Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Looking Back -- A LONG way back

This is the school house in which I  spent 12 years learning my ABCs.  The photo shows about 2/3s of the original building and off to the right is the attached gynmasium that was added when I was in the 6th grade. The place is  Versailles, Indiana, a very small town with four buildings of note.  One is on the square in the middle of town -- a limestone courthouse. Versailles is the county seat of Ripley County-- one of those dignified towns that build a courthouse to impress (although by any other standards it would be a small courthouse) set it on a grassy, well tree-ed square in the middle of town with the majority of the businesses around the square.

The other three buildings of note are at the west side on the same street with the school at the end of the street. The others are a very modest library and a Methodist church. All three are faced with white ceramic brick. All three exist because of a donation by the town's one self-made millionaire whose last name was Tyson. He was a founding partner of the Wallgren Drug Store chain.  He's been gone a long time.  (Personally, I'm very happen he had nothing to do with chickens.)

As a matter of fact, I've been gone a long time too.  But I am on my way back tomorrow for a 6oth high school class reunion.  There is a new school on the south side of town, and this building is now an assisted living facility.  My class was the largest ever to graduate from this school, all 56 of us -- and that was a great jump in numbers from previous years because a one-room school in the wide-space-in-the-road town, Elrod, was closed and the students sent to Versailles.  In the 5th grade our class swelled by a ten (if I remember correctly). Five-yaer reunions have been held for, I think, the past three decades. I've attended some of them. I was last here for the 50th  reunion. 

Of course there are not many of us left, if I count correctly, 16.  I think ten will be at the reunion. We are aware this is a fragile time and fewer, probably, will be around in five years. So we will go to the  general reunion dinner on Saturday night with other classes celebrating 5-year annivesaries, but we will gather for dinner Friday night and for  brunch Sunday morning - to accommodate those who can do only two days. I think most of the survivors are relatively nearby but one woman lives near Houston and one man, the last I heard, lives most of the year in Arizona, another in Pennsyvania and here I am on Cape Cod.

I was talking with my poetry class yesterday and mentioned the trip.  I do not talk about my age much although everyone knows we are all retirees.  I flatter myself thinking people don't know how much over 70 I am, so when asked "which year?" I had a vanity-moment --but not a long one.  I admitted it is the 60th and did not have to look hard to see that the math was obvious.  Well, I started this blog with it's name to make myself accept the aging process. This weekend is certainly going to be an experience about all the years gone by.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Always Changing

The "shell tree" at the end of the spit of land that is Long Beach where I walk has changed with the years. When I moved to Cape Cod eight years ago, this tree was alive. It had green leaves, it stood up about three feet on a dune back from the edge of the water. There were other trees.  Over these years the sand has been pulled back into the sea, probably distributed elsewhere. The tree died and people began to put broken welk shells  on the branches (myself among them). 

Many limbs have disappeared -- I did not realize how very many when I visited the tree this morning --the first time since last summer I've walked the mile out to the very end of Long Beach to visit the tree.  The upper photo is one I took this morning, it looks very sparse. I'm sure more shells will be added to it as summer progresses, many fall off in winter's storms. But the limbs are fewer, less twiggy.

The lower photo was last summer. the shells are dense and the sand wears a necklace of horseshoe crab shells (molted ones).  I'm glad the tree is still there. Actually two years ago the sand was much lower exposing roots. But it's being piled up more, now, around the trunk.  The roots are not gathering water and nutrition but they are holding the tree in place against the storms.

This last picture is from six or seven years ago, near the shell tree while there were still several shrubby trees at the end of Long Beach.  The tree with the scraps of cloth on it had died during the winter, but one behind it had sprouted new leaves. Neither are there any more. The scraps of cloth are scraps of a set of Tibetan prayer flags from a set of a few dozen I bought in Lhasa. I had put them on a cairn that was annually built at the very end of the beach. They blew away and utterly disappeared in the autumn. When I went back in the spring, the wind had returned them to the end of the beach, tangled, what seemed to me inextricably among the twigs of the dead bush.

I consider the shells, on the dead tree, the horseshoe crab shells arranged on the sand and the wind's caprices with my prayer flags, all a part of the natural wonder I witness year after year in this tiny bit of  Cape Cod that feels "mine" even though it is public property. 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Atanarjurat, The Fast Runner

This amazing movie was made in 2002; I saw it way back then and saw it again yesterday.  Made in a Inuit village (area) in Canada with an entirely Inuit cast and mostly crew; this almost-three-hour movie tells an ancient legend updated to modern time (such as they are in that Arctic area where people live as they've lived hundreds or thousands of years. 

It is a story of three bad (selfish, murderous) members of the group, and how everyone survives (except the murdered man) and how they are finally expelled so the others can live as before.  The women are as strong as the men although the society is divided between the men who hunt and the women who prepare food and the skins of animals for clothing. At the base of the story is the ancient story of two brothers and one woman.  In the midst of the tale is the utterly unforgettable scene everyone who sees this movie finds unforgettable. 

When the evil ones ambush two men sleeping in a summer tent, one is murdered and the other, Atanarjurat (the fast runner of the title) flees, naked across the ice and the melted snow puddles with the three in pursuit. He manages to outrun them, collapses eventually and is saved by a small family  who are gathering bird eggs. He stays with them (his feet are badly cut up) for a season it seems and then returns to right the situation.

Much about this movie is ethnographic, we see an igloo being built, we hear songs and see a native dance with various people taking part while the group sings to the rhythm of a single drum. The showing of the film to a small group who take the usual documentary film class was the suggestion of a member of the group who has had a particular interest in the Inuit, knows their history and collected carvings and prints made by the group in Cape Dorset in the Canadian province now called Nunavut (I think that's the spelling).  The CD was available through the Massachusetts library system and I assume it is available to those who might want to watch it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Ah, Spring!

I looked up yesterday an there they were: Mama, Papa and the fuzzy septuplets.  The day before I saw five adults on the lawn, today not a single goose. But yesterday's visitation was delightful. When they decided to leave they lined up neatly, Mama (maybe it was Papa) in front, the family all in a row and Papa (or maybe Mama) bringing up the rear. They are totally unfazed by cars, they cross the relatively busy street with total confidence and, so far, they have been unharmed.  Just beyond the commercial buildings across the road is a kettle pond (of which there are many, many, many on Cape Cod). I believe the nest is somewhere over there.  Probably the population on the yard will be much enlarged in a few weeks.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Land's End - Race Point Lighthouse

Race Point Lighthouse is at the very end of Cape Cod, arguably the easternmost point of land in the US (I'm told down Mainer's have their own land's end candidate). It is a prototypical lighthouse as can be see.  I'm told it was becoming seriously derelict about 20 years ago when concerned and historically minded locals formed a voluteer organization to restore the lighthouse, its keepers' house and the "whistle" house (from which the warning siren is sounded when need be.) All three structures are in what seems to be good condition. The light house has recently been equipped with an automated LED light so no one needs to light lanterns.

A friend who is a member of the organization mentioned an open house so I and a couple of friends went yesterday; it's a half-hour drive. We, and other visitors parked in a Coast Guard lot and were driven the two miles of bumpy, one-lane sand tracks in appropriately equipped vans. I had never been out there before and enjoyed seeing the expanses of rolling dunes, the sea whipped to frothiness by a strong wind and exploring the houses. Rooms in the houses maybe rented by the night (the price is reasonable, accommodations spartan which seems appropriate to the historic site). The same friend suggested it might be a nice spot for an overnight mini-writing retreat (she is in our informal writing group).  Indeed I thought that seems a good idea. I don't know if we will be able to arrange it.
The house actually has four (crowded) bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and bath. Doesn't it look like a Hopper painting?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Beautiful Biography

I just saw, for the third time, I think, the magnificently done film called Thirty Two Short Films about Glen Gould.
Gould was a brilliant  pianist, especially an interperter of Bach. He was a Canadian whose mother wanted him to be a musical genius and got her wish.  He was highly eccentric and gave up public performing in mid-career and recorded and composed thereafter. He died, sadly at age 50 of a stroke (he had been taking far too many drugs, some for high blood pressure but many more than needed. No responsible MD should have allowed a patient to have the collection of medicines he had.

This film is, as the title suggests, in 32 short segments.  Nearly all of them are brilliantly paced, filmed, lighted, edited.  Of course there is a great deal of music, mostly Bach but not exclusively.  He is seen dancing in an ecstatic trance to a Beethovan set of variations.

I was lucky enough to see Gould perform during the final few years of his public performances.  He was famous by then for his eccentricities and I remember a rickety old chair carried on stage for him to use - a leg held together with duct tape, the seat putting him several inches lower than pianists usually chose to perform but that's what he preferred at that time.

As the small group who saw it were talking about the film and Gould, I realized that throughout the film, it was clear he lived in his own world, was entirely narcissistic (had no idea what others were thinking or feeling or needing), but at no time was there a hint of pettiness, meanness, unkindness in him.  (Unless you count the middle-of-the night phone calls when he juat wanted to talk  -- not a conversation but to talk. But the friends and relatives he called all seem accept that quirkiness with a smile and a sense of indulgence.) The world could use more geniuses of his sort.  (A portion of his recording of Bach's music was included in  the cache of items sent to the farthest edge of the galaxy (perhaps it's not there yet)  on Voyager I and II to tell aliens that there is intelligent life on Earth.)

Monday, April 18, 2016

We're Driving Whales Crazy

I've seen two documentaries about whales  lately and I ache for those huge, brilliant, social and kind creatures, especially those in the northern hemisphere. Whales do not have visible ears, but they DO have ears, in fact sound is how they communicate, socialize, hunt and find one another.  Water conducts sound distances that are staggering-- literally thousands of miles. Whales "sing" as has been known for some times, they send clicks and rumbles and a variety of sounds to one another - and sometimes to  people who are researching them. They are now being tortured far worse than the very unfortunate prisoners in Abu Ghrab who were subjected to loud rock music day in and day out.

In the sea all kinds of noise goes on day and night: oil exploration uses underwater blasts, the world's various navies use sonar to locate one another, there are literally thousands of cargo ships at any one time carrying goods mostly from Asia to the US (and other consumers, there are navy ships and ocean liners and all kinds of cruiise ships. REsearches discovered in Madagascar, near where oil exploration was taking place, that many whales swam up fresh water rivers and beached themselves, apparently to get away from the noise. Autopsies showed hemorhages in the aulitory part of their brains.

Most whale hunting has ceased bu the Japanese still hunt with huge whale processing factory ships.  It seems the containership builders are realizing that certain adjustments in their  propellers and their engines can make them much quieter and use much less fuel thus being less expensive to operate and pollutting less... they know this but, say the experts, it will take "a generation" for such improvements to happen. That will be a long time. There are quieter ways to explore and drill for oil but that will take a long time to change. Meanwhile we are torturing the whales. This fact alone bothers me terribly. I cherish quiet: I feel invaded when a motorcycle (or a gang fo cyclists) roars through, when a car goes by windows open, radio blasting, when fire, police, ambulances put on their sirens to go through the intersection very near to me.  I see that we have a generation who are now walking about with "buds" in their ears, constant sound -- sound of their choice, I assume. It's a different subject altogether, but what are they doing to their brains?