Melvyn wondered about living at a different time when things weren’t as hectic, but he didn’t want to go back to postmodern times and certainly not back to ancient times. He was concerned about hygiene and therefore avoided thinking of any time in history that preceded modern vaccinations. And since he rode his bicycle through the woods he decided against any time prior to the series of post exposure prophylaxis rabies vaccine to prevent the onset of rabies. He had even thought of getting immunized against rabies. He had read accounts of people who died horrific deaths after an encounter with a diseased animal.
He had visited a colonial village and observed the utensils and plates that were used for dining and decide that without a dishwasher the germs would disturb his intestines. He always carried some hand sanitizer with him and washed his dishes with an antibacterial soap if he was on the road.
By this process of eliminating whole eras and centuries he decided that it would need to be sometime after then 1950s. He also didn’t want a time prior to some computer use. After some serious research at the Boston Public library and online he decided that the year would be 1977 and 1978. He’d be the same age, twenty-nine, in 1977.
To him the choice became obvious: Annie Hall won as the Academy award for Best Picture. He had seen reruns of the movie and felt that he understood the characters. President Carter pardoned the draft evaders. Melvyn was against any conscription and knew that he couldn’t survive in the army. Roots
was one of the popular books that year. He hadn’t read the book, seen the reruns of the television series and believed that the roots one carried went deep into the soil. You couldn’t eliminate your roots, even digging them up didn’t prevent some small strands from taking hold. The final reason for the years 1977-78 was a small black three ring Bookum & Pease Co. Standard loose-leaf Melvyn discovered in his father’s study. The paper was closely lined which didn’t seem to bother the writer whose script was compact and small. All the entries were written with an ink pen and probably a pen with a bladder and not a cartridge. When he asked his father if the book was his— the respose was, “I’ve never written that small or wrote down such drivel. It belonged to your mother. She was forever taking notes from magazines, from books, anything that had words. You’re like her in that way. The oddest things catch your attention.”
When his father said that, Melvyn remembered what he loved about 1978—. Sidney Conn and his wife, Eleanor, made the First successful balloon flight over the North Pole in a hot-air balloon called the Joy of Sound. Melvyn read whatever he could about the poles He felt that his bicycle trekking was done in the same vein of adventure, although far less costly and risky.
Once having selected the year Melvyn set out to investigate 1977. Once he had done that he’d try and find some appropriate clothes. He knew that the 70s were the hippie years and for that group anything went as far as styles. He didn’t anticipate any difficulty finding an outfit. He might even go as far as tie-dyeing an undershirt.
He started with the black book because it also made him feel closer to his mother who he didn’t see too often since she lived on the outskirts of a small town inUtah, but she was within a twenty-minute ride to Capital Reef National Park. He wondered of he needed to call and ask her permission to read the book, but since it didn’t look like a journal he decided to wait and see if there were any personal comments. He thought about purchasing the same small three-ring looseleaf.
When he looked up Bookum & Pease Co he discovered that Esselte Pendaflex purchased Boorum & Pease Company in1985.
Dated: August 28th, 1977 New York Times
A note to borrow a book: The Sun Also Rises on Rare Books
by William Dunn. He knew that his mother loved going to used bookstores and burrowing around in the cartons of books as well as on the shelves. She carried a list of books with her. At one time she was collecting someone’s list of the Greatest Mysteries—many of which were no longer in print. He didn’t know what she thought about rare books, but she had written a note:’rare books are also an investment.’
Gretchen, his mother’s given name was not the name she preferred.
Anyone who knew her called her Gus, which according to his mother, means vigorous in Gaelic.
August 28th ,1977 Sunday Boston Globe
Gus either copied or wrote a synopsis of an article about Paul MacReady who designed a manpowered seventy-seven pound pedal-pushed plane built out of aluminum tubing, plastic foam, piano wire, bicycle parts, and mylar foil for covering. Bryan Allen, a bicyclist, pedaled and flew over a one-mile figure-eight course. The designer was waiting to hear if he had won a $80, 000 prize for this feat. Melvyn wondered if he was sufficiently strong to pedal that plane. What had interested his mother? She had bought him his first two-wheeler with training wheels when he was three.
From the same issue of the newspaper a note titled: "As the Dodo Goes, So Goes the Calvaria."
"The Calvaria is a tropical tree, native only to Mauritius that is “teetering right on the brink, following the dodo into extinction. It’s not as if the dodo disappeared in 1976 It’s been gone since 1681. Why the fuss now. “The Calvaria trees were utterly dependent upon the dodo to help its seeds germinate. There haven’t been any new Calvaria trees in 300 years.”
It seems that the fruit has one seed, which is encased in a pit or stone with hard walls that are sometimes half an inch thick. The dodo bird ate the seeds.” In the dodos stone-filled guzzard a tree seed was severely mauled by the stones, enough so that when it was finally excreted days later, the shell had been weakened considerably.”
A scientist force-fed the calvaria pits to some turkeys to see if they could do the work of the dodo birds. Of seventeen pits ingested seven were crushed sufficiently. They were planted and three germinated. When Melvyn looked up the tree to check on its progress it seems to have recovered thanks to the turkey.
Melvyn never knew his mother to be one of those fighting environmentalists or someone who would sit in a tree for months to prevent it being cut down. Was it the quirkiness of the story? He also collected quirky odds and ends, but most people saw little value in his bits of arcane information.
Melvyn found out that Beatrice Potter kept her diary in code. He once created a code, but couldn’t find anyone willing to use his code— which did require a learning curve. His mother had bought him a book of Potter’s natural history studies. She thought that he could create small books of reflections and nature drawings all drawn from his cycling excursions.
The same issue included a note about the replacement of 11,300 California migrant workers being replaced by tomato sorters. Melvyn rode his bike to Verrill farm in Concord where he purchased tomatoes during the growing season. Each variety in its own labeled wood box. All the varieties were described on a printout hanging off the tomato display. Melvyn methodically went through the list trying each variety and checking off his favorites. How else could he know what he really liked?
He thought about the electronic tomato sorters and how progress always has a flip side—loss. Hadn’t the mechanization of picking wine grapes eliminated most harvest workers except then machine operators. Of course not every farm could afford to be mechanized.
Why did his mother note that Barbara, the four ton elephant, who escaped from a circus tried to hide in a cornfield? She was easily caught. Did the people of Wisconsin still speak of Barbara or had she been forgotten?
He had once volunteered to bring a hamster home for Christmas vacation. One day he let the hamster out and after a day of not finding him anywhere he told his mother.
“Why did you let him out?”
“I wanted him to have a vacation.”
The hamster was finally found behind a broom—hiding just the way Barbara hid. Melvyn wondered of he hid out on backroads.
September 18th 1977 Boston Globe
Melvyn always wondered about the Gideon Bibles
you found in hotel rooms. His mother noted that the first Bible was placed in a Montana hostelry in 1908 and in 1976 they placed 16.5 million Bibles in hotels, inns, hostels. Melvyn carried around several Bible apps on his Itouch. One gave him a quote each day and a place for him to write his notes after reading the verse. Recently they had listed a number of Psalms. He also bought an app that helped him read through the Bible. He wasn’t sure of what he believed, but felt that he was on a path. Sometimes when he rode he recited Psalms. He recited the 121st Psalm while pedaling.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
When he told his father that, his father suggested that he might be interested in going to Harvard to study theology.
His mother noted that in 1953 the search for old-fashioned apple varieties began in earnest. The list was completed in 1968. Melvyn often cycled out to the apple growing towns, stopped at an orchard and bought a small bag of apples. He loved the bins of small apples for tasting. If he didn’t have much room on his bike he stopped for the tasting and then offered to pay for the apples eaten. He had only tasted one of the apple varieties listed, but added some of the varieties to a list he kept of experiences he wants to have before he turns thirty.
October 16th. 1977 New York Times
The Tellico Dam, twenty miles west of Knoxville, Tenn. Has to halt construction. A court of appeals said to stop because of a three—inch fish called a Snail Darter. The tiny fish feeds on snails at the bottom of the Tennessee River. It appears that the Snail darter doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world and continuing the project would mean destroying the Snail Darter’s habitat.
Melvyn followed up on the Snail Darter case, which eventually reached the Supreme Court, and they refused to overturn the decision because of the Endangered Species Legislation. In time the Tellico dam was given an exemption because the construction began before the Act passed.
“Before the closure of the gates of Tellico Dam, numerous snail darters were transplanted into the Hiwassee River in Tennessee. The snail darter was taken off the endangered species list in the 1980s.”
Melvyn felt closer to his mother than he had in a long time. He, too, was concerned about what happened to native habitats. In Massachusetts, he wrote in his notebook, we’re losing our pollinators.
December 4th 1977
“A female pigeon named Pidge, who thinks she is a male duck, has been placed in solitary confinement for interfering with the amorous overtures of the ducks at the zoology Department of the university of Western Ontario.”
Melvyn didn’t think he was gay, but he really didn’t think about amorous relationships. His friends rode bicycles, hiked, camped out, and didn’t want jobs that tied them down. He didn’t pay his father any rent for the time he spent in Boston. Whatever money he needed he earned by doing part time jobs. One was tutoring math. His name was listed with several tutoring agencies and the evaluations he received were always excellent so the agencies called him even after he turned them down several times explaining that he didn’t need any work at the moment. He also wasn’t above taking a short-term job that required hard physical work. Because his father didn’t charge him for meals either his needs were scant.
At least once a month his father, a successful executive in a Fortune 500 company, asked, “Have you discovered what you want to do when you’re too old to pedal and camp out?”
“I’m not sure.”
The answer was always the same.
The list of books Gus wrote down was transcribed to Melvyn’s notebook. He added a quotation he recently found; “Every book has a birth certificate.”—Azar Nafisi
February 26th 1978
"You can buy a hippo steak weighing thirty pounds for $180.00. Ground reindeer is $2.75 and Llama steak is $4.25 a pound. "These were on sale at a grocery store in Illinois.
Melvyn’s taste is less exotic and he’s pondering forgoing all red meat.
March 12th 1978
His mother coped down a piece about an evangelist who kept his mother frozen since she died the previous month. He was going to try and resurrect her at a service in Reeds Spring, MO. Missouri’s director of the Bureau of Vital Statistic was told to issue a Missouri permit to allow the service. He said ,”It’s the greatest thing that’s happened to Reeds Spring since the battle of Wilson’s Creek.”
Three pastors were to be involved in praying for his mother; however, the public was barred from observing that part of the service. If those prayers didn’t work they were flying in an evangelist from Indonesia, S.A. Makal, who had visions of his mother being raised from the dead.
There was no follow up article.
What made Gus select certain articles? Melvyn never gave too much thought to resurrection and didn’t know whether he believed Jesus was literally resurrected or not. Maybe he told his friend Donald, “It’s all a drawn out metaphor.’ “But,” said Donald, “suppose it’s true.
Donald and Melvyn both tutored, both rode bikes and both pondered over the existential questions. Donald wanted to believe, but couldn’t quite get over the hump of needing surety.
July 16th 1978
About a fifth of the way through his mother’s notes he found this entry.
She was quoting form Bruce Chatwin’s book In Patagonia
Mr Chatwin has just met another ornithologist, “…a severe young man who was studying the migration of the Jackass Penguin. We talked late into the night, arguing whether or not we, too, have journey’s mapped out in our central nervous system. It seemed the only way to account for our insane restlessness.”
The quotation was like a message that his mother left for him— as if she knew he’d pick up this notebook someday.