Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In Baltimore we went with Chris to the Walter's Museum, to meander through the marvelous collection that Henry Walters and his father assembled.  What an eye for quality they had!  Nearly every piece in there is worth spending time with.

Afterwards, we stopped at a shop and I bought a Tibetan singing bowl.  It is black and embossed with lettering that I don't understand.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I stacked my father's firewood 7 feet high and when I was done, the whole construction, every last stick of it, fell over with an earth shaking crash.  How embarrassing. 

Chastened, I stacked it again 5 and a half feet high.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Day after Christmas and we were dragging.  I took a nap, which I hadn't done since an eye doctor's appointment back in November had so disarranged my schedule that I'd forgotten to drink coffee.  Monica took a nap at 11 a.m.  Cathie was considering her second nap when Monica figured out that the coffee she had brewed said "DEC" not because it had something to do with December, but because it had no caffeine.  Everyone was appalled.  Proper coffee was brewed.

Friday, December 25, 2009

christmas 2009

A Holiday food journal . . . .

On Christmas eve Monica cooked her roast pork.  Rubbed with olive oil, breadcrumbs, garlic and rosemary, cooked in it's own juices; baked red potatoes with butter or with the juices from the roast; asparagus and sauteed dark mushrooms; unsweetened apple sauce on the side; red wine and cider.

Anna had sent tins of homemade Christmas cookies from California and Cathie and Eric's neighbor had sent chocolate truffles.  Peppermint tea and egg nog.  Chocolate from Lititz.

On Christmas morning, the boys can loot their stockings as soon as they get up (this year at 6:45), but the opening of the presents happens after breakfast.  Fred had brought in bagels and lox cream cheese from Brooklyn with him.  Chris had made banana bread.  Cathie cut open a pannetone she had made with white raisins.  There was black coffee and hot tea.

For Christmas dinner Mom prepared a 21 pound free-range, organic turkey -- and lunch was the platter of turkey meat, mountains of mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, Chris' sweet potatoes and baked apples, Monica's green bean casserole, Cathie's creamed corn, rolls, pickled beets - glasses of red wine or an airy Belgium beer that Eric uncorked; sparkling grape juice for the boys.

For the desultory grazing that served as supper, Cathie baked fresh breads and laid out several wonderful goats' cheeses that she'd made.  Chris produced a rich camembert.  The cookies, breads, pannetone from earlier all re-emerged.  Cathie's gift to me, a bottle of 15-year old Laphroaig, was opened.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I lay on my back in the snow, watching the stars materializing in the blue evening haze.  You can't catch them appearing -- only notice that they are there -- where they weren't a moment ago.  I wondered, as I lay on my back with the cold earth draining life's warmth from my body, whether my core would begin to compensate by burning more hotly.  Maybe it did, but the winter earth could absorb it all.

I gathered with friends around a cauldron of fire to celebrate the solstice and we all spoke of the things that the turning of the year meant to us -- that moment, that shift, when the light begins inevitably to increase rather than decrease.  Icy wind brought a writhing to the flames and the orange coals throbbed.  Cold never depresses me.  I love the snow and the division of nature into the dormant and the determined.  (As one around the fire put it, there is something powerfully revitalizing about winter's dormancies.)  But it's true that the days are grown too short and the nights too long.  That solstice shift not only signals the returning balance of the light, but it also affirms that planetary clockwork that brings spring and summer back.

We all warmed ourselves inside the house with rich, dark hot chocolate.

Monica and Nico took the train into New York City where they went to museums, looked at mummies, ate knishes and bagels, sledded the hills of Central Park, and shopped at Rockefeller Center.  Nico sang made-up songs to himself as he and the commuters made their way home northeastwards.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Riffing on one of Denver's daily poems:

4 out of 5 semioticians, 
when cornered, 
will assert that the opposite of somersault is not winter sugar.  
But some of the less well-moored will wink as they say it, 
just in case.

and stapling a black tailfeather onto one of his drowning ghazals:

My son is the raven of glittering eye
And he thinks that we send too few to the sky.

It is good, I think, to stir hot poetry into the morning's second cup of black coffee.

Denver and Sawako and Joseph have been reminding me . . . .

Sunday, December 20, 2009

15 inches of powdery snow on a Sunday morning.

Exclamations of joy from the boys as they woke.

Now, an igloo is rising in the yard,
a hillock of snow,
enfirmed by a thousand hand pats
 a hundred shovel wumps
and two score full-body flops.
All hollowed out and inhabited
by boys.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

One political party is corrupt and the other party even more corrupt and batshit insane as well.  Watching the Senate transform health care reform into a big wet kiss to the insurance industry is more evidence - if any was needed - that Congress is intent on finding a way to serve its corporate buddies even when those interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of the country and its people.

Congress' plan is to solve the uninsurance problem, not by fostering competition through some version of a public option, but instead by subsidizing a predatory and monopolistic insurance industry with billions, if not trillions of dollars in subsidies -- and forcing by mandate of law that everyone buy the offensively defective products that this industry provides.

Essentially, a treasonous coalition of callous Republicans and corrupt Democrats (and one megalomaniacal Independent), unhindered by an (at best) over-polite and (at worst) complicit President, are condemning millions of people to poor health, diminished lives and early deaths.

If the old saying is true that a people gets the government it deserves, we need to work on deserving a better government than this band of fools and sociopaths.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Least favorite sound: 
the sound of one of my son's bodies hitting the hard surfaces and sharp edges of the world.
Favorite sound: 
the happy, stretchy sigh that a person makes when they are waking up happy to see you.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Porter has been on stage performing a number of small parts in the upper school musical.  As a sixth-grader, he's gone from big kid in the lower school to young kid in the upper school, and he looked young amid the seventh, eight and ninth-graders.   He likes it, I think, and looks comfortable on stage - though in this one he had no individual speaking or singing part.  In some ways, it seems that Nico is more the natural actor, because he is so inextricably in tune with narrative and with audience and with effects upon that audience.  For Porter I think the play is more simple and contained -- lines and movements to be mastered and practiced. He does it well, but I suspect that for him the audience is an afterthought.  For Nico it never is and maybe he'll stay too self-conscious to put himself into the spotlight.  Each of them will grow into performance in their own ways, I suppose.

I dropped him off at the school to do whatever preparations they do and went into Stonington Borough to kill the time.  I had no money in my pocket for a bowl of soup, so I went for walk.  The borough is on a spit of land reachable only by an ugly modern bridge that passes over the railroad tracks.  On a normal night, it is a charming town with well-preserved, beautiful colonial buildings, both grand and modern, and a main street of shops, boutiques and restaurants.  Tonight though, a brutally cold wind was whining in off the Sound and the streets were mostly deserted and dark.  It seemed like I was walking in an older, starker, more enduring Stonington -- along these buildings that had withstood centuries of winds like this and ones even colder and wilder.  Not that there was anything false or inauthentic about the New England Charm that could draw in the tourists -- this was just the latest source of livelihood and prosperity that sustains people on this headrock on the sea.  But the boutiques and the fresh paint were a thin veneer upon something that would outlast, and this night, with that pitiless wind, the town felt to me like a huge and able creature that had laid down for the moment its efforts to charm, and was gamely and contentedly surviving.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Can you keep up with the 8-year-olds?

At Nico's birthday party, 11 of them had to navigate the clues to find the treasure at the end . . .

The rebus told them where to look for the first set of scrolls:

[Once there, they dug out:]

Your knees might see where the next clue hides,
If knees only had eyes and were able;
But you’d best have a seat, where you’re planning to eat,
And then maybe peek un_____ the __________.

[In 2 seconds they were under every picnic table, finally to find a scroll that read:]

Porter is a name that means gatekeeper,
and this time it’s he who holds the next key.
But he won’t just give it away.
By the pond you can hear what he’ll say.

He is hidden away in plain view.
He’ll tell you the goods that he wants from the woods,
and let you all earn the next clue.

24 leaves from 6 different trees
A rock that looks just like an egg;
Two sticks near the lake –
each looks like a snake
and 4 braided strands made of plants.

 [And when they had done that -- eight of them together finally carrying to him an enormous, braided hempen rope frozen into the shape of a snake -- Porter told them:]
Look to Vulpes vulpes!
 [There at the feet of the taxidermist's specimen they found:]
Who’s behind in finding clues?
Hurry up! you don’t want to lose!
You’re on Treasure’s tail, use your wits,
And look to where the birthday boy sits.

 [They got the joke eventually and found a camera chip  -- 
plugged it in and saw a hand slipping the next clue beside the striped skunk's den.]

Are you scared of bears?
If so beware.
For he guards the very next clue.
But if you take care
As you reach into his lair,
He probably won’t bite you.

[Snatched from beneath the snarling bear head
mounted upon the wall:]
Whoever of you has a birthday in June
(or the farthest away from today!),
will have to ask en Español
because only Señora can say
where next clave is hidden away.
And ‘cause she’s muy stricto,
 You’d better ask nice
Or your treasure stays hidden away!

Have you ever seen the shape of an elephant’s foot?
Or that of a birthday cake?
Have you ever seen the belly of an oriole?
Or the belly of a ring-necked snake?
Put these clues together and you just might find.
That the treasure’s been in view this whole entire time!

[And so it was,
a bright orange cylinder brimming with gems and jewels
 and gilded chocolate coins.]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

school projects

Nico went to the zoo
 to feed the snow leopards
 a paper mache crane

that they had made in class.

The zookeepers filled it with meat.

He was pleased with the picture he took of the cat.

Porter made an atl atl and paleolithic hardwood darts were arc'ing across the sky.

And there was Nico's diorama of a habitat for the herring gulls.

I'd suggested a town dump scene but was vetoed by Monica and Nico.

Monday, December 7, 2009

In Philadelphia thousands of anthropologists gathered for the American Anthropological Association meetings.  And so I went to a handful of the 500 panel meetings, met old friends, looked over the latest books, wrote the beginnings of my own, made new contacts, learned things, and generally played anthropologist from Thursday through Sunday.

I think the last time I went to the meetings I came away feeling alienated from the field.  This time I came away energized and inspired to do some writing and publishing.  Marysia and I made a solemn pact to write for an hour each day (or 5 hours a week).  We shook on it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I saw friends from high school this visit.  Kirk and Neal and Vicki.  They're still as sharp and odd and interesting as they were 25 years ago - even with houses and kids and pets and spouses.  I had it pretty good back then with my circle of friends.  Neal is a musician, Kirk a professor of geography, Vicki a teacher.  And Denver's a poet in New York and Montie a fashion designer in Pittsburgh.  I'm an anthropologist.  I wonder what others are doing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A mast-straight oak tree two and half feet across had been standing over my parents house and the treemen finally dropped it down over into the woods.  So my father and I sweated off the turkey and stuffing with cant hook, maul and chainsaw.  He'll be 70 this May and his knees don't like to carry logs up rough hillside any more.  So my task was to move the wood up for us to split and haul and stack.

There had been 13 for Thanksgiving this year.  The feasting was wonderful, as usual, though Mom was annoyed that the farm had given her a huge 26 pound tom instead of the tastier hen she'd ordered.  Fred came up from New York and Dan came down from the Poconos with his friend Dowling.  Chris returned from traveling in Texas, and Cathie and Eric supplied a miniature dachshund and a 16-month-old Bridget.  (Bridget was in an impatient tyrannical mode, but loved to go outside and pick up shards of hickory shells from under the trees.)

Everyone but me trickled away back to their homes Friday and Saturday.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Orion is up now and I haven't written in the blog in a month.

The autumn colors are pretty much long gone.  The beeches and oaks may hold on to their fading leaves well into the spring, but the show is over.  Nights have been mild and the clover and black-eyed susans are still putting out blossoms, but most of the undergrowth has gone into retrenchment.

Monica loves the outrageousness of the gold and red Vermont leaf-show, but I like the long, drawn-out autumns of the oak-hickory woods.  From when the swamp maples turn scarlet in September until the russet leaves of the red-oaks fall after Halloween, there are always a few species putting on a show.  Each takes it's moment to stand out from the ongoing panoply.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Nature Center's spooky nature trail was Saturday.  

Monica was veiled and carrying a lantern, silently and spookily relighting the jack o' lanterns that lined the paths.  Nico was a wood sprite on the loose and Porter lurked in the dark, as invisible as a gray forest rock in my old cloak.

When people approached, he rose from the obscurity and stepped forward -- intoning a grave warning that he had composed:

Stop -
The path ahead is scary
for up ahead you will meet a shiny head,
so traveler be wary.

Traveler I do not wish to harm,
but only to warn
that up ahead there will be no choice to turn back.

So I'm giving you the choice now.
Turn back or go on through the web . . . . 

Friday, October 23, 2009

It's Monica's birthday and the boys and I took her out for dinner at Passion Coffee House in New London.  

It was a traditional Colombian feast that we will be eating for days to come. 

Mmmmmmmmmmm . . . . 

The Antioquenos have a proud tradition, recalentado, and the translation of "leftovers" just doesn't do justice to the art form. 

Mmmmm again.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Orionids

The earth is passing through the ribbons of detritus that Haley’s comet leaves strewn along its orbit – so the Orionid meteor shower was on.  At 10:30 Orion is somewhere behind the oaks, but a meteor streaked up between the Milky Way and the Pleiades, just above the trees, so I chose there to look.  I sat in the yard with the black cat companionably beside me and as I gazed at the sky we listened to the leaves upon the ground.  They rustle as each one curls up in passage from autumn gold to brown leaf litter. 

Though I could see my breath even against the starlight, tree frogs were still croaking from their barky redoubts.  Thin, checkerboard clouds rose insistently from the southwest.  An owl hooted excitedly to the east.  A pack of coyotes yowed and yipped in the distance.  The black cat paid them a momentary attention.  Before the clouds swallowed up the Pleiades completely I was rewarded with a great arcing meteor, just trimming the tops of the trees across the northeast.  It left an afterimage upon my eyes and I went in to bed.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Porter strolled past with the clunky watch he always wears and Monica and I started talking about how cool watches were when you were 11 years old.  I tried to remember when I'd stopped wearing (or even carrying) watches.  And that made me think of one of the handful of crimes I've committed.

It was in a small college course at Penn -- a language and philosophy class I think.  And in the middle of the seminar a piercing, beeping alarm went off.  A girl to the side of me fumbled with her watch, turning bright red as the beeping continued.  The Professor pointedly paused his incomprehensible lecture about Wittgenstein and stared at her as the increasingly desperate girl struggled to shut it off.  At some point I realized that she wasn't going to succeed, because the beeping was actually my own watch alarm coming from the bag by my feet.  But the sound was hard to localize and I knew that it was about to cease on its own, so I opted ignominiously to stare with the rest of the class at the girl for another few painful moments.

The first crime that I remember was stealing from Melvin Alleman in Kindergarten.  The teacher had unrolled long rolls of brown paper onto the floor for us to paint on.  It was near Halloween and we created a parade of monsters and fantastical creatures.  The boys painted one and the girls another.  A day or two later they had dried, and the two "murals" were given out as prizes for something or other.  I won one and Melvin won the other.  The problem was that I had won the girls mural.  Melvin sat in front of me with the boys' mural rolled up in the basket under his seat.   It was a less enlightened era and I had no interest in the girls or their mural.  I fell to temptation and somehow surreptitiously switched the two.

For years afterwards, until my parents finally threw it away,  that roll of brown paper up in the attic with its smudgy, peeling and cracking monsters would remind me of my crime against dim, kind-hearted Melvin.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

In case you thought this morning's frost was made up of nothing more than tiny, jagged crystals . . . .

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

We took the long weekend in Vermont to catch the golden end to the autumn leaves.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

It's a quiet evening at home. Last night's wind has given way to a clear, cool night.
Monica is reading aloud to Nico a manga version of Romeo and Juliet.

Porter has finished his homework and is engrossed in a novel of dragons and boy-kings. The snake is coiled in his den, the guinea pig is munching in his little cot. The cats roam the dark.

Monday, October 5, 2009

After Saturday's downpours, Sunday was clear and warm and full of priceless, late-season sunshine. We spent the afternoon at the winery's harvest festival with Jiri and Sarka and their boys. We all plucked sweet red grapes from a vine. Like the seasons last hummingbirds, the four boys ran and drank Mexican sodas and sucked on honeystraws, and ran some more. Porter merrily stomped grapes in an open half cask. Nico and Jacob danced in front of the band. Showmen both, they soaked up cheers from the crowd, while Porter shook his head.

Monica finished work at 4 and joined us for a drink of wine, a tostada, and then we were dancing into the dusk.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Charles and Patty eventually brought Nico and Anya back from their friend Indy's birthday party. (Nico reckoned sadly, that now he's the only remaining 7-year old in 3rd grade.) The kids, including Estelle and Porter were full of plans and energy, but all parents were tired from a long week of turgid family logistics. So we shooed off Patty toward home to have a bath and plied Charles with beer. (the Sam Adam's Imperial Stout I bought is too strong, but combined with a Wolaver's ale it makes for a fine black and tan.) And Monica brought out mushrooms salvaged from the Nature Center's festival to make an impromptu pasta dinner.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Went out last night for some music at URI -- Odaiko New England, a band of taiko drummers.

I think the bones of my skull may still be resonating.

Friday, October 2, 2009

After 10 weeks with us, Alberto departed for California -- his two bags packed, his pension full in his pocket. A few last cool, pretty days to give him a dash of autumn -- but nights were dipping to the 30's to give him extra impetus. Now no one will spoil the cats with tinned food and the kitchen will no longer magically clean itself. And the stories have stopped.

For occupation and exercise, he neatly stacked for us two cords of wood, but now we have a third.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Over at Balloon Juice they are composing a left-blogospheric dictionary. Last night they were discussing the current meanings for "liberal" and "conservative." But I stopped reading at the 6th comment because I think El Cruzado nailed it perfectly:

Conservative: anything that self-proclaimed conservatives like or are in favor of.
Liberal: anything that self-proclaimed conservatives dislike or are against.

Anyone looking for a more coherent or consistent stance is missing the point.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday morning brought a breezy, leafy rain. Betty's sermon was about the church as a container for growing one's heart. She donned a beflowered gardener's hat, mud-stained gloves and brandished a flower pot when the children gathered around her.

And later after the children were gone she expounded on one of her favorite names for us, faith community. I'm not sure that I followed everything she said about faith and how it is lived. I agree that one of the welcome things about church is that it is a faith community, but I get a sense that I was working from a narrower (I might even say crisper) definition of what faith means. To me (as a scientist and son of a science teacher) faith is irrevocably about the unreasoning leap one takes when one reaches the outer limit of reason/science/empiricism -- call it what you will. Unitarian-Universalists generally value that reasoned, material-experience-based working out of life's questions and answers. And that may make them interesting philosophers, humanists, neighbors, activists and so on.

But what makes them a UU is often-enough an act of faith; is as Betty put it, laying the heart down on a set of principles. These principles don't have to be (and I think can't be and probably shouldn't be) reasoned out, or argued for, or proved in some objective sense. The act of faith is taking that leap and saying that, "I don't need proof that every human being deserves my love and respect -- I'm just going to lay my heart down on that precept and simply declare it so."

(Of course, what I see as a leap of faith, other people experience as knowing what is ineffably true, and that creates some tension when the term faith seems a disparagement . . . .)

There's nothing inherently constructive or activating about leaps of faith. Most people's acts of faith are pretty misguided and counter-productive as far as I'm concerned. But when you have legitimately taken reason and argument as far as you can take them -- and you've looked into the word-less and reason-less regions of self and other and found a place beyond that, where it seems right to lay down your heart -- then faith is the act we have.

And a faith community is nothing more than the band of people that happens when a group of people make the same leap.

Maybe that's what Betty said and I just needed to put things in my own words, or maybe she was adding something to that. In any case I can thank church and leafy rain for once again for keeping the spiritual and philosophical juices flowing . . .

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Monica, Alberto and Porter climbed into the car and headed for Vermont to see the maples turning orange and red.

Nico and I headed to Connecticut, to the corn maze in Preston where his class was gathering for the fall social. B. had a few things organized for the kids, like visiting the calves, a hay ride and pizza.

When it comes to supervision, parents at the school keep their kids on leashes of varying lengths, but I gladly let Nico off to do as he liked -- which was to race immediately off into the maze. This was annoying to some of the parents who were trying to keep their kids from disappearing until after the pizza, etc. But I was coming off three days fighting a bad cold and just wanted to sit in the glorious September sunshine. Besides, cornfields remind me too vividly of the wilderness of childhood, and I had no interest in interfering in Nico's day.

Eventually all of the kids would disappear in the maze -- some with adults attached, some without. But one of the themes of the idle, pleasant, desultory parental conversation was about how much free reign to give kids. Some feared that a child who merrily wandered the maze, might panic as soon as they decided they wanted out. Others feared that they might meet harassing teens in the maze. Others, like me shrugged it off and saw our prejudices confirmed each time happy, sweating kids emerged from the maze to grab a drink or to show how many stamps they'd found. We'd get reports on who they'd run with or run into in the maze.

Alejandra was one who worried, though she had let her son, Matteo, go off with a group of the others, accompanied by an adult. When she heard from others that he wasn't with that group any longer, she contained her worry. Time went by and no one reported seeing him. Finally, the afternoon was stretching when Nico came out and sat with me. Alejandra asked him if he'd seen Matteo and Nico said, "He was with us, but then he separated from us." "How did that happen?" asked Alejandra. "He went off with some guy." "Who?" Nico didn't know -- hadn't seen him before. It was some man who said he'd show him where to get one of the stamps.

Adult faces went suddenly stony, and the worst fears of parenthood didn't need to be voiced. Alejandra and B. were out of their seats heading for the maze. I was talking seriously to Nico to make sure he wasn't making anything up - that Matteo had gone off with a strange adult.

In the end, it turned out that it was the farmer who had taken Matteo and Nick around the maze showing them each and every stamp station. (Nico had not recognized him because he hadn't gone on the hayride.) But there was an unpleasant 10 or 15 minutes as a half-dozen parents went around calling for Matteo. (I suspect, as I kind of hope Alejandra doesn't, that Matteo ignored the calls for at least a while because he was on the trail of the last of the stamps.)

Nico hadn't seemed troubled during the search, and had happily helped call out his name from a bridge with Annabelle and Anya. But before we left he hugged Matteo from behind and began to cry. I asked him why he was crying and he said because he'd been afraid for Matteo being lost. Matteo looked wide-eyed at his mother who knelt to comfort Nico and told him, "that's exactly how I was when I couldn't find him. I felt terrible and I cried, too." Matteo asked her seriously, "You really cried? Like tears?", turning where Nico still gripped his shirt. "I stood on the bridge there and I cried," she told him. I don't think she had, actually -- I think she'd gone steely. But I know she was grateful now to Nico, who had made Matteo so suddenly aware.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sometimes my membership in a Unitarian-Universalist church doesn't sit comfortably on me. And today's service, which dwelt on Universalism, and God and salvation -- and hearkened back to the sect's history of Christian dissent found no welcome in me. It didn't help that Nico was in an uncooperative mood and sighing from boredom and weary misery beside me. Reverend Betty's distinction between a capricious God and an all-loving God had no resonance for someone with no interest in questions about gods or whether or not the Universe is a welcoming or indifferent place. And the old-fashioned hymns, which I should have at least taken as entertaining historical artifacts simply pushed me away further -- one of them was a temperance hymn -- Touch not the cup!

So, I was in a souring mood, and when Nico grumped about sticking around for the picnic after, I took the opportunity to grump back, and we all left -- with me angry, Nico on the verge of tears and Porter staying out of it.

Hours later, in the afternoon, I found myself in my true church. I sat on a granite boulder along a flooded woodland pond. The beaver's berm of sticks and mud and stones zig-zagged over to a rocky outcropping that was crowned with maple and beech. The black branches and the leaves of green and yellow and red were twinned with perfect felicity in the blue black mirror of the lake. Invisible minnows below made ripples. And circles that were as sharp and perfect and deep as cut-glass over-wrote the fractal geometry of leaf and branch. I don't think I've ever seen anything more beautiful.

Above the gurgle of the escaping brook I could hear the whistle of an aggrieved duck and the laughter of Kingfishers. A green heron, hunting upon a raft of lily pads was startled by a diving cormorant, and stretched its beak heavenward, bitternish, as though blending itself to an imaginary stand of reeds.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

So, the summer passed. I won't try to reconstruct the sequences of swimming; days spent at the computer or upon the lawn; meals eaten; arguments won, lost and discarded; road trips and visitors; things bought and given and thrown away.

The boys grew not just taller, but more complicated and rich in words and experience. Monica's unhappiness waxed and then waned -- and my own sloshed tide-like in response.

Storms came and pounded the beaches; dragonflies came and succeeded the spring's plague of mosquitos; I pried into the thought processes of a thousand culture-bound informants; and the paper wasps methodically peeled away the weathering skin of the garden furniture.

And the summer passed.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Spam-folder poem, from our gmail account, August 6, 2009

Rangy milky sty,
cubby rangy petal.

Unhung puzzle rotor.
Unhung glance old squeak!
toot rotor unhung packed!
unapt dine!
endup milky spark!

Wroth purl,
thin rangy borax pigmy!
Old quick, old runt, eat eat.
Gutter chaw dhurry frame.
Wroth captor pigmy,
diddle met, diddle toot.

Frame runt.

Unhung spark sty.
Cubby croon, packed unapt.
Eat number,
perk unread,


a earlier poem from the third week of June:

Time for perfection, Oakery;

Airy mumps tithe

lumpy oared crowd peel,

Aerate glover glover Dr. MaxMan,

the pleasure she only dreamed about.

Elan potboy bounty,

Sniffy fetid pupa,

Act like a hero.

Gooey grouch sap;

Faced, he can be no companion.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Anatomy of a pretty good day.

I slept in until nearly 8 -- so uncharacteristically late in fact that Monica asked me if I wasn't feeling well. But no, I was just feeling well-rested.

After she had left for her last day of camp, I cut slices off a round of durum bread, and made scrambled eggs for Porter. Just toast and black coffee for myself. It was a crisp, clear, cold morning and Porter wore a winter vest at the breakfast table.

I settled down with the laptop to read a few blogs and skim the New York Times. Alberto was on the other computer reading El Colombiano and Nico was navigating on the iBook for some game he was playing. But the internet connection cut in and out, so when Alberto returned from delivering Porter to the horse farm (after his stop at Pete's grocery, where he spent half an hour buying his lottery tickets and chatting with the staff and with the tourists), I drove the five miles down to the coast to a coffeehouse with wifi.

The day was warming up and Route 1 was filling up with summer traffic. I'd already drunk too much coffee at home, so for once I was pleased to see iced coffee that was mostly ice. We had a minor report due out this day. Axel was down in New York scrambling to put it into final form and I was combing the data for support for the propositions we were making about the best ways to talk about the government's role in the economy. (Our original propositions collapsed a few days ago, when the data turned out not to support them -- or more specifically the approach we'd been exploring had turned out to interact in unfortunate ways with the public's current, top-of-mind model of the government's role, namely, all the damned bailouts.
Fortunately, we discovered another promising route from outside our research cul de sac.) It turned out, surprisingly, that integrating the idea of community colleges as an example of the government's role in the economy created all kinds of positive effects in people's thinking, and so we were re-writing and quickly integrating control data that we'd generated the night before. But I also had to launch some internet surveys testing a couple of promising gambits for another project about counter-terrorism, torture, detentions, surveillance and ethnic profiling. We were already deep into the subjects' database on this one, and I needed to wring more male conservatives out of it.

Back home at about 12:15, Nico was still in pajamas, drawing some grand narrative on five feet of old-style perforated computer paper that he'd found somewhere. I hollered at him to get dressed and the three of us soon piled back into the car.

Porter had been at Turning Pointe all week with the horses. Though the place is mostly about "therapeutic riding" for handicapped kids, they offer a camp a couple of weeks out of the summer for local kids to learn about riding and caring for horses.
(Porter first climbed onto a horse in rural Costa Rica, where it's a masculine pursuit, so he's a little perplexed about why here he's the only boy in a universe of girls and women.) Today was the last day and we were invited to come to a horseback play they were putting on.

It's only a couple of miles up the road and Porter handed us a handwritten playbill when we pulled up to the barn.

We met the horses, (Porter's mount, Cinnamon, was licking his lips and drooling a puddle. According to Porter he'd grazed on grass too close to a toad and gotten a mouthful of toad pee.)
Porter played the role of policeman in a short morality play of two girls who forgot about their horses and went off to play. Porter was still wearing his vest decorated with an orange felt badge. I think he felt the vest gave him a more official air. After a second act about moderation (too many apples for the fat pony) there were cookies for the humans and carrots and mint candies for the horses. Porter brushed and groomed the horses with casual competence.

At home the internet connection was working so I cleared a spot on my desk and se
t about checking the new data from the surveys I'd launched earlier. We were trying to get people to acknowledge the dangers of enabling government to combat terrorists in ways that disregard law and constitution. By 3 o'clock, I done what I could do, and the data was pretty good, especially given the challenge. I called Axel, to make sure he didn't need any more help with the report, and then yelled down to the boys to get their swimsuits and their shovels, we were going to the beach.

And the Beach Full signs were up for the town strands, but we slipped into the sand lot at Ninigret, a few minutes past four, when they stop charging to park.
The sea was quiet, with the waves breaking at the shoreline. Porter swam and I helped Nico, who's forgotten how to swim. He has not an ounce of body fat and sinks like a stone. Porter and I did some body surfing in waves that were big enough to ride but no so big as to pound us into the sand. We made a castle that was attacked by every fifth or sixth wave, piling sand until our arms hurt, rescuing the beleaguered tower again and again.
On the way home, Nico asked why his fingers were tingling and I told him we'd moved about 500 pounds of sand -- "And the ocean took back 475 pounds of that!" he said. I told him he'd sandpapered his hands and they'd be more sensitive.
From behind, I felt him touch my shoulder and my matted, wet hair. "It's like I'm learning a new sense," he said. We passed the shop advertising frozen bait, which brought on a long, fantastical conversation about popsic-eels, with chocolate glaze or slug-slime glaze and a dusting of thistle-spines. "Um, my popsic-eels still moving." "Better pop it back into the freezer for a few minutes." Porter was cracking up.

It didn't spoil anyone's appetite though. We stopped by Pelloni's Farm for an apple pie we'd special ordered (with less sugar). At home Alberto had made hot dogs for himself and the boys as promised. Monica had heated up potatoes and spicy leftover bluefish (that she had fished from the Sound just yesterday). So once we had all cycled through the shower and I had vacuumed up the sand from the bathroom floor -- we ate.

In the evening the boys took my computer. They've discovered how to use the Netflix instant viewing to watch TV. It didn't take long for the bad laughtrack of the "Wizards of Waverly" to drive me out of the living room (at least there are no commercials!) I'd been putting off investigating the boys little attic ever since Nico told me that some critter had made a mess in there. I was afraid that it might be the red squirrel that has moved in to the yard.
(In the mornings it sits in one of the trees sending down a cascade of chittering, buzzing red squirrel curses toward the cat Wilbur. Wilbur lays beneath the tree, looking inscrutably up every once in a while as though to say, "Oh, I'm sorry, were you speaking to me?") But there was no sign of the squirrel up there. A mouse had thoroughly chewed up something red and green, and I took the opportunity to clear out a garbage bag full of the boys older clutter, while they were distracted downstairs. At 8:45, when Netflix seized up, they joined me. For two boys so given to pack-rattery, they were pretty cooperative about clearing some things out. Their room had reached an unprecedented lever of clutter and chaos and maybe the idea that critters were going to start living in their stuff gave them food for thought.

But soon enough it was time for lights out and I joined Monica in bed and, eventually, in sleep.

And that was a pretty good day.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

After work, the boys and I headed to the CSA to pick up our loot of green beans, fennel, mescaline mix, summer squash, carrots and tomatoes. Monica was off tenting with her campers at Green Falls, so instead of coming home we swung by Ninigret beach to play in the surf. Crushing waves, roiling sand, and tearing rip-currents made for an hour of death-defying family fun. We survived, and returned wearily home, silty, salty and sand-scuffed. While we washed ourselves up, Alberto heated rice with yesterday's pork and potatoes. The boys ate up every bite.

Porter and Nico's friends Jacob and Philip are heading off on Saturday to the Czech Republic for a month to circulate with their two sets of grandparents. But first, they wanted to get together for a sleepover. Monica swept them up on her way back from Nature Camp, came home, and cooked up her famous roast. (This is a roast that has been an epiphany for more than one person and which everyone should taste before giving up on pig-meat.) We all feasted on baked red potatoes, pork and applesauce, then the boys rampaged outside until it was too dark to see. They came in comparing pop-cultural notes about the TV and movies and video games they've managed to cram into their summer so far and then headed to the basement to set up an elaborate Heroscape scenario. I made sure they all had sleeping mats and sleeping bags. Then they pretty much look after themselves and sleep as little as their young bodies will allow.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The levy along the Pawcatuck river where the Grills Reserve trail runs has become a narrow causeway, with only a foot or two of clearance above the water. Vernal pools are over-flowing and parts of the flooded woods look as though gators and anacondas should be slipping between the tree trunks and drowned thickets. Frogs hopped out of my way. As I strode down the trail each backward swing of my arm struck the little mosquito bodies that followed me in a trailing cloud. I walked as far as the old bridge ruins, but there the river had recently spilled over the trail. I might have been able to pick my way through the puddles and pools and rivulets, but not nearly fast enough to keep the mosquitos at my back.

Monday, July 27, 2009

In 1952 my grandmother, Marian Metz Brown, hosted a reunion for all the descendants of her grandfather, Samuel Metz -- that is, her own family and the offspring of her fourteen aunts and uncles. It became an annual event and when her son, my uncle Fred, took over the farm he inherited the reunion as well. Now my cousin acts as host each year on the last weekend of July. And for nearly sixty years the clans have reconvened on the Brown farm in Airydale, Pennsylvania.

This past Saturday, over 220 relatives and friends gathered at Scott and Emily's farm in Big Valley for the great potluck. More would trickle in from around the valley for the barn dance. When I was a kid the two signposts of the year were Christmas and Reunion. And now it's Porter and Nico's turn -- and Lydia and Eric and Jacob and Lauren -- and Bridget, especially once she gets mobile.

You basically catch them on the fly once or twice to make sure they eat something -- otherwise they're off. (It was sad thing this year that Nico had a stomach flu and slept through most of it.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Around the office we're getting cognitive whiplash. As projects stretch on into the summer, from minute to minute, we're snapping our minds from one issue area to another. Today I had to write about or sift data about or otherwise contemplate the following:

Convincing Alabamians to support licensure of daycare centers;

Inoculating the public against a "lurch to the right" every time there is a terrorist threat with a progressive model of counter-terrorism -- so talking with Americans about torture, detention, profiling and surveillance;

Testing whether the Obama administration is changing people's thinking about government;

Looking for ways to show Ohioans the value of public support of fine arts;

Writing up findings about the best ways for environmental groups to talk about Global Warming;

Getting people to notice economic policy and think about the positive role that the government could play in a well-run economy.

Time for a mental neck brace.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The little red-mulberry tree is a little tattered -- with more than a few branchlets broken and wilting -- and stripped mostly of the berries. I'm sure it was the raccoons. Squirrels are too light to break the branches and what other heavier marauder would claw and clamber around in bent and breaking twigs for a few mouthfuls of mulberries?

Friday, July 10, 2009

I hiked in the woods beyond the back fence -- pushing grasping greenbriar out of the way with my chestnut walking stick.  

I was noticing the ferns and trying to train my eye to distinguish one from the other.  Little white moths rose up around me with each step.  

I fancied myself wizardish -- with my staff, broad brimmed hat and my coterie of half a hundred flickering moths.