.....of a new year and another birthday. My fifty-somethingth. And I am glad for both. New year, new beginning. You know, that whole 'clean slate' thing. Some things written on my personal slate in 2011 have left indelible impressions that one hopes will fade with the distance of days. Others will hopefully be repeated and highlighted. I have always been an optimist. Oh, cynical and snarky to be sure, but always an end-of-the-rainbow kind of guy. Hope is the one thing I have gone out of my way to cultivate and nurture wherever and with whomever I've made a home and contributed layers to my life--and hopefully theirs. I was supposed to be the headliner at a birthday gathering of glitterati this evening here at home. A small crowd but a lively one to help usher in the new year with all the accoutrements such a gala can muster in a small community behind the backwoods on the tundra. An ice storm put the skids to that plan so all will commence again tomorrow afternoon in milder temperatures and bright sunshine. And I am glad. I think I prefer to welcome the coming year in a quieter, more subdued atmosphere. I have never made resolutions since the day they're supposed to go into effect is also a day when you're supposed to do whatever makes you happy. Seemed counter-productive so I just gave up on the notion. I will not attempt to resolve anything. I will not make a list of past regrets, either slings or arrows, that will make the champagne at midnight sweeter by comparison. I will not inventory the dings, dents, and other damages to my chassis. I will not promise anything no matter how noble or sincere I might want to sound. The words of a promise are rarely sturdy enough to support the weight of follow-through. I will be quiet. I will think happy thoughts of what may be and how best to appreciate whatever comes. All I really need is just to be. That is enough I think. Time is too precious to be wrapped up in neat little packages all clearly labled. Here's to the adventure of living! Happy New Year to all of you, my friends and Gentle Readers!
'Tis just before Christmas
and all through the town,
the people are grousing
or wearing a frown.
They're behaving quite mad
or just downright shrewish,
preferring, I suppose,
they were Buddhist or Jewish.
The WalMart's a-buzzing
with shoppers rampaging--
oh how happy the bankers
must be in Beijing!
Hustling and bustling
from hither to yon,
hunting the best deals
before they're all gone.
Racing and rushing
to spend near and far--
good God almighty,
where did I park the car?
Pushing and shoving
all over the earth--
so much commotion
over a simple tot's birth!
both to and fro;
you'd think they'd be grateful
that there ain't any snow.
I watch from the sidelines
in my comfy cocoon
amused by the knowledge
'twill be all over soon.
And also because
(I gladly remember)
that all of my shopping
was done in September.
It is always something of a pleasant surprise--in the truest meaning of that phrase--to discover, somewhat sheepishly, that you aren't as jaded as you've allowed yourself to believe you are.
Around midnight this morning I decided to step out and take a look at the full moon--the 'cold' moon they're calling it. I really wish there had been some snow on the ground. There's nothing like a few inches of glistening powder as far as the eye can see under a full moon. The air was indeed cold. Somewhere in the vicinity of holy s*it cold. And there she was; Dianna in all her glory carrying on a celestial flirtation with Orion. Beautiful maiden and rugged hunter each keeping a respetable distance while dancing attendance around one another. Their mutual yearning was almost palpable. I could feel it. The other constellations in their finery could feel it. Every so often Dianna would smile coyly through a gauzy silver haze of cloud as if she were doing a veil dance; teasing, enticing her pursuer.
I went back inside to thaw and think. I thought the thoughts a person thinks when it's late, he's not sleepy, and the silence of a still night is deafening. Practical things. Funny things. Sad things. Hopeful things. I suddenly realized that very little of what I considered important and worth while really doesn't matter all that much. I wasn't quite as full of myself as I was when I went outside earlier. It was one of those out-of-the-body-self-realization-reality-check moments we sometimes get and try to forget as quickly as possible. The impression remains and it's the echo's voice you hear in the wee small hours of the soul.
I went back outside before turning in. And there they were; Dianna and Orion further off to the north now. She was still holding court a little above him but this time he was to the left where he had been to her right before. Perhaps he thought it was his better side. Or perhaps he was simply giving her right of way. I guess when it comes to loving and being loved it really doesn't matter where you are exactly. What counts is being there and knowing when to yield. Even when it's cold.
Ahhh, the perfect combination of conditions for returning to the blogosphere: blustery cold winds, drizzle, and a serious lack of interest in doing anything domestic.
I had intended to return earlier. However, when the urge to make a comeback began to gnaw at me, I discovered that my computer was reliving the Homeric epic by breaching my firewall and gifting me with an infestation of trojan horses. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts was not, unfortunately, the quote for that particular day.
Up until then I had been enjoying the wonderful Maine summer and autumn seasons. In June I embarked on a mission to read the classics. It was a return visit to some and a first encounter with others. From Aristotle to Austen, Socrates to Shelley, Cato to Camus, and Plato to Proust. On any given morning I would do what needed to be done--weeding and watering flower beds, mowing, restocking the avian buffet stations etc... The household duties were divided and staggered every other Monday; floor and fixture scrubbing on one, dusting and vaccuming the next, laundry on another and so on. All very ordered. The Queen Mother wanted to modify the routine somewhat but she was overruled. A concession here and there from necessity and scheduling issues but otherwise it went as planned. The afternoons were given over to time travel, dramatic upheavals, romantic sojourns and other flights of fancy. Cook dinner, do dishes, and settle down to work on projects of the artistic craft variety.
It was a most enjoyable sabbatical from all things internet. Sometimes you just have to go somewhere and do something else to put things into perspective. I got lots of things done and had the time and space to really appreciate my accomplishments. Just before my computer came down with the plague I reread my previous posts and decided that it was time to rejoin the cyber-literati. The computer had other plans. Apparently I was due to be punished for several months of neglect. After a three-week postponement we are reconciled again and here I am.
As warmth and sunshine wither on the vine of memory I suspect I will be here fairly often. I have spent the better part of the day reading vintage posts of my many dear friends and co-bloggers. I can't quite grasp that I was gone that long! Time doesn't exist when you travel through the parallel universe of great writing. HRH the Queen Mum has expressed her pleasure that I have put aside my reading regimen for the time being. Apparently quoting Shakespeare, Dickens, or Twain at every turn was wearing very thin.
This past week saw the two-year anniversary of my return to Maine. The preceding 26 years had been spent living on the Gulf Coast of Texas--first on the Island of Galveston, then Houston, and finally in Humble. I left just before sunset on a Sunday evening and arrived just after sunrise on Thursday. I rode in the cab of an over-sized rental truck crammed with all the detritus of a happy, comfortable Southern life that I hoped would soften the transition to a spartan Northern one. Among the treasures were my four cats: Jezebel, Scarlet, Delilah, and Vanya. No residence would be home without them. I left a balmy 80 degree Texas and arrived to discover there was still snow in some places despite the 45 degrees of warmth. Living at sea level for so long I had forgotten the sensation of ear-popping and assumed I was experiencing fatal brain implosion. No doubt caused by endless country music and evangelization over the radio.
If I had known then what I was coming back to I would probably have turned around. But the truck was unloaded and returned before the full impact of my decision to come home revealed itself.
I love my home state. It's wild and it's raw. There's a simplicity that touches my heart. People don't expect much here. They don't whine about what they want. For the most part they are satisfied with what they have because they have earned it by hard work and determination. They take making the most of what they have in stride. I think Winter has a lot to do with it. In Texas I rarely experienced more than a few days of bone-chilling weather at a time. Even all the hurricanes that rearranged my home were warm blooded. But here, months of subarctic temperatures and falling snow really develop your sense of appreciation and gratitude for the simplest luxuries--heat, warmth, wool, flannel, soup, and companionship. You don't have a lot of leisure to lament. You do what needs to be done and then you rest, grateful and self-satisfied.
I came back with the best of intentions. To make life easier and prolong independence in her own home for my then 91 year-old mother. Somewhere along the way...between my last visit and my permanent return....she had transformed from Mother Theresa into Leona Helmsley. It's been difficult. Two very headstrong and independent people under the same roof. Her body slowly but steadily betraying itself and mine in full vigor. Her mind slipping into resolute misperception and mine aching to be heard. Neither of us are demure people. We are too much alike to ever be the best of friends. It's like living with Miss Haversham on Wuthering Heights only without the wedding dress. I trust Dickens and Bronte' will forgive the allusions. Her tongue and appetite are still as sharp as ever so I must be doing something right though I will never be told so. This is, I believe, penance for all the wrongs I knowingly committed and unwittingly contributed to during the happy years travelling the world between leaving and returning here.
But Maine is the great elixir. Breathing the air and drinking the natural beauty is a soothing compress to a blistered brow. No matter where I was living Maine was always home to my soul. I have returned to behind the back woods on the tundra of my birth and, all things considered, it is good to be here.
To mow or not to mow; that is the quandary. Whether 'tis nobler in the noggin or more solicitous to the soul to tickle tender tootsies in vibrant verdant vegetation or, like a grasping Gallic gardener, take up blades against a sea of dandelions-- madly manicuring mossy margins into sterile perfection. To partake of Persephone's pastoral pleasures and Primavera's pass times or to make war with weeds; churning, chopping, and chucking nature's overabundance.
Daffodils dance dizzily, narcissus' nod knowingly, hyacinths huddle happily, and Rhododendrons rhapsodize while wisteria wander wistfully. Is it necessary to negate Nature's notions of nuance? Is a lavish lawn less lovely than a a driver's dream or putter's paradise? Nay, non, nyet! Banish the bothersome burden of baling and be free from frivolous forestry. The lilies neither spin nor weave nor do the birds sow or reap. Gather ye cozy comforting catnaps while ye may! Treat yourself to transcendent trivialities and tea!
Besides, it's too late and too wet to mow now anyway. More's the pity. Sigh.....
Three to four pound pork shoulder 1 18oz jar of apricot preserves 1 14 oz can of whole berry cranberry sauce 1/4 cup chicken broth 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard 1 teaspoon of ground cloves 1 large onion Several potatoes Several carrots 1/2 head of cabbage 1 summer squash/zucchini Cauliflower/broccoli crowns, about a handful each
Trim fat from pork shoulder while being told that you're doing it wrong. Mix the apricot preserves, cranberry sauce, Dijon mustard, and chicken broth together until well blended even if you're being told you've stirred it enough already. Chop the large onion into small pieces while being told you've wasted half of it. Score the wrongly trimmed shoulder in cross cuts and rub the ground cloves into the slits while listening to how whole cloves would be a better choice. Place the chopped onions in bottom of slow-cooker and place shoulder on top of onions while listening to how it's on the wrong side. Pour the apricot/cranberry mixture over the top of shoulder while listening to how much of a waste it is. Set slow-cooker to low and cook for 12 hours. Be prepared to listen to how it is either too much or not enough time.
Next day, about 90 minutes before you wish to eat, peel and cut the potatoes and carrots into 1/2 inch pieces while being told you handle the peeler and paring knife incorrectly. Boil at the wrong temperature setting in the wrong pot. Cut cabbage into wedges and summer squash/zucchini into 1/4 inch slices which are all the wrong size or shape and place with the cauliflower/broccoli crowns in a large strainer which is too big over a pot of boiling water that is too small and steam for as long as it takes which is either too long or not long enough.
When the potatoes and carrots are 'mash-able' mash them together with whatever flavouring you prefer...understanding that they won't be as good as how someone else makes them. Remove steamed vegetables from over-sized strainer and place into a dish which is unnecessary and extravagant and season to taste knowing all the while that the flavour has been cooked out of them.
Remove the over/under cooked shoulder from slow-cooker and place on platter which has never been seen before and is therefore deemed unlikeable. Transfer the mashed potatoes/carrot combination into another wasteful and extravagant serving dish. Set table with non-styrofoam plates which will involve wasting water and time to wash along with heirloom silver and vintage linens that once belonged to a disagreeable ancestor. Place large salt shaker at center of table to off-set the blandness of the cuisine.
Sit down. Remove wads of cotton from ears (dispose of discreetly) and enjoy!
Happy Easter from my world to all my Gentle Readers!
Perhaps it was the suede elbow patches on the tweed sport coat. Or maybe the two inch cuffs draping over the top of my Bass wing-tipped Oxford's. It might have been the English wool felt cap 'strategically dipped' to the right. It might even have been the articulate elocution of my banter with the cashier while waiting in the check-out line. The glint of gold on wrist and fingers may have contributed. Probably a combination of all the above added to my overall public demeanor. Whatever it was, it inspired the somewhat faded yet distinguished older gentleman behind me to lean forward and mutter conspiratorially in my ear with a nod and glance to my right: "It's people like us that pay the way for people like them."
To my right was a youngish woman with several children all of whom were gleefully bagging and boxing their purchases. This particular grocery store cuts its prices by not employing people to bag for you. The store provides plastic bags and the cardboard boxes the products come in for toting. Their cart was full of the necessities of their lives. Not so much from a nutritional point of view but from the need to make their food-benefits allowance last through the month. The card that these benefits are purchased with is very conspicuous.
People like us. People like them.
When did I become an 'us'?
I cannot say the woman or her children were particularly tidy or stylish. I can say that they all seemed very cheerful and boisterous. Their zeal may have drowned out the comment. Or, they were so accustomed to hearing such things they had developed the second nature to ignore it. I pray that it was the former rather than the latter.
I heard him. The cashier heard him. It was calculated to be heard.
People like us.
My cart was fairly light and tallying up was quick. I keep cardboard boxes in the trunk so I don't need to bag inside the store. I can sort and load directly from the cart. Something snapped. I am not a reticent person.
I turned to look at my fellow check-out denizen. My chin was elevated allowing me the advantage of looking down my nose. A slow appraisal. "People like 'us'?" I repeated at length. "From looking at you, I would never have guessed that you were an alternatively-oriented tree-hugging socialist! I'm so glad to know there's more than one of 'us'"! I leaned toward him, gave him a big, fondling hug and an embarrassingly loud, wet kiss on the cheek. "Keep the faith!" was my smiling exit line from the store.
I only hope the paramedics arrived in time to be of some assistance.
When you least expect it, 9 inches is a lot to deal with. There you are, happily minding your own business and then, out of nowhere, you are confronted with something bigger than you'd prefer to handle. Having 9 inches thrust upon you uninvited; having 9 inches pushed down upon you fast and furious is troublesome at the very least.
I guess it's been problematic for the winter sports enthusiasts here on the tundra. They have been feeling inadequate and their situation left a lot to be desired. I've heard it said that even with their Alpine Olympian prowess they lamented their shortcomings and felt cheated by the lack of endowment. Apparently they all wish they had 9 inches. Even the equipment that is supposed to enlarge and increase the number of inches fell short of expectations.
Yet I have discovered that, even with the proper tool in hand, plowing 9 inches is a challenge. When you're cold and frigid to begin with, having to take on a whole lot of 9 inches is a daunting task and it leaves you exhausted. It doesn't satisfy or give you a sense of accomplishment because you know it'll have to be done again at some point and you dread the inevitability. The deeper it goes the more it hurts to contend with. You try different positions, adjusting yourself to make it less of a chore and easier on your body. When at last you've brought the Herculean task to it's conclusion you feel relieved but know that the aches and pains have just begun. Maybe not today, but definitely by tomorrow morning. You pray that you won't have to endure another assault anytime soon. Yes indeed, 9 inches is truly a lot to be endowed with.
What?......Oh for pete's sake, chin up to the curb, people! I'm talking SNOW here!
Thursday, March 17th--Celtic Appreciation Day*--was the first of a four-day preview/reminder of Spring here on the tundra. Clear blue skies, bright sunshine, and temperatures at least 10 degrees above freezing. I had recovered sufficiently to be allowed to venture out into the great white realms of Nature.
I am not fond of snowmobiles. I understand that for many people here behind the backwoods they are necessary for getting around and provide an outlet for relieving cabin fever. You can only put together so many 5000 piece jelly bean jigsaw puzzles before you go polar. My dislike of these snow tanks derives from the noise they make. At all hours. I referred to them earlier as Jihadist bees bent on the destruction of serenity. They also remind me of a buzz saw trying to cut through a pine knot or the bellowing of a constipated moose in intestinal distress. That being said, and I hope it was illuminating to my Southern Gentle Readers, there is one thing I appreciate about snow mobiles. They leave marvelous trails in their wake. Put a well-fed rider or two in four or five layers of thermal clothing atop 500 pounds of machinery and the snow beneath them is compressed into a firmly packed pathway across and into places one would rarely have the opportunity to wander.
My cross country skis are always waxed this time of year so I can check the sap buckets. Having waited patiently for the mercury to climb to my allowed venturing-out limit, I cast off my peacock cloak of brightly coloured daydreams. I grabbed the pet-carrier that looks like a mesh duffel bag, stuffed Jezebel the Russian Blue fur-child of my heart into it and strapped on the skis. Cat-filled carrier slung over my shoulder, we set off. Once clear of the immediate area around the house I found trails going in every direction. Across acres of hay fields, over frozen streams, and into great walls of trees. It felt as though I was standing at the hub of a wagon wheel with spokes of opportunity enticing me from all sides. Every now and then I would come across a place where the snow had melted and there was honest-to-goodness terra firma exposed. I would set the carrier down and let Jezebel out to sniff and scratch the musky wetness. She would be the one to reassure the other three at home that all was not lost and that the earth was still out there somewhere beneath their feet.
After several hours and miles of exploration we returned to warm fireside, hot soup, and comfy chairs. I was exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time. So, I grudgingly express my appreciation to those intrepid snow jockeys. I only hope they get as much out of their mechanical meanderings as I did out on my wooden magic carpet runners.
Wandering into the Maine woods is a risky enterprise at any time of year. But, following a snowmobile trail guarantees that at some point you will end up in someone's back yard or driveway. Dehydration isn't a concern when there are a million acres of snow around you. Wildlife is really the only threat one needs to be mindful of. A lone articulate human and an indulged feline are very tempting to the carnivorous denizens of the forest. I came across the tracks of many such inhabitants who were using the trails for transportation as well. I never saw them but I was sure they were seeing me. With just the ski poles for defense it would have looked like a really bad Marlin Perkins samurai movie.
*--Lest I forget, my Gentle Readers of longer standing will recall my attitude and sentiments regarding the Welsh-born so-called patron saint of Ireland. I utterly refuse to acknowledge the feast day of someone who inflicted such an insidious religious plague on the perfectly good culture of Hibernia.
Mother Nature, being the teasing, seductive vixen she is, drew the shades down on our little Spring preview. Heavy white shades of fluffy wetness. It hangs from the eaves like Battenburg lace set with crystals when the sun peeks through her veil. Time to grab the shovel and redecorate the driveway.
It was my sincere and earnest intention to return to the Blogosphere yesterday. However, the unpredicted and thus unexpected ice storm that began early yesterday strategically brought down a few trees here and there resulting in my internet services being brought to a crunching halt. Gracious, the lengths One will go to in order to prevent my blogging.
All in all, it might not have been an inconsiderate postponement. I mean, really, what could I blather on about other than the riveting details of my bed-confining illness? **YAWN** In a nutshell then...I contracted double pneumonia which led to endocarditis. But wait...there's more! I was also bestowed with shingles on the fifth day of feeling like death over easy. I've always been something of an over achiever. After swallowing a scuttle's worth of anti-you-name-it medications and potions I am upright and as mobile as necessity dictates.
Things I came to terms with and/or discovered during the process:
I really need to paint the ceiling.
Cats are an ideal source of heat and conversation.
The Queen Mother is not as helpless as she pretends.
With no distractions, you CAN actually gauge dust accumulation.
Snowmobiles sound like swarms of Jihadist bees bent on the destruction of serenity.
People are way too interested in the the thickness of pillows, thread counts, and the positioning of blankets.
Jello makes a great cat toy.
Toast not smothered in fats, jams, or gravy does not constitute nutrition no matter how many cute shapes you cut them into.
Oh I could go on.....and will....in future transmissions.
In the meantime I want to make it abundantly clear that I have kept up with all of My Gentle Readers and fellow Bloggers. You have been a prolific bunch and I truly appreciate it. I was unable to leave comments since rising up any more than a 30 degree angle sent me into tail spins. My cousin got hold of some i-thingy that enabled her to read the posts to me. These were shared with attending medical personnel and visitors--who were impressed with the diversity and international flavour of my acquaintances. I don't take any of y'all for granted but it was nice to have how special you all are brought home to me. June and OldFool were particular favourites and I expect your following will increase after this. June's toe situation has launched all kinds of anecdotes/treatment theories. Thank you, Red, for keeping it pertinent and relative. Maine Homestead kept me full and satisfied while eating that damned dry toast. Lady Hawthorne and Desideratum fanned the flames of creative inspiration for projects. Y'all have really been a blessing....maybe all this technology voodoo ain't so bad after all.
Lord Wellbourne regrets his long and unexpected absence and wishes his Gentle Readers to know that he has not abandoned the blogosphere. He has been experiencing difficulty with his vertical hold control--in other words, he hasn't been able to remain upright for very long at a time due to some cardio-pulmonary unpleasantness. He hopes to be well and back very soon.
Now he must return to his horizontal position before the sentries posted to watch him realize he has evaded them and slipped into his studio.
Lord Wellbourne also wishes to thank Red for her very nice letter and hopes to be able to reply very soon.
And to all his Gentle Readers he wishes a very Happy Valentine's Day!
Like most men I am captivated by women who possess the triple threat combination of beauty, brains, and boldness. In this particular instance the object of my fascination is a rather complicated creature. Freud would assign her with labels such as obsessive/compulsive, passive/aggressive, and possibly manic/depressive. She can be as volatile as she is serene. She can inspire one moment and terrify the next. She is generous and miserly. Her beauty is the fodder of poets and her wrath causes men to find their misplaced religion. She is an international superstar and the girl next door. Even her anger has a beauty that enthralls. She is older than the hills and as fresh as 'the darling buds of May'. Her name is "Mother Nature".
Winter here on the tundra gives a person plenty of opportunity to ruminate over one's environment. It is cold. Not as cold as it could be or has been but cold enough to brave the outdoors to gather up the wood for the fire that warms the thought processes.
The snow that fell before Christmas is what led me to ponder the mind of Mother Nature. I watched as she placed big fluffy flakes ever so gently upon every needle of every branch in the pines and firs. But she also took care to outline all the twigs and branches of the other leafless trees so as not to have them feel left out. Everything was highlighted--white upon green or brown against a greyish blue backdrop. The lower branches of the pines became so laden that they bent down towards the ground to create the flying buttresses for miniature Gothic cathedrals of snow and wood for the red squirrels to worship in. Vespers were said in the awesome silence wrapped in white.
Over the next few days the sun's warmth erased the scene so carefully constructed. Mother Nature took it in stride and yielded up her crystal confections to dazzle the eye. As each branch freed itself a cascade of pure white confetti caught the light as they joined their compatriots blanketing the ground. All in a deafening silence of delight.
The next snow was not so pleasant. She wasn't about to repeat herself. She tossed it down at us like a gauntlet and laughed as we attempted to pick it up. She's like that sometimes. And who can blame her? Humankind has as long a passive/aggressive-obsessive/compulsive-manic/depressive history with her as she has had with us. We rearrange her landscapes, we reconstitute the air in her skies, we exploit the resources in her waters. No one likes to be criticized or improved upon, least of all her. So every now and then she shakes things up a bit, blows out the candles along a few coastlines and prairies, and gives a few places a good dousing. It's just her way of reminding us that, do what we will, she's still the boss.
She is a strange mistress. Her daily routine keeps me humble while elevating my soul to her level. She gives only to take it away in order to reimburse you with something else. As benevolent as she is, it is a very dangerous misstep to take advantage of or for granted what she has to offer. Winter on the tundra behind the back woods lends itself to the realization that she and we are not so very different. We want to be appreciated and respected, loved and cared about. My only resolution for the new year is to be mindful of my place in her scheme of things and vice versa.