps his distance, but he misses nothing. He is the experienced one, the one we all eventually look to for at least one answer or more during the trip. I end up following him at one point, watching how he measures the tide and slips his kayak between the waves to the next island’s shore, winds along it for awhile, then chooses his spot to slip between two islands to a less protected part of the bay. It is there that we see the seals diving for fish. They come clear out of the water, spin, and then disappear. All too soon they realize our presence. The largest shiny black one inspects Douglas. Male to male, I think to myself. The smaller brown one must be the female and she keeps herself between me and the smallest one, which I surmise is her pup. They are curious and spend some time checking us both out. Soon the rest of our armada appears, and the seals check them out too. We are twelve, counting Craig and his new wife Linda. It is not surprising that the seals are cautious.

This day is perfect—the sun, the sky, the tide, the company. I wonder about the rest of the world, if given such a unique opportunity to communicate, to spend a day together, would find that we are not so very different after all. The differences that do exist give texture to this day, make the possibility to learn something new about ourselves and others impossible to avoid. I wonder if we put all the so-called leaders of this world into the ocean, each in their own kayak, and insist that they spend the entire day together, would they find a day as perfect as this one?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

do not forget

The deafening absence of birds in Central Park, empty streets and avenues, steel shuttered stores along Broadway, it is a weekday without sound. It can be thinly compared to the historical winter of snow that muted, and then gave pause to a city with no place to put it since the rivers froze over too. But what is falling now is not natural, as the ashes continue to stir, lift in the erratic winds, and fall over parts of Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey, and the entire length of Manhattan. It clings to our eyelashes, and bites into the lids. It pollutes every breath taken, and clogs every pore. Hot showers are more than a ritual now; they are a necessity once, twice, three or more times a day marking each venture outside. The jets scream overhead now ---they are too late in coming, but give a false sense of security to those left on the island of Manhattan—all who have forgotten how to sleep. Somewhere I heard that the jets are a courtesy of the New Hampshire National Guard. I wonder if that is probable, but I wrap the possibility around me like armor. I am in uniform as I make my way with others along the streets of our precinct. There are so many of us, we are in teams of three and four with one radio per team. The teams are a reflection of the city’s composition of life. One of my partners is from Pakistan and he is a Seik. My other partner is from the Dominican Republic and he is Catholic. I am for the most part white and of no formal religious affiliation. We stop in a Mexican restaurant for our meal break. There are few places open, so this one is full and noisy. When we receive our meals, we join hands and bow our heads in a private prayer of loss and unity. When we look up, the entire restaurant is silent and everyone has joined hands. Tears wash my sooty eyes. There is a woman who has jumped from her apartment in a high rise middle income building. She is skewered on a metal fence and no one seems to be able to remove her. In front of the SRO, a man is jumping on the hood of a sector car, screaming that we are at all crazy. Eventually when he tires, he is cuffed and hauled off to Bellevue. Another man is shooting near the precinct. He is convinced we are at war and anyone in uniform is a gook. Did you hear another building at the site fell? The radio crackles in and out. We are told to switch to the city wide channel—it may be the only one functioning; the landlines aren’t. A woman is shouting for police to help her get her garments from a dry cleaner. The manager says he has closed his shop because there is no one to run the machines. She will have to wait. A homeless man who always sits on the same corner near Citibank is pacing back and forth and mumbling. I use his name, Luther, to get his attention and I ask him if he is alright. He mumbles, “No, nothing is the same. Nothing.” I have no response to that. He is right. Nothing will ever be the same again.


A friend stops by my cabin tonight. He says that everyone is putting down the Homeland Security guy who says he has a gut feeling that the terrorists are back in full power and may strike this summer. I ask him who is putting that thought down, and he says all the TV and news agencies. It’s hard for me to think that anyone but the President would believe otherwise. It has been almost six years. We have done nothing to make peace, only war. We are feeding the fanatic frenzy. My only question is, why doesn’t everyone have a gut feeling that we will suffer an attack in the near future? Doesn’t everyone realize we have successfully dodged many planned attacks over the years and the odds are, we can’t be perfect? My friend says everyone has forgotten about 9-11. I am appalled at the possibility. I have not forgotten. There is rarely a day that goes by that something doesn’t remind me. Perhaps it is a whiff of caustic camp smoke where someone has tossed in cleaning materials, plastic, or a metal can into the fire. Maybe it is a jet on maneuvers over the National Forest, and I have all I can do not to dive on the floor. Perhaps it is wakening just before daylight and having a rootless foreboding lurking in my semi consciousness. I am miles away from my adopted city, I am in the most peaceful place for me in my world, and the spidery filaments of that memory are just as strong. Time and distance mean nothing. So how can anyone forget? How can anyone not believe that life has not changed in the United States forever? We, our children, and our children’s children will never know what it was like before 9-11.