Thursday, March 27, 2008

Boarded Up

I went to the library today to take out a specific book and ended up with three others after browsing the new non-fiction section. One is about a sixty-three year old woman, an adventurer, who along with her husband decided to walk the 1,600 miles across Mongolia’s Gobi Desert—during the summer. They prepared for the trip by traversing 4,000 miles across the Sahara Desert and a 1,500 trek across Death Valley.

Another book, by a man in his forties, is a tale of his living Odysseus’s odyssey: “traveling the entire length of Odysseus’s two-decade journey. In six months.”

Where is my extreme adventuresome spirit? Am I too passive? The mountains I hike are like molehills. Am I to accept the tag of armchair traveler? I gravitate to the section of the library shelves that are weighed down with escapades of risky behavior. People pit themselves against the elements, distances, absurd heights, and disease.

The Gobi Challenge stretches entrants to their limits, requiring that they run each day with a 10kg pack.

"We carry everything with us - all our sleeping bags, all our own food and everything - all that gets supplied to us is nine litres of water each day, “explains Ken. "So we carry our packs, we run, we have a check point each day that's about 40 kilometres away, and we go and sleep at the local - pitch our own tent, cook our own food, and then start again in the morning.”

Am I like the closed, boarded up window— unable to open up to partaking in these adventures?

I can push the molehill higher,
hike further,
keep reading.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Clay Roofing Tiles

The roofers are putting a new clay tile roof on Wayland Library. Because I knew virtually nothing about this type of roof I did some sleuthing. It seems that clay tile roofing has quite a pedigree going back 10,000 years to China during the Neolithic Age.

The manufacturer warrantees the library's roof for seventy-five years.

Now I'm impressed. How many things are assumed to last that long? There appears to be a downward trend to the life of most manufactured items. We live in a society of planned obsoleteness.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Lace Curtains

We drove down to Brookline today and went for a long walk. At one point I looked up and spotted the flowers and lace curtains in this window and immediately wondered about the occupant of the apartment. Who lived there? How old? Alone? With someone?

It must be a woman. Does she have covers on her furniture? Plastic over her lampshades? It's amazing how my mind builds up a story from such meager clues.

I thought of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore. A lonely unmarried piano teacher, living in 1950s Dublin, mistakenly believes that a local man who has returned from living in America, is interested in marrying her. What ensues from that is a spiritual crisis and a tragedy.

How can one ever know what is behind the lace curtains. It's the inability to ferret out the facts that sets the stage for creative imagining.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Not Quite Ready

Spring is the mud season in New England. When I tried to walk around Great Meadows the mud led into deeper waters and eventually I conceded defeat. When something isn't ready, it can't be pushed or cajoled into movement. There's a time when the only response is one of waiting.

Waiting for the water to go down, waiting to hear from someone, waiting to know results, waiting for your turn, waiting for the phone to ring, waiting to start a conversation, waiting on line...waiting —not quite ready.

Friday, March 21, 2008

New England Flower Show

On my first trip to the New England Flower Show I took over three hundred photos. That was my goal—photographs. I found the experience a bit cramping. Flowers, for me, belong outdoors—of course, there are those indoor plants. But I am most at one with those blooms I happen upon.

There's a hike I take every June when I'm up in Maine—at some point when I'm on the trail I begin to look for a wild iris. I always find the iris in a clearing surrounded by slabs of rock.

And who hasn't thrilled to a field of trillium?

A number of years ago we were hiking in the alpine fields leading to the arduous hike up Mt. Rainier. As far as we could see a kaleidoscope of wildflowers blanketed the area.

And who has not marveled when a humming bird hovers above a flower or watched a butterfly land on a stem or delighted upon finding a patch of crocheted Queen Anne's Lace?

I hold my breath when I pass wild beach roses. Once while walking around Sandy Pond I found a Lady Slipper at the peak of her bloom.

The blue and purple lupines greet me in Maine and welcome me to their landscape. Soon the crocus and the daffodils we planted years ago will tentatively announce spring.

Compared to the delight of flowers found unexpectedly— an indoor display pales.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Disappearing Act

Whenever I see an old building or a structure that looks as if it hovers between total collapse and simple abandonment, I wonder about its past.
This building is still in partial use despite the boarded windows.

The Allen Chair Company was founded in 1906. “At first, they made mission chairs as well as kitchen chairs. When World War I came, they made many wooden cots for the troops.."

But some structures are not easy to trace. Even if you follow the life of the structure its stories often remain lost—buried in the decay, hidden behind a broken window, or shuttered window. I’ve seen abandoned barns, their wood sides splintered and the frame skewed to one side. What happened to the occupants?

I think about people I knew who disappeared from my vision. They exist somewhere, but the string we both held is gone.

What happened to Diane who walked with me to Fort Ticonderoga when we both worked at a summer camp? We hiked six miles each way—bought cokes and Twinkies for lunch—and took pictures at the fort. I think I still have a photo of myself with my head at the end of a canon barrel.

Where is Mona? We spent hours discussing existentialism over small cups of espresso in Greenwich Village. She went to the University of Chicago and studied philosophy—but what then?

And is Karen still a Sufi? She disappeared into an abyss after relinquishing the golden handcuffs of a high paying job.

So where do some people disappear? They exist, but no longer in your sphere.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Strands—sometimes I think that the media , with its sound bites and stories that capture the imagination for a day or two, remind me of these threads—strips of straw.

At first they burst onto the page and then disappear when another story pushes its way to the front. We may never find out what happened— if there’s an ending. The story may beg for a conclusion, may evoke sympathy, anger, curiosity — but it disappears as if written with invisible ink.

I marvel when the evening news shows a film clip of a horse being rescued from a ravine thousands of miles away, yet leaves you wondering about the sixteen families whose homes disappeared into the maw of fire—in a city in your state. That was yesterday's story.

I think sound bites and truncated stories and tales without follow-ups cater to people who never want to read the complete book—give them a digest— a bowdlerized version.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Keeping a Supple Mind

Because I’ve read about keeping your brain supple I’m studying Biblical Hebrew. Actually even before listening to the Channel Two television special about the brain, I began my language pursuit. This isn’t the first time I’ve tackled Hebrew, but this my first time relying on two books, a CD, an Ipod and an answer book for the exercises. I am methodical, go slowly, have flash cards and even review the flash cards while on the treadmill. Avoiding the treadmill I’ve walked on ice covered streets, in driving sleet, and bracing winds. If too many days pass I pick up my book and continue or trudge on afraid that too big a gap will send me plummeting backwards faster that Alice fell down the hole.

Someone asked if I am also learning to write in Hebrew, “No,” I answered. After listening to a long speech about the foolhardiness of that approach, I drove down to Brookline in pursuit of an easy handwriting primer. In the first store I requested a cursive book for adults. The modestly attired salesperson said, “For you?” I answered honestly and was shown a rather adult looking quick guide to knowing and learning the cursive letters. Knowing my need of something a bit more structured and paced for language challenged learners I left without purchasing anything.

It seemed imperative to change tactics before heading into the only remaining store selling Hebrew books. “Do you,” I asked, “have a primer for children to help them learn their cursive letters, something with lots of repetition.”

I don’t know whether the saleswoman saw through my ploy. She selected a colorful looking soft covered comic book sized book, “My children used this book in the early grades and they loved the certificate they earned when they completed the book.”

It didn’t take me long to recognize an appropriate text.

“Would you like some stickers that say Mazel Tov? I rewarded my children whenever they learned three new letters.”

“Not yet,” I said.

Monday, March 03, 2008


Some people stay in one school for years, I taught in an urban school, then in a private school for children with emotional issues, and then in a public school in a small community. Sometimes I taught youngsters with learning disabilities, other times I taught youngsters with behavioral and /or emotional problems. I liked the middle school—those years between twelve and fourteen. My subject—reading and writing. Because I enjoyed teaching poetry I spent some time in mainstream classes—the invited guest to teach a lesson on writing a poem. But I learned the most from my students—

This is the story of Tommy. A breeze, someone’s cough, or the thoughts that lodged in his head—often unwelcome and arriving unannounced distracted him. His family lived in a house that looked as if it harbored hard times. When his mother came to school it was because the school requested she come and even then the invitation had to be extended a number of times. Tommy wore the same gray sweatshirt for three months. “He sleeps in it,” his mother said when the nurse called and asked if it could be washed.

Tommy managed to hang in until March. He was officially in the seventh grade, but over the year the number of mainstream classes he attended dwindled and he spent more and more time in the resource room. The tech ed teacher said that he handled the equipment in a manner that endangered anyone within his arm’s reach. The science teacher said that he faced the back of the room instead of the front.

“I like the chart in the back,” was his response when I asked him why. Art was too unstructured. Music bothered him. And that’s how it went—class after class. Soon we saw Tommy all day.

Most of the other students gave him a wide berth. Why tangle with him when he might hit you or hiss at you.

“You know,” he said during a small group discussion of a book the group had read, “I wish I could break a record. Make it into a record book." We all started to think of how anyone in the group might attain a record. “Perhaps,” I said,” the record can start right here in the resource room.” John decided that he could write one word more times that anyone else. I nixed the word he initially chose and I was named a dictator. Each youngster selected something. Joe said he belched louder than anyone else—which was true, at least in that small group. Tommy said, “I mean something like a sports record.”

We went through the list of sports and nothing suited Tommy. I kept a cache of small items in the closet and I picked up a Guatemalan Hacky Sack Footbag. “Know how to use this?”

I printed up a set of directions and everyone took a turn. At first Tommy only kicked it back and forth three or four times before it hit the floor. He persisted and loved hearing us all count, One, two, three… In a week he kept that hacky-sack going to the count of fifteen. We charted everyone’s accomplishments. By the third week we dubbed Tommy the resource room champion. He earned the time to tackle a new record at the end of each day.

In time Tommy sent that hacky-sack flying from one heel to the other heel in arch like movements. Sometimes he sent the hacky-sack high in the air and twirled around and still got back in enough time to catch it on his heel and send it the other foot.

“I’m going for the school record,” he said. But before he won that record his world fell apart. Tommy spent several weeks in a hospital and never returned to a public school.

He asked for his hacky-sack. "The one I used to set a record."