LOCAL VIEW –Leafstrippers and Eagles–

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The storm is up in Canada now, and the winds have died down, but the trees were not so pretty at daybreak today.

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Notice the shutter hanging from the neighbor’s house. We got blasted by a leafstripper.  We moved from summer to winter in a roar.

Friday the wind was mild and southerly,  and the storm was brewing up over the Great Lakes, and for a time it seemed the heavier showers on its east side would move south to north to our west, over Vermont, and never progress east. I went to watch a grandson play a high-school soccer game, and a misty rain ended just before it started and then the entire game was played in various sorts of mild fog, ranging from thick and deep purple, as if thunder was coming, to light and colored like honey, as if the sun was about to break out. I was thinking a storm had to be coming, or else I was coming down with something, as my old bones were aching like crazy. It was foolish to stay out in the damp, but the game was well worth watching, especially as my grandson’s team won 2-1, with a heart-stopping shot by the opponents, in the final seconds, that squirted past our goalie and was dribbling towards the open goal before a frantically dashing defense-man  booted it away inches short of the goal line.

After all that excitement I just wanted to warm up by the fire, and sip some beer, and focus on writing, but the beer didn’t sit well in my stomach, which is not a good sign. I was starting to suspect my aching muscles might not merely indicate storm, though the Friday night sky filled with more pink lightning and sky-thunder than we got all summer. “So maybe it is the weather…” I suggested to my suggestible mind, trying to talk myself into being better.

I was incredibly stiff and sore Saturday morning, but it was my turn to cook at the Church’s men’s breakfast, so I dutifully trudged off and likely infected everyone there. I had no appetite, so I can’t have infected myself. Then I dutifully did dishes and dutifully trudged back home with one thing in mind: Going back to bed. However as I trudged up the stairs my wife’s lilting voice cheerfully reminded me, “We have to go to our CPR and First Aid re-certification class in half an hour. Goodness! I see no need for such language!”

Seldom have I been so dutiful and downright noble as I was, going back out into the rain to go to that class. Especially noble were my smiles at people as I entered the classroom. (Hopefully they weren’t too skullish). Then the minutes seemed like hours as I dragged through learning the same old stuff once again. The only amusement I find is noting where they change things. For example, tourniquets are back in style, after being frowned at for a bit. I suppose they figured the risk of choking off blood to an extremity was worth it, if the person didn’t bleed to death. Also teaching people CPR has been somewhat successful. When people collapsed of a heart attack, 98% of them used to die, but now only 85% do. Heart attack remains our leading cause if death.

The idea one should stop chest thrusts, and breath two puffs into the mouth of the victim, during CPR, is fading, as apparently people were getting brain damage from too much oxygen. This was learned from compating the results in cases where good Samaritans out on the the streets did the formal CPR, with cases where good Samaritans only did the chest thrusts because the idea of meeting lips with the patient seemed too yukky.

Instead in today’s classes  you pound the chest of the dummy twice as fast as you were suppose to in the old days. In the old days you were suppose to do it to the timing of “Another one bites the dust” (but never saying the words aloud) but now you are suppose to pound the chest 120 times a minute, pushing down two inches, which can break ribs, but only makes a little clicker click in the dummy, and also makes an old coot like me feel about ready to keel over, after 360 chest-thrusts or so. I wondered if maybe they’d have to practice CPR on a genuine specimen. All I can conclude is, if anyone’s heart ever quits on my watch, they had better revive in five minutes or we are both goners. However if you do the pounding that fast there is no need to breath into the mouth of someone who may have ingested poison,  as the commotion apparently stirs the air in the lungs enough to keep the blood oxygenated, even if no one in the class can pronounce the word “oxygenated”.

I didn’t get out until after 1:30, and by then the rain was cold and starting to drive. I was cold and wet by the time I got to the car, and as we drove home my wife didn’t much want to hear my opinion about bleepity-bleep state officials in nice warm offices, who never have to perform CPR, mandating others risk pneumonia by going out on a rainy Saturday when they ought to be in bed.

When I got home I couldn’t stop shivering, even under a warm blanket in a warm room, and I didn’t need a thermometer to know I’d got a fever spiking, despite gobbled aspirin. All I could do was set my jaw and prepared myself for the ride, which is never fun for me, as fever causes despairing to dominate my brain. Despite the wet weather, crimson leaves were swirling by my bedroom window and sticking to the glass.

In church we’ve been focusing on how those of faith will soar on new pinions like eagles. It seems a sort of Biblical version of the Phoenix, the mythical bird born again from its own ashes, but I was of so little faith I could only think I was getting the burning-up part right, but not the rest. After all, one of these days we will get sick and go down for the count, and when you are shivering and feeling worse and worse, and there is no improvement in sight, you hope for the best, but maybe part of you prepares for the worst. In any case, if I had to compare myself to a bird right then, it likely would not have been to a soaring eagle, but to a dead duck, blasted from the sky by a hunter.

I kept being woken from strange dreams by leaves spatting the window, and was confused it was daylight, and unsure what day it was…still today or already tomorrow? A long list of Saturday chores was being neglected. Out the window read and orange leaves kept blowing sideways, first one way and then the other, which let me understand the storm was growing into a leafstripper, and also brought Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poem “The Last Leaf In the Tree” traipsing through my head. I memorized it long ago, and now it wouldn’t quit:

I saw him once before,
As he passed by the door,
And again
The pavement stones resound,
As he totters o’er the ground
With his cane.

They say that in his prime,
Ere the pruning-knife of Time
Cut him down,
Not a better man was found
By the Crier on his round
Through the town.

But now he walks the streets,
And he looks at all he meets
Sad and wan,
And he shakes his feeble head,
That it seems as if he said,
“They are gone!”

The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest
In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
On the tomb.

My grandmamma has said–
Poor old lady, she is dead
Long ago–
That he had a Roman nose,
And his cheek was like a rose
In the snow;

But now his nose is thin,
And it rests upon his chin
Like a staff,
And a crook is in his back,
And a melancholy crack
In his laugh.

I know it is a sin
For me to sit and grin
At him here;
But the old three-cornered hat,
And the breeches, and all that,
Are so queer!

And if I should live to be
The last leaf upon the tree
In the spring,
Let them smile, as I do now,
At the old forsaken bough
Where I cling.

Pretty sad stuff, and the violins of my self-pity might have nursed a few tears down my cheeks, but if I was going to going to cry about anything it was about my goats needing to be fed. That was one chore I couldn’t skip. But one joy of farming is that you get to go outside when others stay in, so I went out into the bluster and saw a few lava-like cracks in cloud-cover to the west, and also put up with a lot of nagging by seven goats who do not approve of late meals. Then I headed home to some hot soup, which I didn’t much feel like eating, and a granddaughter, who I didn’t much feel like watching (and who may have given me the ‘flu), and a movie about a pig I didn’t much feel like watching either, “Babe”. However as I sat I begrudged that I liked the movie, especially as the hero is an odd, old farmer who, in the end, is victorious, soaring on new pinions like eagles, albeit in a rather low-key and nonchalant way.

I was starting to shiver again and knew it was time for more aspirin and more bed, and so I handed off the sleepy granddaughter and took a dive in my pillow. Next thing I knew it was ten hours later. (I never sleep like that.)

I felt a bit better, so I took a long, hot shower and then tottered off to my duties as an elder at a tiny church, (listening with a certain, less-than-faithful cynicism to the stuff in the sermon about soaring on new pinions like eagles), and then tottered home and again dove into my pillow. I knew I had a long list of Saturday chores to catch up on, but if I am a eagle I am a recuperating eagle. Anyway, Sunday is suppose to be a day of rest. I concluded that actually I was spiritual to loaf, as I listened to the wind roar and the leaves, now drying, hush and scour by the window. I knew I’d have to eventually feed the goats, but drifted through dreams about last leaves on the tree, and people of my generation who are leaves who have already left the tree, and other morbid stuff, until I wondered if my life was passing before my eyes, and also was getting a tad fed up. I should be getting better by now. I should be soaring like an eagle by now.

By the time I finally budged I knew I’d get more nagging from my goats, but before I could leave the house my wife mentioned the stove was on the fritz and the oven didn’t work. Another chore. Then, as I headed to the farm I clicked on the radio, and was annoyed that I had forgotten all about the football game. I must be sick or something, to forget that! And even more aggravating was the fact the Patriots were ahead 14-0 when I turned the radio on, but the tide of the game shifted and it was soon 14-7, and then, as I listened at the farm with the heater on and the engine running, it became 14-10. And if that wasn’t annoying enough, I couldn’t even listen to the game in the privacy of my truck without a bunch of goats looking at me indignantly through the glass and nagging at the top of their lungs, until I replied, “All right all right all right ALL RIGHT”. (Animal Rights Activists please note: I did not use a single bad word.)

As I got out and looked around the farm seemed a shambles. Bags of trash were still in their bags, but the entire bags had been lifted clear across the yard and plopped in odd places.  Plywood was flung about and lawn furniture rearranged, but I just didn’t want to deal with that. Feeding the goats was enough for now. If I just rested a little more  I could surely show up for work early on Monday, and face the mountain of chores. As I drove home the Patriots lead shrank to 14-13.

When I was a boy I was ridiculously superstitious about my power to influence sporting events through my actions. My older brothers could drive me wild by switching the Red Sox  game from the AM station to the FM station, and then holding me back from the radio and forcing me to listen to the Red Sox blow another lead and again lose. (They nearly always lost, back then.) I was convinced the Red Sox would have been a first place team, (they always came in 8th or 9th), were it not for my brothers listening on FM.

I blame the fever, but some sort of echo of that nature returned as I shut off the radio in disgust and shivered. I just felt I must be doing something wrong, when nothing went right. I felt this way even though I know the reasonable and mature outlook is to see we live in a time of immediate gratifications, and if people look at the cards they are dealt, and don’t see a royal flush, they tend feel fate is cruel and God is unkind and to start up their violins, and that behavior is downright infantile. However, though I can think mature thoughts, I confess I still have an immature heart.

In any case I hunched out of my truck and went slogging through a profound gloom, stomping up the the front steps dejectedly, and then took a deep breath and prepared a fake smile. At the door I was met by a laughing daughter with a funny tale, a granddaughter hugging a better tackle than the Patriots were doing, a jealous, wagging dog that wanted equal attention, and the sight and smell of a roast chicken. I asked my wife, “How can you roast a chicken with no oven?” She explained her craftiness as we sat down to eat.

I have heard chicken is very good for sick people. It seems to have worked on me. I went back to bed, (after turning on the radio and learning the Patriots did manage to win,) and again slept like a log. But there no way around facing the music of Monday morning, and the fact that one chore I didn’t do was take down the summer awning at the front of the Childcare. 

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The awning was pivoted completely around on one leg, despite the legs being anchored by pins and bags of stones. One bag of stones was thrown ten feet away. Now that’s some gust!

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It gave me something to do, and an excuse to avoid going indoors and perhaps spreading residual germs to children. I chased down some missing lawn furniture and tidied up, and then the small boys came out and wanted to throw a football around. (Among six year old’s I’m still a star athlete.) I was huffing and puffing pretty quickly, but the fresh air likely did me good. Then the bus came, nine trooped off into it, and I drove a smaller bunch to kindergarten, marveling at how the wind had changed the landscape.

Fully half the leaves are gone in a single blow, but there’s still some left, and I seemed to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty, and even to see there were some views I couldn’t see before, that were revealed, now that there were fewer leaves in the way. As I drove back from the kindergarten one view stopped me in my tracks, and I got out of the van to click a quick picture.

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And then, only because I was out of the van, I saw the big bird powerfully surging along the ridge-line. I was so awed I nearly missed my chance to take a picture.

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It was a bald eagle. Not an old one, with silver hair like mine, but a young one, brown-headed, and strong like no other bird. Their wings are straight out when they soar (Vultures hang from their wings in a “V”) and when they power with their wings they can cut through a gale. I never saw one in New England, until five years ago, and still get a thrill each time I see they are coming back.

Maybe I’m too old to believe in omens, but you have to admit it was a rather nice coincidence to see an eagle, just then.

In any case, I’m back. Did two simple jobs today that gained great kudos. Fixed a plugged toilet at the Childcare, and replaced a fuse that got the oven working at home. I like the jobs that are done in five minutes and gain you acclaim.  But…our world is held together by those who work long and hard unnoticed. They are the true eagles on whose backs the rest of us fly.

 

LOCAL VIEW —signs and omens—

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There are signs and omens all over the place, if you care for such things. I used to care, but have lost interest over the years, largely because I could see little advantage in glimpsing the future. I never got a glimpse clear enough to tell me what stocks to invest in, I suppose. Rather I’d get a vague sense of whether I was in for tough times or easy times, and there was no way to avoid either. Lastly, when tough times did come, they were never as bad as worry made them out to be beforehand, and actually turned out to be the times I brag the most about surviving, when reminiscing. (When I remember the good times it is often with the wistful sense I blew it, in some manner.)

The one time signs are helpful is when you are very discouraged, and in need of an encouraging word. Our fellow man sometimes can be pathetic, when it comes to encouraging us. Even the people trying to be kind will  propose some ridiculous diet or regime of exercise or ask you to contort yourself into yoga poses, when all you really need is a kindly glance. In such situations helpful friends can be downright depressing, and it is then that some sign, some bluebird landing on a nearby branch and singing, can be like a rope to a drowning swimmer.

Of course, if I became dependent on such signs I’d never get going in the morning. I have enough trouble getting started as it is, and if I needed a good omen before I proceeded I’d likely never get out of bed.

There was actually a time when I was young that I did demand life made sense, before I’d proceed, and I wound up very nearly paralyzed. I was deeply involved in the study of psychology, and at the slightest sign my behavior wasn’t adult I’d stop everything and analyse my every twitch. It was a good way to avoid getting a real job, and also acquainted me with the wonders of the subconscious, however in the end I had to get a real job even if life didn’t make sense.

At one point, before I got a real job, I was studying my dreams from every angle I could think of, and had a wonderful revelation. When you study dreams you, in a sense, make every action and every object within the dream be a symbol, and thus a sign. For example, if there is a road in the dream, it may symbolize “being-walked-upon”, (and you might even burst into tears when you have the insight that you feel trodden upon). The problem is that, before you get the first dream figured out, you tend to get tired and go to sleep and have another one. Studying all the symbols can get to be exhausting, and there is definitely no time left to look for a real job.

I had managed to arrange my life, as a young poet, in a way that allowed me to study dreams for days on end. Now I cringe, thinking of all the wasted time, but some good did come out of all the study. For one thing, I don’t waste time so much. I also suppose I understand the subconscious to some degree. However the revelation I wish to describe came after I had an overdose of dream-study, and decided I needed some fresh air, and went for a walk.

Because I’d been spending so much time analyzing objects in dreams, I was in the habit, and found myself analyzing the real objects in the real world as if they were symbols in a dream. I wasn’t trying to do it. In fact I was trying to stop. Yet I couldn’t. There wasn’t a leaf that fell that didn’t have some symbolic meaning. Maybe I didn’t know what the meaning was, but the meaning was there, as loud as thunder. I had wanted life to make sense, but now there was too much meaning, in every twig, in every birdsong, in every face in every passing car. It was a glorious and wonderful revelation, but I felt over my head and wanted it to stop. When it wouldn’t I went and bought a six pack of beer and got ossified, not to get high but rather to come back to earth. Then, when I awoke the next morning with a headache, I wondered why I had run away from the revelation. It was largely gone, though enough lingered to reassure me that life does make sense.

Due to that one event, forty years ago, I don’t scoff at people who gaze at stars, seeking astrological sense, or at teas leaves, or at the lines in palms, or at the entrails of goats. God really is in everything, even in the most dark, deplorable, and dismal situations. That is how the poet Wilford Owen was able to write, from the hideous trenches during World War One, “I too have seen God in mud.”

While I don’t scoff at those who seek to read things, I don’t have the time to follow them. Knowing the future doesn’t matter as much as how you behave when it gets here. The only time I adjust my behavior due to someone seeing the future is when I hear a storm may come, in a weather forecast, (and even then the forecast is often wrong. Also, these days, it is often absurdly sensationalized).

Rather than attempting to figure the Creator out, and know what He is up to, I tend to rest assured He knows what He is doing, even if I don’t particularly like it. This seems to open my eyes to beauty I’d otherwise miss. I don’t particularly like cleaning up after a snowstorm, but that doesn’t mean I can’t lean on my shovel and admire the view.

In this manner I’m able to admire the recent eclipse of the full moon, and the current conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Mars in the morning sky, without getting all worked up and worried about  what it all means. I can watch the leaves change and fall without getting all worked up about the onset of winter, (though I don’t forget to stack the wood).

The glory of what I call “Sugar Autumn” is ending, as we move into the less brilliant but still  beautiful foliage of “Oak Autumn”. In parts of the woods without oaks, it is starting to be “Under-story Autumn,” where the tall maples have lost their leaves, but the young ones beneath are just starting to change.

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It seems that the Creator set up the ecosystem around here in a way that gives the young trees a little time to enjoy the sun free from the shade of their elders. The sapling maples  pop their leaves out a week before the taller ones in the spring, and lose their leaves a week after the taller ones in the fall. I’m sure a scientist can explain the reasons for this happening, but it doesn’t take anything away from the fact it is a wonderful design, and does allow the young time to grow, or at least subsist, until the old decide enough is enough and politely remove themselves from the sky by becoming increasingly rotten and the home of woodpeckers, or perhaps becoming firewood.

That is the sort of thing I contemplate, as I gaze upon Creation, and it seems wiser to me to appreciate beauty in this manner than to become worried, and in a sense to get in a fight with Creation. Too many people spend their entire lives avoiding what may never happen, and isn’t all that bad when it does happen. The reasons people give for the lessening of their lives are many, but it still remain a lessening. Some of the best advice I ever got may be the crudest, “Get over it.” For there are many ways to look at the moon.

And then the moon went on, westward through trees
Now bare of leaves, with a glance back towards me
Inviting. How could I follow? What frees
My feet to walk where the moon walks? What plea
Would it hear? All I could do was stand and yearn.

Once in a dream I walked those pearled highways
But for fool’s reasons felt I should return:
My mundane friends frowned on what disobeys.

Now like a grounded dodo I stand sad
As all wear armor and only in dreams
Does one walk nude in public. This world’s mad
And burdened by leaden get-rich-quick schemes.

But the moon’s not burdened. Midst the mad glow
Of cities it beckons those in its shadow.