Friday, January 30, 2009

Porter and a half dozen of the other fifth grade boys have joined the school jump-rope team, the Pine Point Pouncing Panthers.  3 practices a week, uniforms, a trip to "regionals" in New Hampshire in the spring.  It's athletic, even gymnastic, but this is the first year that boys have taken any interest, and I can see the other parents effortfully trying to not impose any old-school gender-expectations on their boys' new enthusiasm.  As the kids would say - lol.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

As dawn comes I've been waking to the crowing of the neighbor's rooster -- and the slide-whistle song of the goldfinches.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cathie challenged me to write down 25 random facts about myself.  Here they are:

  1. I have always hated cooked green peas.  I think I always will.
  2. I once spent 3 days on the tundra without seeing a single sign of human beings.
  3. On the boys’ birthdays I always buy a newspaper and save it.
  4. My beard comes in red, but not as red as my father’s; and gray, but not as gray as my father’s.
  5. On my first day in Europe an old Turkish man shared his plum brandy with me and let me feel the hump on his back.
  6. Except for a vaccination I have no scars more than a year or two old.
  7. I met Monica at the employee Christmas party for the place where our significant others worked.
  8. In 1995 I could write fieldnotes after 700 ml of vodka.
  9. I’ve never gotten an A in a language class – not German, Russian, or Chinese.
  10. I was robbed at gunpoint in Philadelphia after I’d broken up with my girlfriend at a Bob Dylan concert.
  11. I will go to Paris for the first time in March.
  12. While tending my grandmother’s store in the Poconos I read Nikos Kazantzakis’ 900 page epic poem, The Odyssey, a Modern Sequel.
  13. My first buzz was from home made root beer at the family reunion when I was about 8 years old.
  14. I sneeze whenever I walk into bright sunlight.
  15. I prefer icy mountain lakes to warm Caribbean beaches.
  16. I think consumerism will be the death of us all.
  17. I celebrated my 21st birthday in Munich, my 30th in Almaty and my 40th in Cork.
  18. I wrote an unpublished science fiction novel.
  19. I had my first wisdom tooth pulled out in Tijuana (stone cold sober).
  20. The college application to Penn asked us to write an imaginary interview and I interviewed God.
  21. I hitchhiked from Saginaw, Michigan, et cetera.
  22. When I was a kid I thought that if the universe were infinite then the night sky should be white, because there'd be a star in every direction.
  23. I’ve never been into a strip club or a karaoke bar.
  24. Monica and I had our honeymoon canoeing in Algonquin Provincial Park.
  25. I have drunk warm, fermented mare’s milk from a shepherd’s saddle flask in Kazakhstan.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Reflections on the inauguration . . . 

A great day and a demonstration of just why the US is an object of fascination in so much of the world.  The heady mix of public theater, human idiosyncrasy and raw power; the sheer audacity of this country rapturously giving their highest office to a black man.  The power of institutions that can so casually relegate G. W. Bush to political irrelevancy.  The vast crowd assembled to do nothing but witness and celebrate in frigid cold.

It made me laugh to hear that some of the pundits were disappointed that Obama's speech didn't produce any carve-into-granite catch phrases.   But Obama wasn't polishing his legacy with rhetorical flourishes, he was seizing an audience of tens of millions and he was communicating with them clearly and compellingly.  He was making his case.  I have no doubt that the punditocracy finds this unsettling and threatening.  (Not to over-dramaticize, but they cast themselves in the role of the old clergy who used Latin and other obfuscations to maintain their place as middlemen between the layperson and Truth.)  Obama did his best I think to bypass their summations.

Some progressives were annoyed by the fact that Rick Warren, an anti-gay evangelical preacher, gave the invocation, but I have to say that the juxtaposition between his prayer at the beginning and the Reverend Lowery's benediction at the end was not kind to Warren.  When it came to spiritual charisma, Warren was the nicely packaged bottled water next to the earthy wellspring that was Rev. Lowery.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Saturday night was the cub scout's yearly winter campout at Alton Jones.  

Rich, Alex, Kinter and I were the only ones to take the night hike.  After a day of sledding in the bitter cold the cub scouts and the parents were happy enough to stay in the warmth of the lodge.

But the night was crisp and dark.  Only Alex had a light -- a headlamp on his forehead, but it was plenty for a snowy forest.  Especially since the crust of snow had smoothed all the rocks and hummocks and stumble spots into a gentler topography.  This snow has lain for a week and is crisscrossed with tracks of deer, hare, fox, mink, squirrel and coyote.

We walked out onto the white expanse of Eisenhower Lake.  Upon our cheeks the cold's sharp bite abated.  Cocooned under half a foot of ice the lake still transmits a gentle warmth.

Then the snow began to fall.  Perfect flakes that spiraled down through the beam of the lamp.  And we stood there each infused in quiet peace and pleasure.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Our bellies were full of lamb saag and naan, mouths still tingling from the rogan josh's red Kashmiri chiles.  Monica and I made our way to New London's Unitarian church for music.  Geoff Kaufman sang alone on the stage, a smallish, compact man with a clipped white beard.  He wore olive-colored corduroys with suspenders and a yellow collarless shirt and played guitar to folksongs and shanties.  

Among his songs was a fishermen's chant from Ghana, Ao Yona Eh, that was one of the most perfect pieces of music I've ever heard.  As Monica put it, there is some music that is already in your soul and the singer just reaches in to touch it.

He led into a performance by the phenomenal Moira Smiley and Voco.

Ah, what music!

Moira Smiley, Jess Basta and Aurelia Shrenker (who was filling in for the cellist, laid low by the New England winter) really seized the audience.  Ranging from Appalachia to Ireland to the Balkans to the Caucasus -- they took these musics and loved them and showed them enough respect to seize them and change them and make them their own.  And they mixed their beautiful voices together as if that were the simplest and most natural thing in the world.

Have a taste -- here's a one they shared (sung in this version by the quartet as it is whole):

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Through a crust of snow the branching trails of mice show like varicose veins beneath white, shiny skin.  

For a moment it gave me a chill to imagine that I was walking upon the winter body of one of the frightful Irish fairies.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The morning's clear skies gave way to glowering steel as a storm crept up the coast.  I went with Maggie Jones and some birders out to Avery Point to watch the loons and mergansers.  Brants, compact and elegant, were dabbling for eelgrass.  The stormish light made the cinnamon plumage of the widgeons gleam strangely.

I'd left the boys at the Nature Center with Monica and their friends Jacob and Filip had joined them.  

After the birdwatching I trailed behind them as they made their way back to their house, where Sarka would make us cocoa and tea and we'd all wait for Monica to finish up her shift.  

I don't think they ever stopped chattering away at one another.

At the meadow, the four of them linked arms.  To the tune of the Oz song they chanted, "Follow the white flake road!" and skipped through the snow, laughing at their own cleverness.

Friday, January 9, 2009

This week a storm coated everything in a sheath of ice.

In the morning a breeze scraped the lilac against the house and for a moment I thought an animal was scrabbling heavily up the clapboards.

Rain fell and dripped from the icicles onto the hard and crusted snow. 

Another storm comes tomorrow.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Yesterday, I spent the workday strolling through data -- reading the responses to various arguments we're testing out in an effort to build public support for a ban on nuclear weapons.  I was assembling the pieces that would illustrate our analysis.  If you listen closely you can actually hear the sounds of people's mental gears grinding as they try to think on the subject . . . 

In the evening, I backtracked a full century, and took down from the shelf David Harum, a book of my great-great grandfather's that I'd never read.  It was a best-seller in 1899 and still a thoroughly entertaining portrait of 19th century life and language in central New York state -- pretty much the setting that Bayard Tewksbury (the ancestor whose book I've inherited) would have lived in.  

Sometimes Monica gets oppressed by the burden of books that I carry with me, but they are like roots to me.  The Zane Grey novels from my grandfather's study in Airydale, the pressed plants in my great-grandmother's herbarium, the smoke-stained Dumas and Edgar Rice Borroughs novels from Galilee, the Little Feather books that my father got for his 11th Christmas in 1951.   The books that I discovered as a child on the dark shelves of the shiproom during long summers at Lake Como: Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Dave Fearless, the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, stories of Edgar Allen Poe.  They all connect me to generations of my page-turning, book-devouring ancestors.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Everyone threw on an extra blanket for the night.  In the morning ice had formed on the inside of the bedroom window, despite the fact that I'd gotten up in the night to feed the woodstove.  It's a testament to the architecture of the Cape Cod style that we can even heat this house with wood when the wind chill is ten below.  

The upstairs is cool, the ground floor ranges from cool (for Monica) to comfortable (for me), and the basement is hot -- where the laundry and the snow-gear dries, the cats loll, and the boys play on the Wii in short sleeves.