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.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The boys and I spent the week leading up to July 4 at Lake Como, while Monica returned to Rhode Island to settle into being a camp counselor.  

I telecommuted to work.  (I was dismayed to find that the new Macbook lacks a modem, so a couple of times a day I had to bike down to the ice cream shop in town to use their wifi.  Usually the boys came along and I bought us a meal or a snack.)  It was a cool, wet week -- not socked-in rainy, but every day there were showers interspersed with sun.  Into the 40's at night and the 60's during the day.  Porter tried fishing a little and we took the canoe out.  They read a lot, played games, biked, built and re-built the Heroscape gameboard, and bided their time until their aunts and grandparents arrived on Friday.

During the week, I noticed how Porter has been growing lately -- becoming more self-sufficient -- more self-contained.  Bicycling off around the Lake; helping out with meals; even going off to the Villa Como by himself for a piece of cheesecake and a game of pinball.  When Chris, Cathie, Mom and Dad came up for the weekend, he and I took turns lighting the fireworks that Chris had brought.

I was proud of the way that both of the boys handled themselves in the canoeing upset.  Neither panicked.  When I saw Porter float away from us in the Delaware, I knew that he was a good swimmer and he would be making for the shore.  And afterwards I could tell that he had added to his own stock of self-confidence -- that he was a little surprised and even impressed at how he had mastered his own fear and panic.  And how he hadn't looked for anyone to rescue him.

Monday, July 6, 2009

My father and sister took the green fiberglass canoe; Porter, Nico and I the battered aluminum one.  The plan was to paddle and float 18 miles down the Delaware River from Buckingham access to Calicoon – or failing that, to quit at Hankins after 12 miles.  It was a gorgeous day and the river was high.  It was the day after the 4th of July, but the river was running like it was early May.  A bald eagle flew low up along the river as we unloaded the canoes.  It was a misleadingly happy omen for a trip that was going to end in disaster.

The river wends among steep forested ridges.  Cedar waxwings flitted across from both shores.  Kingbirds and cliff swallows swept in after the flies and gnats.  Kingfishers clattered along in the treetops.  A young black bear casually watched us approach before lumbering off into the goldenrod and knotweed.  More eagles cruised above our heads along the river.  Greenly iridescent tree swallows and their gray, clumsy offspring skimmed the rippling river.  A hanging stream poured over the side of a ridge top and cascaded noisily down the gray cliff faces.

We picnicked upon some riverside rocks, and the boys climbed among the roots of pine trees exposed by erosion.

Normally, canoeing the river in July you have to be careful to avoid the rocks, but on this day we struck right for the roughest water because the current would carry us smoothly over rocks to the rapids beyond.  Porter grew more comfortable in the front, paddling and napping.  Nico watched mergansers and eagles and geese with my old Minolta binoculars.

It was the rapids just up from Hankins that did us in, though.  The deeper, right side of the river showed whitewater that was visible from two hundred yards, but we’d begun to take the river lightly.  The three adults didn’t even fasten on their life vests, a stupidity that could have cost a life or two.  The boys and I were a hundred feet behind Dad and Chris.  I watched as they plunged into one of the great pothole rapids and were completely upended, pitching sideways into the foam.  By the time I could see that there were two of them still clinging, sputtering to their capsized craft, Porter was yelling from the bow to stay to the right, and I had to focus on getting ourselves through the crashing water.  They were ahead, riding the rapids as best they could feet first, each with one hand on the canoe and the other still clutching their paddles.  In a long stretch of rapids, we caught up to them and they grabbed the gunwale of our canoe. 

I tried maneuvering us over to the shoreline, but with Chris and the upended canoe on my left side I couldn’t get any purchase with my stroke.  I yelled at them to let go of the green canoe, because I could feel the strength of the pull it exerted on us.  Chris did, but Dad either wouldn’t or couldn’t let it go.  He’d untangled is foot from where it had been trapped under the seat, but he was sinking in his jeans and heavy boots.  Then the swamped canoe was pulled back into the whitewater with Dad along with it.  As his grip broke on our craft our bow ground upon a large rock and our stern was whipped around into the full current.  

Now going swiftly backwards through the rapids I had lost sight of Dad, but saw the green canoe ahead of us.  Gunwales-first, it struck a rock and broke upon it, folding like cardboard with a tearing, crunching creak.  Our own canoe struck as well and was wrenched broadside.  As the canoe tipped I yelled at the boys, “We’re going into the water!”  I was spilled out into the chest deep water expecting the canoe to pivot and take us all with it, but we’d struck dead center and the current pinned it fast – pressing me against it as well.  Nico yelled, “The food bag!” as it was taken away.  Porter clung for a moment, but was swept under the submerged bow.  He bobbed up below in the rapids.   (He told me later, “I felt panic for a second.  But then I thought I’d better not.”) Then Nico was clinging to the uppermost gunwale and looking at me questioningly.  I told him to hang on tight.  Porter had a lifejacket, looked unharmed and could take care of himself.  I could see Dad making his way to shore in the large eddy that formed beyond these last rocks.  Chris had made it to shore upstream.

I told Nico to work his way over to me.  I thought that if I moved the canoe would shift.   He did, but stopped to say his leg was tangled with the stuff still tied in the struts.  And I had time to feel fear for the first time amid the chaos.  I told him to take his time and get untangled and he calmly did.  The canoe buckled, but the keel held creaking against the torrent.  My lifejacket for some reason was still there at hand and I buckled it on.  Dad and Porter both made it to shore.  Porter had even rescued the food bag.  Chris worked her way down to us.  There was only a 15-foot channel between us and the shore, but too much of the current shot through it.  

Despite having lost her shoes, Chris bravely launched across and got to the eddy that the stranded canoes were forming alongside our boulder.  She strapped on the last two flotation devices and Nico worked his way back along to her.  Finally he began to cry.  The two of them let the current take them away, bobbing like corks. (He said later to Chris, “You know I didn’t cry because I was sad.  I was crying from terror.”) 

Another pair of canoeist rode the rapids, choosing the shallower left side, but were swamped as well.  Laughing in relief, the two men swam off after their capsized canoe out in the calmer currents below.

When I moved, I found that I needn’t have worried about the canoe pivoting off the rock.  It was pinned in place by thousands of pounds of force.  I heaved at it as best I could, but failed to budge it.  Kayakers and canoeists from Hankin’s campground had taken notice and come up the shore to help out.  3 men actually launched themselves through the channel to help me shift the craft off the rock.  One was nearly swept away, but I managed to catch his arm and pull him in.  It took the four of us about ten minutes of struggle to get it free. 

We finally walked the canoes down to where the others were waiting.  Nico was shivering. Dad was standing feeling nearly drowned and deathly serious.  Porter was shirtless and hatless and apparently unfazed, though he said he wasn’t going to do any more river canoeing.  The green canoe was torn stem to stern.  The metal canoe was buckled but useable. Both Nico and I laughed to find our hats still on our heads after all that. 

Later, when we’d made our ways back to the cottage, Nico took stock.  “I was the only one who didn’t lose anything.  Porter lost his gloves, Chris lost her shoes, Grandpa lost his glasses, Daddy lost his binoculars.  But I did get one thing,” he added.  “Hypothermia.”