Wednesday, July 30, 2008

As I passed between the quince and the blackberries, a large and buzzing insect flew into my beard.  I thought it was a clumsy beetle, but you can't actually see whatever it is that is entangling itself on your chin.  I swiped at the struggling thing a few times before I noticed the swaying paper-hall of the paper wasps.  I swiped harder and ran.

Monica said that she guessed it was good I'd kept the beard an extra day, but the annoying thing still ought to go.

Monday, July 28, 2008

My grandmother's grandfather had 13 children -- including my grandmother's father, Roy Metz, and her dozen aunts and uncles.  Entire clans sprang from those 13.  

And every summer since the 1950's, on the last weekend of July, members of those clans, nine or ten score in number, gather in the home valley.  They bring food, they bring family news, bring new children, spouses, grandchildren.  And they come for the barn dance.

The Metz's and the Browns still farm the narrow end of the valley, northwards up to where it opens up and the Amish dominate with their own clans and sects. 

It feels to me like a natural rhythm -- to return to central Pennsylvania every hot summer to that farm where my grandfather was born; where my grandparents raised cattle on the mountainside and in the meadows along the creek; and where then my uncle Fred and now my cousin Scott have done the same.

We're not such outsiders yet that they can't put us to work -- when we insist.  

And tasks become traditional over time.  Uncle Bob and I sweep the barn floor each year to clear the dust for the dance.  This year there are new planks replacing those that used to sag underneath the band.  (Planks too ancient by far to stand up under the stomping of square dancers.)

Tradition is that many of the thicker planks are from the original barn that was put up in 1820. 

(In 1919 or so the stone sides had gone decrepit and it was torn apart and put together as a fully wooden barn -- and most of the great beams still show the notches and peg-holes of their first century of use.)  

Bob showed me how 20 years ago he had to jack up and saw off the rotten posts of the front -- putting down concrete where poor engineering had set them all upon an oaken log lain on the ground at the top of the barnbridge -- gone rotten after a mere 70 years of weather and wear.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Stay to the north of New York City,

and drive at night, 

and take 7 hours to make your way

from Rhode Island  

to the green and hillish heart of Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Alberto Departs

Alberto left 
on Wednesday morning.
Off to California,
then to Costa Rica, 
then to Colombia, 
and perhaps back to Miami,
and Rhode Island.

A migratory man.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

An Alberto story . . . .

"I used to do the payroll for my brother in the 1950's in Colombia.  He would get the money sometimes in the evening and I would drive the money, something like $20-30,000, out to towns far away, 2-3 hours.  And back then it was very dangerous on the roads.  Not political like today, but just bandits.  And I would drive that truck full speed, never stopping for so much as a drink of water.  He even gave me a pistol to take, but I dropped that it behind the seat.  I was terrified of the thing!  One time I drove something like four hours up into the mountains, and man I was thirsty at the end of it.  I got to the town and I went in to the bar and I asked the bartender, 'Please, sir, could I have a cold beer?'

But there was another man there, a big montanero in a rana and a hat.  And he said, "Oh no, you will have an agua ardiente!  Bartender give the doctor an agua ardiente!"  (They called me doctor because they thought I was the engineer like my brother.  You know I was dressed very well.)  

"Oh no sir," I said, "I’m very thirsty.  I drove today all the way today from Medellin."

"You’ll have an agua ardiente with me!" he shouted.  He was very drunk.  

So I said, “OK, bartender, give me an agua ardiente!” and I slapped my hand on the bar.

And we said, “Salud!” and we drank.  And then the big man in the rana said, “And now you will buy me an agua ardiente, just as a I bought you one.”  

And I said to the bartender, “Two agua ardientes!” and we drank again.  

“Now,” he said, “you can have your beer.”  And I offered him to buy a beer, but he said no that he only drank the agua ardiente.  And then I notice that the bartender was standing there with his fists clutched tight looking terrified.  But I went back to the hotel.

The next day we went back to the bar, because usually the director would give out the money in a restaurant or bar and buy the men a drink.  And the bartender he said to me excited, “You are the man who was here last night, no?” 

And I said,  “Yes, “and he said, “Oh doctor, I was so afraid for you.  That man, he is one of the most dangerous men in this area.  He’s killed like 5 policemen and I don’t know how many other men.  And last night, when he asked you to drink with him, he had a gun under his rana pointed at you.  If you had refused to drink with him he would have killed you.”  

And I said to myself “Jesus Christ!” and I was weak with fear.  A lot of men, especially like the engineers and professionals thought they were much higher than the common people and would have refused to drink with such a montanero and they would have said, “To hell with you!” when he asked them to drink.  But I was not that kind of man.  I was friendly to him and treated him well.  But Jesus Christ when I thought about the gun underneath the rana . . . . 

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lyme Disease, round two.

My thigh has a Jupiter on it, with its own great red spot -- in this case an ovoid hurricane of spirochetes.  Anyone who plays tick bite roulette here -- and I've had eight or ten tick bites this month -- is lucky to be taking only 2 or 3 weeks worth of antibiotics.

The doctor at the walk in clinic said they're getting 7 or 8 cases a day.  And he gave me the prescription.

Friday, July 18, 2008

She makes 
in the summertime.

How did I get
so lucky?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

New York City is too big - a universe unto itself.

But what an extravaganza of human diversity!

We drove into the city on Tuesday evening after work, to stay with a friend in Brooklyn.  There was good Polish food on Bedford Avenue -- pierogi, kielbasa, sauerkraut, stuffed cabbage.  And Polish language murmuring through the small place to complete the aroma.

And Wednesday after a false start (who knew NYC buses don't take dollar bills?!) we met Denver, Rhonda and their little girl Maybelle for breakfast at a little locavore place by Cobble Hill park.  And afterwards sat on benches while the kids made sand castles in the park.

Then it was across town to Manhattan and the Museum of Natural History for large doses of paleontology and museum anthropology -- punctured with sightings of characters from the film "Night at the Museum".

And Central Park for late afternoon picnic of bagels.  And the boys got blue popsicles that turned them a sticky, zombie-like color.  We watched the herons and turtles of Turtle Pond, took the view from Belvedere Castle.

A bit after 7 I left them to their wanderings and took the subway back to Brooklyn where Denver was doing a reading with Matt Maneri.  Matt's improvisational viola perfectly complements the slightly disorienting rhythms of Denver's poetical tangents.  And the way they so clearly dig each other's stuff  adds a pleasure to the watching and listening.

A man standing at the bus stop 
reading the newspaper is on fire
Flames are peeking out
from beneath his collar and cuffs
His shoes have begun to melt

The woman next to him 
wants to mention it to him
that he is burning
but she is drowning
Water is everywhere
in her mouth and ears
in her eyes
A stream of water runs
steadily from her blouse

Another woman stands at the bus stop
freezing to death
She tries to stand near the man
who is on fire to try to melt the icicles that have formed on her eyelashes
and on her nostrils to stop her teeth long enough from chattering to say something
to the woman who is drowning

but the woman who is freezing to death has trouble moving with blocks of ice on her feet
It takes the three some time to board the bus what with the flames and water and ice
But when they finally climb the stairs and take their seats the driver doesn’t even notice
that none of them has paid because he is tortured by visions and is wondering
if the man who got off at the last stop
was really being mauled to death
by wild dogs.

Denver Butson, from Triptych.

Monday, July 14, 2008

One of the bloggers at DailyKos had some extra tickets to the Ani DiFranco concert in Hyannis for Sunday night.  Their car was out of commission and they were looking for a ride in trade.  Hyannis is two hours away, but the tickets were free, they were right on the way, and it was practically a good deed.  So we left the boys with Alberto and hit the road.

Kimya Dawson put on a beautiful opening act -- a great sweet woman full of shyness and steel.  She played her stuff, including a few of her songs from the movie Juno, and the crowd was in love with her.

And Ani DiFranco is 95 pounds of guitar-pounding charisma.  She and her band had 'em on their feet.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


The Unitarian-Universalists keep their services rare and informal through the summer months.

And it's mostly about food and politics and jumping in a lake.

The girls are closing in on Porter.

Hospitality is an ancient art -- making a place for the guest, giving them food and cool water.  It is good to receive.  And Monica and I have received more than our share from Uzbekistan to Ireland to Costa Rica.  

But it's even better to give it back.  To seat your guest in the shade of your tree and pluck the best sun-warmed berries for them.  Especially when they've traveled from afar.

On Saturday Marysia and Ian came on the ferry across from Long Island for a visit with two Polish friends, Krystina and her niece Ewelina.  So we played hosts and settled everyone in the shade of the climbing tree and had an elaborate lunch spread out upon the table.  

And we took them into the woods where there were more berries -- blueberries, huckleberries, and dewberries just purpling.  And, since they were Poles, we showed off the wild mushrooms even though we don't know which ones are tasty and which ones are poisonous.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Last night people gathered at a beautiful hilltop winery in Stonington for music and wine.  By the time we got there just after 7, the raggedy trio of musicians was already filling the big sky with jouncey roots music.  We found a grassy spot beside a bed of lavender.  

"It's just like the Reunion, except people aren't related," said Nico as he plunked himself down onto one of Esperanza's quilts.   By the time Monica and I had bought and uncorked a bottle of the zinfandel, our friends Sharka and Yuri had shown up with their boys and Porter in tow.

The four boys quickly raced off through the alleys of grapevine toward the stonewalls where the trees drop an ordnance of little green apples.  The four adults were dismissed to their wine and their conversation.  

As humans big and small danced in the grass before the players, orange and blue sky gave way to indigo ink and an alabaster half-moon a-nest in the stars.  The boys were happily lost in the gloaming.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

the politics of doom

My father has long been fond of saying that human intelligence may not be a “survivable trait.”  

The emissions from this weeks “G-8 Summit” of political leaders is pretty good evidence for pessimism.  One the great challenges of our era is to recognize and address the fact that we’re changing the atmosphere of the planet in ways that will make it uninhabitable, if not for the species then at least for civilization.

There were four imaginable outcomes from the summit.  First, and least likely, was a set of actual practices to not only slow down the ever-accelerating pace of carbon emission, but actually move toward reductions.  The second possible outcome, and the one an optimist could have hoped for, would be to sound the alarm about how unprepared we are politically, socially, and technologically to deal with problem and to call for a global discussion of what genuinely needs to be done not just technologically, but politically.  The third possible outcome, depressing but familiar, would have been an outright rejection of the notion that climate change is a defining problem of the age. 

What we got was the fourth and worst of the scenarios.  We got fine-sounding words that are designed to do absolutely nothing, except to destroy clarity and to defuse all popular push toward addressing the problem.

These failed leaders showed the dangerous and perhaps fatal bankruptcy of our political system, by kicking the can down the road.  Even those politicians who personally may have hoped otherwise just helped put lipstick on this pig.  The powers-that-be have now decided that they have neither the power nor the will to do anything but race headlong into an un-mappable process of global over-heating -- to create climatic change on a scale unprecedented in the Earth's long history as a complex biosphere.

As individuals, humans can be capable of great intelligence, foresight and wisdom.  As a species it seems clear we have the intelligence of a toxic lichen.  

Which of these missed opportunities is going to be the last one, I wonder.


blog post over at "The Oil Drum" makes and some interesting points about politicians:

People trained in engineering or science deal with numbers and outcomes. Our lawyer friends are trained to look for precedents – data that supports their argument - while we are trained to derive the argument from the data . . . Plenty of lawyers go into politics [and] as a result politics tends to be framed by lawyer thinking, not engineer thinking.  [snip]  Politicians tend to inherently believe that the outcome of an event will depend on people’s perceptions and beliefs about that event. Politicians have very little experience with situations where objective reality is more important to outcome than the subjective perception of the reality.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Does a ten year old know that gravity has them?   

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A cuckoo was in the backyard today -- feasting on the tent caterpillars feasting on the cherry.  It made no call, from neither right nor left.  Which is fine -- omens make me nervous.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Porter's back

from a week at camp.  Nine boys at Medicine Bow, but three with mean streaks.  It wasn't Lord of the Flies, but no repeat of last summer's idyll, either.  I had a feeling we should have sent him to that riding camp.

He doesn't seem troubled by it -- just disappointed.  Not just by the obnoxious trio, but the thunderstorm warnings that derailed the island campout, and the heavily fletched "flu flu" arrows that offended his archer's heart with their sluggish inaccuracy.  It may be that after a few days he'll remember the positive things as well . . . 

Scouting may have a national organization, but it is still profoundly local.  And it runs on a spectrum from old-fashioned outdoorsy to paramilitary.  The manly virtues can be stressed and intermixed in various ways, some that build strength of character and some that tear it down.  You see part of that spectrum among the troops that gather in a place like Camp Yawgoog.  I'm Den Leader of Porter's den, because he wants to do scouting, and I don't want him in some volunteer fireman's idea of a military unit.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Nico's pictures


Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

A good day to reflect upon the patriotism of rebellion.  The language of patriotism and liberty has too long been treated like property by people who mean exactly the opposite.

We've woken from our complacency to find ourselves living under a government that tortures and imprisons people disregardful of whether they are innocent or guilty; that breaks its own laws to spy upon its citizens; that builds its rule to enrich the few and impoverish the many; 

that degrades and disregards science and knowledge and democratic debate; that treats the young as raw material to be wrung for profit.  

A patriotic stance toward such a government means contempt, derision and a profound commitment to reform and revitalization.

Happy Birthday, America -- across 232 years there are bound to be some rough patches.

Photos by Nico B.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The sea was rough

in Narragansett Bay.  The lifeguards' yellow flags whipped in a stiff breeze.  (I don't think I registered what that meant.)

I was encouraging Nico while he taught himself how to boogieboard in the shallow surf.  But finally, annoyed by waves splashing coldly onto my dry shoulders, I told him I was going to go for a swim and I'd be right back.  Monica would watch out for him.

I was quickly out of the shallow surf and into deeper furrows and bars -- swimming down amid the tatters of seaweed torn from some undersea rock somewhere and being shredded further in the violence of sand versus water.  It took only a few moments to realize that there was a massive current under the waves and it had me.  On the surface, I struck out toward the beach, stretching a foot downward for the reassurance of a foothold that wasn't there.

Soon, I was making all the headway of a cork bobbing in the surf.

As my breaths came louder and rougher, I felt a twinge of panic.  It wasn't fear of death, but a fear of the humiliation of being rescued.  Fear of being the man who matched his weak swimming up against the undertow.  Or worse, of being the fool who hadn't even known such a contest was in the offing and swam blithely out as though the sea were a great, domesticated bath, rather than the indifferent and merciless deity that it is.

Maybe my swimming had an effect or maybe the waves just consented to cast me forward rather than back, but my toes rasped the bottom and I walked and swam and thrashed my way back in.  

Humbled but happily un-humiliated.  

(An epitaph worth living up to?)

                                                                               Photo by Nico B.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

tuesday morning

Gray Cat
Black Coffee
Green Garden
Silver Hair

Photo by A.B.

And naked feet
on stones that echo with
the night-cool.