Sunday, July 22, 2012

Tall Tree Leans

Tall tree leans downhill
towards the water
the other trees which crowded him out
denied him the sun
are all gone
long since fallen away
but he leans still
too late
the leaves & branches will grow
on the upper side
but the tree will never straighten up
he's grown too long in the shade
of the others
too long at this angle
too long searching for the sun
to feel it on his face
now that he can
(JC 7/22/12)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

But Am I Thankful?

It is Thanksgiving week and I am a bit out of sorts.  I find myself wondering if I am really thankful or if I am just sort of going through the motions. I have heard you should "fake it until you make it" and I wonder if I am faking it more than making it. But I continue. I go through the week reminding myself to be thankful and posting little snippets on my Facebook wall of the things I am thankful for each day.  Family, friends, food, clothing, home, job....all my basic blessings go on the list.  And, everything is going quite well; everything is okay. But still something is not quite right. It is all okay but not great.  The food is good. There is lots of food to eat...turkey, stuffing, potatoes, rolls.....the same as every other year. The kids visit and I enjoy their company. Everything is fine and I'm relatively happy.  I am thankful I tell myself but somehow I am not quite with it....not quite where I should be. Again, I think that maybe today is no different from any other day.

As evening comes, the house is quiet. The kids are long gone home and I am mostly resting alone with my husband and my thoughts. I step outside on the back deck for a breath of fresh air. The air is cool but not uncomfortable so I stay for a bit. It is quiet as dusk comes. There are a few birds flitting back and forth to the feeders getting one last seed or two. The wind has died down and a few last leaves flutter to the ground.  Somewhere a flock of geese flies and I still my breath so that I can hear their soft muffled honking way off in the distance. Even though there is still a little too much light for good star gazing, I see that a few stars do twinkle in the sky above. The evening star shines brightly - always there - always available for a wish or two. "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight; I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight". The rhyme from my childhood comes easily to mind and I gaze at the star and send up one small forelorn wish to the heavens. No, it is more of a prayer than a wish. Even as I say the prayer, in my mind I realize that the prayer already being answered. The solitude of the night surrounds me as the last of the weak late autumn sunlight dims in the western sky. Then all of the earth goes still and quiet around me. I stand there another moment and it is just a moment, one short breath of time, I am apart from the earth and all things around me. I am silent and alone in my thoughts. The lights in the houses across the way shine across the night and I am reminded that my neighbors are safely inside for the night and going about their lives unaware that I am here alone watching at dusk.

Then I step back inside and into the light of the kitchen. My husband hears me and calls out from downstairs to remind me that the game is coming on soon and he wonders if I might fix up a couple turkey sandwiches and maybe heat up some of that green bean casserole that is leftover. I smile as I spead the mayonnaise on the bread and tear a bit of lettuce to add to the turkey. A little cranberry sauce might be good too. I find myself humming and I get this cold supper together. "Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice. Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, let the people rejoice...". I realize that I am back. Back from my reverie. Back in the right frame of mind. Then I correct myself. Not "mind". I am back in the right frame of heart.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Middle Creek WMA - Trip Notes

     Yesterday (November 8) we left Hawk Mountain and meandered southeast through Pennsylvania.  It was a lovely sunny day and we were looking for good birding spots.  We had not had much luck at Hawk Mountain although the Bed & Breakfast (B&B) where we stayed had a nice feeder that attracted the usual backyard birds.....chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, and cardinals.  But we love the more common yardbirds too and delighted in seeing them flit back and forth gathering seeds from the feeder.  Last night, we had picked up a sandwich at Wannamaker's General Store and brought it back to the B&B for dinner.  Our room was relatively small and there wasn't much on television (all six channels) and, of course, we were in a cellphone and internet dead zone, so we went down to the "common room" to eat. 

Another guest was there having a couple of Yuenglings (free on tap at the B&B) and we struck up a conversation and had a good little visit.  She was a professor of music at a university in Washington state.  And she too was a birder. She had been on the mountain too and, like us, was a little disappointed that there were so few hawk or eagle sightings. But she was absolutely loving the birds at the feeder. She remarked that the yardbirds here on the east coast were so much more colorful and interesting.  Although I think she may have exaggerated just a little when she said that they only had gulls on the west coast, I did understand her point.  When we visited Arizona last year, we were totally enthralled with the western bluebird and the cactus wrens and the western and pinyon jays and the gila and acorn woodpeckers.  The birds that were common there were new to us and so we found them to be very interesting. So our new birding friend, Donna, was completely enjoying every little chickadee while she regaled us with whale tales and gull stories from the Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.

We meet Donna again at breakfast - again a hearty one and got directions to Lake Ontelaunee from Jim, the innkeeper.  Donna was headed to Lancaster to see if she could see an Amish wedding. She had heard that there were lots of weddings in November since the Amish waited until after harvest for such social events.  Jim warned that there might not be much action at the Lake since he had heard the state was working on the road over the dam.  And he was right. We hit our first traffic jam of the trip right there at Lake Ontelaunee on the dam.  The lake was nice and there was a good flock of Canada geese near the dam but not many other birds.  I am not surprised since the noise from the roadwork might have discouraged any migrating birds from stopping there.  Jerry did spot a small stubby tailed duck near the geese that might have been a ruddy duck or a grebe but the little guy disappeared into the flock of geese before we could get a good scope on him.  So we were soon back on our way south looking for the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA). 

We plugged the address for Middle Creek into the GPS and found ourselves taking the long way which is usually the scenic route so that suited us just fine. We meandered through towns small and medium sized and just when we were convinced we were pretty much lost, there was the road leading out through the fields to the visitor center.  There are several impoundment ponds along the road and it was there that we found the first birds of note in any numbers although there weren't really too many.  There were Canada geese (of course), American black ducks, mallards, egrets, some grebes, cormorants, crows, and in the distance on one of the ponds, a great bearded heron.  We also spotted a northern shoveler and that was a treat.  We stopped in at the visitor center for a restroom break and to get some information. We were lucky on our first quest - this sanctuary had running water and so we did not have to use the composting toilets like the ones at Hawk Mountain.  Now I am all for composting toilets and saving water and all those good things but I am also in favor of plain ole white porcelain toilets with running water.  But I have to applaud the concept of building what amounts to outdoor toilets on the inside at the visitor center at Hawk Mountain...and it beats the heck out of the outdoor stinky porta-potties everywhere else.

Now where was I? Oh yeah. We did not have any luck getting information at the desk at Middle Creek. Oh, there was a ranger there but he was busy chatting with a couple about hunting and whatever else and, although we stood there politely for some minutes, the ranger and the couple pretty much ignored us.  So we grabbed a trail map and left.  I figured it wasn't worth getting crazy about or interrupting their conversation and it was so much nicer outside walking around that waiting in the center for the ranger to get back to his job and stop bs'ing with his buddies.  Which brings up another point while I am grousing. 

Why is it that sanctuaries and refuges cater so much to hunters? I do understand the part that hunters play in helping to thin the deer herds although a few good wolves could do that too.  And I understand that hunters help support the refuges and sanctuaries by buying deer and duck stamps but it seems that every fall when the migrating birds return to the area and it is the best time for birding, the refuges become the domain for hunters and hunters only.  The trails are roped off and the roads blocked to facilitate hunters and keep birders and walkers and hikers out. Yes, I know it is best that walkers and hikers stay off the trails when there are people with guns, some of whom are willing to shoot at anything that moves. But wouldn't it be nice if there were limited days during hunting season that were set aside for walkers and hikers?  I wouldn't mind having a bit longer hunting season if some days were set aside strictly for birders...say, hunters could hunt on Friday and Saturday but Sundays were set aside strictly for birders and other nature lovers.  I am being generous in giving the hunters two days out of three on the weekend considering they get the whole week otherwise for hunting during the season.  And it is my experience that most men who hunt do find reasons to take off work so they can hunt during the week during the season.  Do not think to remind me that hunting season is only for a couple of weeks because you would be wrong.  Deer season with a rifle may only go for a few weeks but then there is bow season and black powder season and there is duck season and raccoon season and beaver season and dove season and quail season and rabbit season and squirrel season.  I checked the hunting season calendar at North Carolina Wildlife and there is some kind of hunting season going on all the way from October through March.  Now that is a long time for the sanctuary roads to be blocked off and the walking trails to be closed just to keep the walkers and birders from being shot by a hunter.  So why do the refuges and parks cater so much to hunters?   Hmm. That is probably a blog for another day. 

So we didn't get any information from the park ranger but we did get a trail map and talked to a friendly visitor outside the center.  No, he didn't know of anyplace nearby where we could get something to eat and he thought most of the roads through the WMA were blocked off for the hunters. We decided to drive around a bit and see what we could find anyway.  We elected not to walk on any of the trails today - no need to get shot at on such a beautiful day and we did not have any bright orange vests available to wear.  We birded the impound ponds and drove through the woods around one of the larger ponds.  It was a lovely drive through the hardwood trees still covered with golden yellow leaves.  Most of the red leaves had turned brown and were falling softly to the forest floor.  It was like driving through a covered tunnel of pure golden sunlight.  It was peaceful and quiet as we were the only ones on the road today.  We did see a fisherman down by the pond but otherwise, we had the road to ourselves. 

As we came back out of the woods and headed through the farmer's fields, we came across a hedge that was bustling with birds. We stopped and were delighted to see numerous blue jays, a couple woodpeckers, and an eastern bluebird. What a treat!  As we drove on we spotted a red-tailed hawk sitting at the top of a tree, no doubt, master of all that he could see.  We scoped him out and got a couple of blurry pictures.  It was a nice last look at the refuge and we headed on back to the main road.  It was getting late and we were hungry.  After a stop at the Gin Mill in Lebanon for a late lunch, we headed to the turnpike and drove thirty-six miles to the highway that would take us south in to Delaware.  We stopped at a Comfort Inn and, luxury of luxuries, we were soon ensconced in a comfortable room with all the amenities and ordered a pizza for dinner.  We were totally beat but, by crackety, we were back in civilization and out of the dead zone - we had internet and cable TV.  What more could a couple of tired old naturalists want after a long day in the woods?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary - Trip Notes

      It's November and we headed up to Hawk Mountain near Kempton, Pennsylvania for a couple of days of birding.  Hawk Mountain is part of the Kittitany Ridge in the Appalachians. It is one spot on earth where the conditions are right for raptors (hawks, vultures, eagles, falcons, etc.) to ride the thermals and make their migration a little easier.  So the ridge and valley forms a bottleneck of sorts and the raptors all funnel through on their way south for the winter.  We had low expectations of seeing many raptors this trip. We had originally planned to visit in September when the migration is at its height and hundreds and possibly thousands of raptors fly through on their way south but, woe is me, I had turned my ankle a week before our trip and broken the tip of the fibula.  With some disappointment but much wisdom, I figured I could not really enjoy hiking and hanging out on the mountain wearing a huge black boot...not to mention trying to walk uphill with a broken fibula. So we cancelled our trip and rescheduled it for November.  But November is nearing the end of the raptor migration season and, while some eagles were still passing through, most of the birds were well on their way to South America for the winter. So we figured we would just go to check things out and, if we saw hawks, then great; if we did not, then that would be okay too.  We also figured that we would enjoy the country side and knew that nature would provide some sights for us to see.

We set out around lunch time. The distance between here and Kempton would take roughly 3 hours so we had plenty of time until check-in at the bed & breakfast.  It was a pleasant drive. It is autumn in this part of the country and the trees were amazingly beautiful with mostly oranges and yellows.  As we drove north of Baltimore, the reds and bright yellows changed to gold and rusty brown as we drove into Pennsylavania.  I had wondered if the early snow in late October would have put a quick stop to autumn colors and left us with dead brown leaves but that was not the case.  There was still plenty of color as we drove north through farm country.  The harvest for the year was mostly completed but there were still plenty of hard-working farmers on tractors mowing down this year's corn stalks and clearing the fields.  As we drove into the hills and mountains, the farms were long grassy berms along the ridges so that the farmers appeared to be tilting somewhat sideways as they moved back and forth through the fields.  In each ravine was a creek and each farm we passed had a portion of the creek dammed up to make a lovely pond.  But I was surprised as we passed so many ponds that there were not more ducks and geese. For the most part, the ponds we passed were empty of all bird life.  I suppose we might have seen smaller birds, sparrows and wrens and such along the hedges near the ponds had we stopped to rest a bit but we moved on contenting ourselves to enjoy the farms and the peacefulness of driving through the countryside.

We checked into the B&B.  As always, the photos of the rooms on the internet made the rooms appear to be much bigger than they are in reality.  But the room was clean and warm so we would be comfortable during out stay.  We drove up to the mountain to check things out and were surprised by the number of people there.  The parking lots were full. But it is a sunny Sunday afternoon so allowed that we are not the only ones who are interested in birds and particulary hawks.  We were tired and didn't want to tackle the mountain at this point so we drove back down and contented ourselves with exploring back roads and farmland until dusk. 

We found Kempton.  It is a small forgotten looking town where the railroad tracks apparently end.  Or so it would seem.  A strip of railroad tracks ended and several railroad cars were parked along this last bit of track. All the cars were marked "Reading" and I was reminded that, back in the heyday of railroad transportation, taking a "ride on the Reading" was the thing to do.  Or at least, I am reminded that the Reading Railroad is forever immortalized in the Parker Brothers game of Monopoly® and every baby boomer knows "if you pass GO", you can collect $200.  And here were several old boxcars from the railroad itself. Later, I asked the B&B proprietor, Jim, about the bit of track and the railroad cars there and he confirmed our suspicions that the town of Kempton had a small museum there that featured the Reading Railroad and the cars were part of the overall display.  But I suspect that the museum doesn't get too many visitors unless peole like me visiting Hawk Mountain drop by on their way off the mountain.  At one time, the town was a bustling railroad junction and must have been the lifeblood of the community.  According to Jim, the children took the railroad back/forth to high school each day. I try to imagine being a teenager who had to run to catch the train every morning rather than the bus as so many of us had to do.  I am alway amazed at finding out things like this.  When visiting an island down in North Carolina, I was surprised to learn that kids still take a ferry to school each day.  What a miserable trip that must be when winter winds cut across the matter how modern, taking the ferry to school in winter has got to be cold.  At least the train would be a little warmer and I suppose it is no different than me (and thousands of other commuters) taking trains to work everyday even now.

      We had dinner at Dietsch Ecks in Lenhartsville. Jim had recommended the place for some local cuisine.  It was Pennsylvannia Dutch style and was okay.  The food would be what you would call, "solid fare".  It was relatively good and filled you up nicely.  It wasn't my best recollection of PA Dutch cooking but it would do. The restaurant was quaint and decorated in Dutch style with hex symbols and old photos on the walls. And, of course, the Yuengling (brewed in the area) was cold and good.

     Back at the B&B, we asked about wi-fi and Jim explained that it wasn't working so well since the "storm".  I am not sure which storm but assumed he meant the snowstorm in late October. We also asked about TV and he affirmed that there was a TV in the room but that it was antenna only and there probably weren't more than 3 channels.  That's okay. We had been looking forward to peace and quiet but hadn't expected to be "off the grid" as it were in terms of internet.  We were more off the grid than we thought. We also had no cell signals so my plans to use my smartphone as a "hotspot" to get internet coverage were shot. Looks like we were gonna get more peace and quiet than we thought.  But that was okay too. We had seen deer and raccoons and squirrels and doves and starlings and chickadees and titmice and pigeons on the way in so we were good to sit and watch a little football (it is Monday night after all) on the one clear channel on the 19" TV in the cupboard in the room.  

     During the night, I got up for a restroom visit and looked out the window.  No streetlights, just lots of dark.  But also lots of stars - thousands of stars, in fact.  Even way down in the valley looking up through the trees, I could see bright stars like I never see them anymore down near home.  No light pollution here.  I was tempted to grab my jeans and shirt and step outside the room to do some serious star gazing. But it is not only dark in the mountains, it was cold. And I was warm inside and way too tired to want to take a midnight walk down a dark country lane.  Oh well, maybe tomorrow night.

     Breakfast at the B&B was hearty - sausage and whole wheat pancakes with maple syrup. You can always depend on good sized meals in the country.  The breakfast would get us through the trip to the mountain.  One good thing about hawk watching is that the hawks do not get up early to migrate.  They wait until the sun comes up and warms the thermals so they can use the uplifts to save energy during their flight.  So, likewise, we did not have to get up early.  Today, the mountain was not crowded.  There were very few cars in the parking lot.  There is a very nice visitor center with a small museum showing the story of how the mountain became a Sanctuary and protected along with records showing the trends of past migrations.  Of course, the numbers for this year were posted.  It didn't look good for us.  The numbers of hawks and eagles had dwindled in the past few weeks.  But there had been some golden eagle sightings so we were optimistic as we headed up the mountain.

     Our first stop was the south lookout.  Only a single individual was there. We stopped to chat and look around. Getting to the south lookout doesn't require any climbing or hiking - just a straight path out from the visitor center. The young man at the lookout was from Nigeria. He is an intern who is here for several months to observe the migration and to study American raptors. He was very informative and pleasant. He explained that the "official" count takes place on the north lookout where the birds are usually spotted first. The north lookout counter reports in to the south lookout at recurring intervals. I surmise that this keeps the birds from being counted multiple times.  The intern advises us that it is pretty much past the season and there have been no sightings today.  But we were not discouraged. It was a beautiful day with a sunny blue cloudless sky. The view was amazing. Down in the valley we could clearly see the "River of Rocks" left there by some passing glacier or washed there by some ancient flood.  I think the latter since I am not sure glaciers were known this far south in the last ice age.  The sun had also warmed the chill away and it was quite comfortable sitting there at the south lookout notwithstanding we were sitting on rocks.  But they were rather large rocks that had been smoothed with many a butt over the years but it still wasn't too long before the hardness of the rocks made for numb butts and we were glad to get up and do a little walking.

The hike up to the north lookout starts out level and smooth....not much more than a pleasant walk in the woods. I wasn't sure whether or not I could make it to the top with my "new" knees and my still-healing ankle but I was certainly going to try. Pretty soon small rocks started to show on the path and then small strips of rocky areas to transverse and then much rockier areas on the path.  We noted the access point to the "Escarpment Trail" which was pupportedly the short cut to the top.  Seeing that even the first part of that trail appeared to go straight up over the rocks with no stairs or handrails, we wisely elected to stick to the basic trail.  And it was no picnic itself. There were some rough areas with handrails (thank you very much to the caretakers who placed the rails there) and there was one section that went more or less straight up over a natural rock staircase. Again, thanks to the handrails, I was able to transverse it okay.  We took our time having decided in the beginning to take it slow and easy. The attendant in the visitor center had told us that the climb would take about 30-45 minutes to the top. Well, we took about 1-2 hours....closer to 2 than 1.  We stopped at Sunset Lookout and had a snack. There was a bench there (what a luxury!) and, while the view was mainly blocked by trees, it was a pleasant place for a nice long break.  A sign there informed us that at one time there had been sand mining here on the mountain and a set of rails near the place where we sat that went all the way down the mountain.  Of course, we could not imagine anyone mining sand of all things since quite a bit of the rock we had seen was granite and we hadn't seen any sand piles or pits at all. And then we could not imagine anykind of tram car going down that mountain at that angle. There just wasn't anyplace we could see where the slope was less than 75-80 degrees. But I have always thought that if there is something that can be sold and someone can make money at it, a way will be found to get the product to market.....apparently even if the trip is straight down the side of a mountain.

      And then we were at the top at the north lookout. We asked about and there were still not hawks to be seen or counted.  No hawks, no eagles, not evan any vultures. They keep up with vultures because they are raptors and because they are short distance migrators but not because vultures are threatened or endangered. Cruise down any highway in America where there is road kill and you know pretty much that vultures are not really endangered.  But it is always good to keep track of things.  No one really believed passenger pigeons were in trouble until they were gone. We humans take far too many things for granted, especially birds.  At the top there were twenty or so people sitting around on the rocks waiting expectantly to see hawks.  I suppose they would have been happy with any bird.  The thing to do is to sit where you can see the official counter/ When he/she puts the binoculars up or calls out a hawk, then you and everyone else quickly grabs for binoculars and cameras to try to see what the counter sees.  That wasn't happening much today.  There was a group of high school seniors (all girls) here on a field trip and they were having a joyous time as teenage girls usually do.  They were somewhat entertaining and gave the rest of us something to look at.  The north lookout also had an intern - this one from Greece.  He was older and more advanced in his studies. He stopped by to chat with us and told us about his travels and birding trips. The interns rotated each day so tomorrow he would be a the south lookout. Several other folks stopped over to talk to us. I rather think they hadn't thought we would make it to the top and were a little surprised that we had and that we were not showing any signs of distress.  It was pleasant and the view was beautiful and the rest at the top was totally enjoyable. 

But there were no hawks.....then just as we were getting up to leave, a smallish bird flew by moving from east to west along the ridge.  The bird was a little larger than a dove and my first thought was that it was a dove.  I almost did not raise my binoculars to look at it...but I did.  I heard the intern say, "It's a little sharpie," just as I focused on the little hawk.  I hadn't realized that sharp-shinned hawks were this small. It was not as small as a kestral but not as large as a red-tailed hawk.  But I did get a pretty good look before he passed out of sight. The official counter and the group converging around him had spotted a red-tailed hawk way off in the distance gliding in circles over the valley to the south east.  We were able to view him in the binoculars but I would not have know it was a red-tailed hawk if the counter had not identified him for us. The hawk wasn't migrating and was probably a "resident".  He and the little sharpie were the only hawks I would see that day.  We headed back down the path taking our time - slow and easy again.  We stopped in at the south lookout for a bit but were soon on our way off the mountain.  Again, the hike took us about an hour whereas others (especially the teens) moved at a quicker pace and probably took no longer than thirty minutes.

We came to Hawk Mountain and we didn't see many hawks. But we had a lovely day. And my knees and my ankle held up fine.  We learned quite a bit about hawks and migration patterns using the thermals and wind currents. We drove down the mountain content but hungry having missed lunch.  For us, the day was a great success even though we didn't see many birds of any kind.  This is a place we will try to return to and a place we will recommend to others, birders or not. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Back to Work

      Recently I went back to work after being off for six months to have knee replacement surgery.  I had a lot of misgivings about going back to work and I just wasn't that sure I was ready. But since I no longer work full-time, I thought I would be okay.  And, for the most part, I am just fine.  The knees are still a little achy and made more so by the length and hassle of the commute. But more than anything, I am amazed by how much is the same now that I am back on the job. Frankly, I thought more would have changed. There were a few changes in the team that I work with but, for the most part, it is as if time has had little or no effect on the job or the people except for me, of course.  I have two new scars on my knees and the experience of having gone through this surgery.  But could everyone and everything else possibly be the same?  Could it be the "same ole, same ole"? 
      Right away I noticed that the same guy sits at the metro station handing out the free newspapers where apparently every one who rides the subway gets their daily dose of the news. And near him, the same homeless woman leans tiredly on her walker hoping that a kind soul will drop a few coins into her cup.  Her walker has a basket attached and she seems to collect all the newspapers that do not get handed off to the busy commuters.  I find myself wondering what she does with those newspapers and other bits of flotsam she collects and guards jealously in that basket on her walker. But my thoughts of her are cut short and I hurry for the train.  And there's the same security guards and metro police idling their time away watching listly as the steady stream of commuters move quickly through the turnstiles. I head to the escalators hoping they are not broken again because my knees just do not want to climb those steep stairs and waiting for the elevator has caused many a commuter to swear under his or her breath as he/she helplessly watches the train glide away.  And I am in luck - today the escalators work and I ride effortlessly to the platform above.
        My luck continues as I see a near-empty train roll into the station. The trains come in with most cars empty in the mornings and roll out jam-packed.  In the afternoon, the scene is reversed as the trains roll in packed to the gills and depart with a few reverse-commuters who spend their days going against traffic.  The dream of every commuter is to get a job where you get to ride empty trains or drive on empty roads.  The doors open on the train and the crowd flows in and the commuters glide through the cars finding their favorite seats and then, as the car fills, finds any seat available. And finally, they find places to stand so that you can hold on with one hand or by leaning against the parts of the car so that you can read that paper with the other.  My luck holds and I get a good window seat this morning - a seat on the western side sitting forward so the sun doesn't shine directly in my face.  But I put on my sunglasses anyway.  We all do. We can hide from curious eyes that way and maybe doing a little voyeuristic peeping ourselves...or, close those eyes tired from getting up too early and catch a few more napping moments while the train moves slowly out the station rocking side to side.  Others pull out their smart phones or their electronic pads or their music players and begin to check emails or play games or watch videos or listen to music or audio books.  Some still pull out old-fashioned books - who knew reading from an actual book would become old-fashioned? More and more electronic devices for reading are showing up on the trains and becoming an integral part of the commuter's day.  I wonder if some people do not just mindlessly search the internet looking for anything to salve their boredom on the ride downtown.  Nothing really has changed; the same people doing the same things as we head into our jobs and hope that there are no delays on the system that would cause the ride to be longer or would cause us to be late for our jobs.
      The train glides into my station and I head back into the hustle and bustle to get through the three block walk to work. As I pass, I see the same long line at Starbuck's and a similarly long line at the Corner Bakery. The same man stands with hat in hand and a sign that says that he is a US Army veteran. As usual, I wonder if he really is a veteran. It's easy to say you are a veteran or homeless or down on your luck and you could use a few bucks - just a little help here and there.  And I am always torn. I would like to help and I do help sometimes.  And my co-workers remind me that I might be throwing the money away - that many will only use the money to buy liquor or drugs.  I always respond that I have my own personal credo on this - "What I give is between me and God; what they do with the money is between them and God".  I try not to judge and try to be compassionate but I do have to admit that I have seen the inconsistencies - the veteran who knew nothing about the military when a fellow veteran stopped to talk, the supposedly homeless man who I happened to overhear talking about remodeling his apartment, and the man wearing the Air Jordans that I suppose he got brand new at the Thrift Store. I zigzag my way through the obstacle course made of hundreds of other commuters just like me as I head to my building, trying not to judge, trying not to trip, and dropping a dollar in a cup here/there.  I remind myself of my credo and am glad that this too has not changed over the past months while I have been away.
       And then I am at work. My badge is still good and the keycard still opens the door although it did take a few moments to "recognize" me as someone who is supposed to be there. The work is waiting for me and I turn on the computer and pick up the phone to call IT Support to activate my user ID.  Too soon, I am back into it all - pulling up documents and catching up with the projects and what's still in the pending files and what new tasks and projects are coming down the pike.  My cubicle buddy welcomes me back and then un-mutes the phone and returns to the weekly status teleconference meeting. I head for the break room for coffee and stop on the way to ask Anna to add me back as a member of the water club.  All too soon, I am back into the thick of things marveling that I can take six months off and walk right back in, sit down, and start back to work as if there had never been a break.  And just like always, I am already wondering how long the day will be while longing for 5 o'clock to come soon and hoping maybe it will not be too much longer before I can take a couple weeks off for vacation.
      Same Ole Same Ole.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mrs. Mintz

Lately, those of us who hail from Rockmart have been enjoying remembering our school days. In particular, there have been quite a few memories related to one of our junior high school teachers, Mrs. Leonora Mintz. Looking back, I think she was probably one of the best that public school had to offer at a time when we all went to public schools and very few had any options otherwise. Mrs. Mintz taught English and seemed to love poetry. So, we all had to memorize some of what I assume were her favorites. I suppose there were some who liked it but I think most of us dreaded the thought of standing in front of the class trying to recite those darned poems. How many thousands of times she must have listened to those same lines being badly recited over the years and maybe there were times that she had a few doubts about continuing to try to get eighth graders to love something that she loved. But we memorized and we recited and we survived. Now, what's being recalled on FB are those poems and I smile to realize that of all the lessons learned, what I have mostly retained are those snippets of poetry. Those poems somehow have had a lasting impact on my life and I suspect others' lives as well. When times were tough, we remembered to be the "master of my fate and the captain of my soul" and when winter comes, we remember "Stopping by woods on a snowy evening..." and summer brings "a poem as lovely as a tree" to mind. We didn't think there would be any value whatsoever to committing those lines to memory. What possible use would they have out there in the real world? But now I look back and I realize that the poems are like old friends who wander through my thoughts and have kept me company throughout the years. Thank you, Mrs. Mintz for somehow knowing this and giving me this wonderful gift that seemingly will last forever.

"Trees" by Joyce Kilmer (1986 - 1919)
"Invictus" by William Ernest Henley (1849 - 1903)
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost (1874 -1963)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Remembering a Friend

A friend of mine, Bob, died last week.  We were co-workers for many years until he retired.  We lost touch over the years.  When I retired, he came to the celebration.  It was good to see him - so good that he came to give me a big hug along with "congratulations" and some bit of advice on how to enjoy my retirement. I could not know that it would be the last time that I saw him.  We kept in touch for a couple years but when my last email was rejected, I didn't follow up with a note or card to see how he was doing.  After all, why use snail mail when the whole world had moved to quicker electronic messaging or social networking?  I didn't hear from him for several years but then a month or so ago, out of the blue, he "friended" me on Facebook.  It didn't really surprise me as many of our mutual friends had shown up on the network over the past year.  I "accepted" and pointed him to others on Facebook to "friend".  Now I look back and realize he must have been saying "goodbye" to us in his own way.  He later sent a message saying he had cancer but was holding his own and doing okay.  Still I didn't pick up the phone and call to find out more  -- I didn't reach out to him.  I just sent along a response letting him know my prayers were with him.  Later I sent another message asking him how he was doing but never got a response.  Now I realize that he probably never got my last message and I am left to grieve for my friend and regret my own lack of initiative.  I ask myself why I didn't reach out to him.  It had been years since we spoke so it was perhaps just way too easy to let myself be distracted by other trivial things.  I ask myself how many other friends and acquaintances that I knew or grew up with or worked with over the years have died without my having gotten the chance to let them know that they had an impact on my life?  It is as if small bits and pieces of my memories are drifting off like confetti in the breeze never to be recovered again. 

But, perhaps, that is the way it is supposed to be.  I ask myself if I really knew Bob and I find myself remembering him and wondering who he was really.  And I am glad that my memories are good ones.  Per my recollection, he was a kind and caring man.  And he was pretty funny with a solid sense of humor.  We worked together for many years....maybe 12 or more years. His desk was probably never more than 50 feet from mine in the cubicle maze at the office where we worked.  i knew he had a daughter he dearly loved.  He talked of her all the time and proudly showed us her elementary school artwork and kept her photos on his desk.  He also had a son from a previous marriage that he had not seen for many years.  We knew nothing of this son until he showed up one day telling us that his son was coming to see him. We were thrilled for him when it all worked out okay. 

A mutual friend described Bob as a "gentleman" and I find that I agree with that.  He loved jazz and would sing old torch songs quietly as he worked on the contracts he negotiated.  I remember talking to him about music and he was blown away that I knew who Etta James was.....well, of course after that, he made sure to tell me all about his favorite musicians.  Most were from the 50's and 60's and I always wondered if his dad had introduced him to what would become a life long love of music.  Bob didn't talk much about his parents.  It was my understanding that his mom died young and he was raised by his grandmother in North Carolina until he went to live with his dad in New York City.  It doesn't surprise me that Bob also loved the city and he would bring prints of city-scapes into the office for his desk.  He never could understand why we all didn't feel the same way about city life and looking at buildings and walking down busy city streets. But he also loved talking about North Carolina and the country town where he was born and where many of his relatives still live.  His funeral is being held there so, perhaps, when he thought of going home it was to the country from whence he came after all. 

I have one last memory of Bob to share.  We all remember where we were on September 11, 2001.  I was downtown attending a conference.  Bob and the rest of the Branch members were at the office.  The building sits outside the beltway in Oxon Hill, Maryland.  Our office was on the ninth floor and had a very nice view of Washington, DC.  Bob was at work that day.  His cubicle was in a perfect position to see the Potomac River and the Pentagon.  Don sat in the next cubicle.  I remember both Bob and Don telling me that they both noticed a plane that was coming in to the airport from the wrong angle almost simultaneously.  They had seen many planes come up the river to land there at Reagan International Airport and this plane was coming from the west...totally wrong.  It was as if they both looked up just at the right moment and they watched horrified as the plane flew into the Pentagon.  Both told me that they simultaneously picked up the phone to dial 911 to report the "accident".  I cannot imagine how awful that must have been to stand there watching that plane fly straight into the building.  I wonder at times what thoughts must have flashed through Bob's mind as he watched that plane and how it might have changed his life to have had that experience.

Yes, like confetti that falls softly through my thoughts, the memories come and go.  Bob now joins those friends and family members I've lost who continue to live in my memory.  And while I didn't always find the opportunity to say "goodbye", I am glad that Bob found a way to say "goodbye" to me.  Thank you for being a good friend over the years, Bob.  Vaya Con Dios.