Janus Holds the Key

Janus - Who Is Janus

New Year’s Day is New Year’s Day for a reason, it turns out. Since my tenth birthday on a warm Fifth of Quintilis, in 1970, I’ve wondered why the year often starts smack dab in the middle of a blizzard.

Simple.

First of all, ancient Romans had a God for everything. One of them held the key that unlocked that “passage” between what is and what is to come; or, metaphorically speaking, this particular God was the key master that opened the way for new things to occur.

His name was Janus. He’s also the God of doors, by the way. Makes sense.

The New Year used to begin in March, but in 46 BC, everyone’s favorite Caesar, Julius, decided the calendar needed reform. He was right, actually, as the Roman calendar already in place for six centuries followed the phases of the moon, and that totally screwed with people over time as the seasons seemed to “shift.” Worse, the politicians who oversaw the calendar kept adding or subtracting days to affect the length of terms one way or the other.

So JC met an astronomer named Sosigenes who convinced him to trash the lunar module and follow the Egyptians lead—they followed the sun. To balance it out, JC added sixty-seven days to 46 BC, which put the solar calendar on track, and the first New Year of the Julian (he earned it) calendar fell on the First of Janus’ month, January. Mr. Sosigenes also instructed that a true “year” around the sun is six hours longer than 365, so JC decreed that once every four years an extra day be added.

We know most of this.

After JC was killed, his successor, Mark Anthony (with a K, not a C), changed the name of Quintilis to July to honor him. But (with the ancient Romans there’s always a but), JC and Mr. Sosigenes miscalculated slightly, and by the end of the first millennium there were seven extra days, fifteen by the time Prague was founded in the 14th century. The Czechs were royally confused. And to add to this clusterfuck of cloistered calendar decision makers, a monk, Dionysius Exiguus, figured out in the early 500’s that Christ was born about 753 years after the founding of the city of Rome and called that year of His birth “zero.” Up until then, Roman years from 753 BC on were numbered from the founding of the city. So at the time of Christ’s birth, according to Brother D, Christ was born in 753 Ab Urbe Condita (“from the founding of the city’”). The monk decided, conveniently during a time when Christianity was sweeping the empire, to call that year zero, but it wasn’t widely adapted until the eighth century as the Roman Empire was becoming the Holy Roman Empire.  

Then in the 1740’s, Jacques Cassini confirmed the year zero with his astronomical skills, and it was only then that the Roman years before zero were labeled “Before Christ.” If it wasn’t for Brother D and Professor C, New Year’s this Janus the 1st would be the year 2774 Ab Urbe Condita, or AUC.

So with all that timeline information, we cut to the 1570s, about the time St. Augustine, Florida was beginning to flourish. St. Gregory the XIII hired a Jesuit astronomer named Chris to fix the damn thing once and for all and get the dates aligned with the sun, and he did so by dropping ten days from the calendar for that year only—a realignment if you will, and the Gregorian calendar started in 1582.

Thursday, December 21st, 1581 was followed by Friday, January 1st, 1582.

You know they partied hardy that New Year’s Eve. I’ve awakened on January first with some serious hangovers in my years, but I’ve never thought, “What the hell happened to the last ten days!?”

So while I’m not really certain most of the time what day of the week it is anyway, I do know of one consistency through the ages from 753 BC through some hot summer Quintilis afternoons, and on past zero to today: People from kings and popes to paupers and astronomers made resolutions. For sure for all these January firsts people have wanted to spend more time with those they loved, wanted to go for more walks in nature, stare at the moon, wake up with the sun, love.

For all of the knowledge gained from college degrees and Wikipedia, no information can inform how I feel when we’re standing on the sand at the beach before dawn, quietly watching the surfacing sun, the buffleheads swim by, the oyster boats churn out to sea. No calendar can keep measure of the time since my father died; I can argue it was a month ago, I can claim it decades ago. My childhood on the Island was almost five decades ago, yet last week when it was very much on my mind, I could visualize that time as if it happened on Tuesday.

Calendars keep track of time, but they can never measure moments, they cannot calculate how long we love, how long we’ve mourned.

If we made lists of all the reasons why we needed to know the days of the week, I really don’t think they would be that long, nor the reasons to remember the year for that matter. It is as irrelevant as it is essential, existing in the extremes of our lives.

John Prine pointed out that the “days just flow by like a broken-down dam.”

Yes. They do, whether we count them or not, they just flow right by.

Julian Calendar

Five Beautiful Moments/2020

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SUNRISE

I don’t need to list the events of this past disastrous year; any one of the tragic events of 2020 is too much to digest, let alone the dozens of horrific and often needless travesties. I’m not sure how we collectively decided it was the year’s fault, and leaving 2020 was going to miraculously dissolve those issues; people are still dying in record numbers, unemployment, homelessness, and hunger are the worst they’ve been since the depression and that isn’t changing at midnight, and as one friend posted this morning, “If you think 2020 was bad, wait until it turns 21 and starts drinking!”

But we like symbolism, we are energized by significance. Birthdays represent an accomplishment as well as a place to begin again, as does the New Year. The turn of the clock (despite it having been changed several times in the past two thousand years, so God knows what day it actually is) translates to a turn around the proverbial corner, a chance to see the light at the end of the tunnel, to take a new path, and whatever other clichés you can muster up this weekend.

We make resolutions. This year I started making lists and tossing them, marking how much weight to lose, how much exercise to add, how much money to save, how many letters to write to those I care about, and I tossed them all. Now, on the front edge of this new year, I have just one: To trust myself again, my instincts. I used to do that, years ago, and when I did, I may not have moved mountains, but I felt centered, at peace with who I was. It is time to feel like that again. I started practicing a few years ago and so far it’s going well, but at midnight it is official: I’m going to let Bob be Bob, to lift an ism from The West Wing.

All that aside, for many of us 2020 deserves the pummeling it is getting as we join together to slam tight the door behind us. Most of us know as least one person who suffered the virus, some of us know someone who succumbed to it. For those with conditions such as anxiety and depression, the year was especially challenging, and throw a dislikeable president into the mix and no wonder suicide rates are higher than ever. The new year gives us all a time to step back, refocus, and, as Jimmy B says, “Breathe in, breathe out, move on.”

But first, instead of rehashing the top ten crappy moments of the finally-in-hindsight 2020, I’m going out this time recalling five fine moments to take with me. If we all did this, we’d move into 2021 with fine memories.

  1. As the result of stay-at-home measures, my son Michael and I headed out into the wilderness more than ever before, discovering state parks, nature trails, marshlands, and preserves we didn’t know existed not that far from home. This isn’t solely a memory of 2020; this will stay with me forever. We hiked and talked and took in the consistency of the natural world together.
  2. Seven years almost to the week after returning from our trans-Siberian journey, I signed a book contract for the 2022 publication of The Iron Scar: A Father and Son in Siberia. On the one hand it did feel good to finally close the chapter—quite literally—on that project and move on to a new one, on the other it remains a significant accomplishment of the year since of the fifteen chapters in the book, fourteen of them have been published in twenty journals, were finalists in four contests, and have been nominated for five awards. Bragging rights allow me to add that the book will contain a section of Michael’s photographs of the journey.
  3. After several years of not working on the property all that much by virtue of too many other stresses in life from 2017 to, well, almost now, I’ve returned to one of my natural states and started reshaping the trails here at Aerie, grooming the paths and adding several more birdbaths and feeders. If I’m going to have to “stay at home,” I might as well make home a place I want to stay.
  4. While I have not really yet seen him much because of Covid, my brother lives just an hour away. This is more important to me than anyone might realize, including him I suppose. As the youngest, I was only twelve when my sister went off to college and then life, and my brother followed two years later. While we have all been close, I haven’t lived within three hundred miles of either of them since 1975, and until my sister moved about six hours away, any trip to visit siblings was a two-day drive, which I hardly ever made. Ever. Ever. So an hour away down the Colonial Parkway along the York River to have lunch, play golf, or just hang out is something I am grateful for, even if we don’t. Sometimes the peace of mind is in just knowing someone is near.
  5. Friends keep me sane, answer when I call, call to see how I am. We get together when we can and laugh, or have deep conversations about the passing of time, the beauty of the sun on the water, the sound of ice in a glass as we sit quietly and watch the moment at hand unfold. We take them for granted, these brothers of ours, don’t we? I mean when we can see each other anytime, we generally don’t, and this year has shown me how much to appreciate the ability to be with those we love.

Yes, 2020 is hindsight, and the new year is upon us. Thirty-five years ago I worked at a club where the members greatest challenge wasn’t weight loss but feeling good about themselves, and we emphasized one message in particular: be yourself. So I’d go into the studio and at the end of a difficult, challenging, but survivable workout I’d work them through the cooldown and remind them to be themselves, trust themselves, and the rest will follow.

The difficult, challenging, but survivable workout we’ve endured with 2020 is over, and I’m looking out over Aerie as the temperatures cool down a bit and know, I simply know, it is time to follow my own advice.   

Happy New Year.

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SUNSET

Dear Eddie

Best trails in Heckscher State Park, New York | AllTrails
The beach trail along the Great South Bay in Heckscher State Park

NOTE:

This afternoon after learning of my childhood friend Eddie’s death, I went through my emails from him and found this one which, ironically, is about,

well…

here it is. I’ve edited for grammar and spelling (I hope), but everything else is exactly as I wrote it to him just over six years ago:

November 5, 2014

Why am I a writer?! Ha! I love these “question emails” we’ve got going here, but that’s a tough one. I think I prefer the ones along the “What kind of fruit do you never tire of?” Still, I’ll give it a shot. So, probably for the same reason you are a spot-on blues guitar player: it keeps me sane.

Because as you know I well know what a lunatic is! (in case your memory is slipping after four decades, we were working on the fort in the woods in my yard and it got dark and you said you had to go, and said, “Don’t let the lunatics get you!” and I told you I didn’t know what a lunatic was, but you just laughed and left. Then a few minutes later you jumped at me through a bush and scared the crap out of me and I called you crazy, and you said, “Yes! That’s a lunatic!” and went home)

Why am I a writer? Geez, Ed, the same reason I was when I was home sick in fifth grade and wrote that book (what, maybe ten pages?) called “Space”; because we’re going to die. I didn’t know it then (I didn’t know that’s why I wrote AND I didn’t know we were going to die) but I think I’ve finally figured out what I’m trying to say as a writer and what, in fact, every writer is trying to say: We’re all going to die. That’s it. Writers want everyone to know that in roughly one hundred years not a single person walking the earth will still be alive. We will all, the entire globe, be gone, replaced, returned to dust for the ever part of infinity, ever and ever…and ever…dust…ever.

And we want everyone to know that.  You’re welcome.

We want everyone to know that when the rain hits the roof at night it sounds like childhood, Saturday afternoons with old westerns on the television and grilled cheese sandwiches, and we want everyone to know that because childhood dies too, and even old westerns. We write because I still have some faded image in my mind of a bunch of friends in a small town on a Long Island, sitting around laughing about baseball and nature and girls, about music, and about “the trail,”—Geez, remember the trail?, that mysterious path through the woods along the Southern State that led to a creek where things happened when teenagers wandered that way. Like the time you and I swung across the creek from a vine and then followed it to the far end and came upon the arboretum gate, and hopped it and walked through the grounds pretending the estate house was ours and we could do what we wanted. And we sang “The Long and Winding Road,” and now all these broken hearts later I can’t recall most people’s faces—yours is perfectly clear but I’ll be honest, I don’t know if that is because of memory or Facebook. When I see you on there, always laughing, I see you at twelve. Sometimes it’s as if I see it like I am thinking about a movie I saw once but can’t really recall it very well. I remember the character’s names and I remember what happened, but the details are fuzzy, and my God I would love to see it again. Like that scene when you and I walked to Timber Point Elementary and met Boomer there and the three of us sent up one of those rockets with the engine packs in it. It shot up so fast we didn’t really see it go as much as we saw the smoke line, and that’s why I write, because it all goes like that, life goes like that, like a rocket we don’t see it as much as we see the residual effects. Anyway, I remember that we followed it as it drifted into the trees and Boomer finally got it down and we all went home. And on the way we talked about building a bigger one of those, really big. I had a brown CPO jacket and my mom sewed patches on it for me of NASA and the American flag. I knew everything there was to know about the space program then, including the velocity necessary to exit the atmosphere, and the speed of drift in space while orbiting. Well, writers think like that, Eddie. We are overly conscious of velocity and drift. Those two depress the fuck out of us.  

But even then I knew, I mean I just knew as well as I knew the names of all the streets in Great River, I knew we were all going to die! All of us, someday and some sooner than others, like my grandfather who died too soon; and some much later than others like my great Uncle Charlie who lived so long. And as I got older I didn’t think anyone knew but me, so I had to tell everyone; I just had to let them know we were all going to die, all of us. It isn’t a depressing thing for us (writers), it is a motivator, like barkers at a circus trying to get people in to see the show; we’re calling from our pedestal trying to get people to see the show. Remember when I said, I think we were in Heckscher, and I said I had proof everyone will die, and I said name one person who was still alive from the Civil War, which had ended about 107 years earlier. And you couldn’t. And I said, “See!” and you said, “You’re a lunatic.”

You said, “They were alive once, though.” And we stopped, somewhere toward that old abandoned beach cabana on the bay, we stopped and I said, “Exactly. They were so damned alive they bled, and they cried and they laughed and they lived. They had houses and farms and children and played games and had dogs and some of them, hell a lot of them probably, even had sex.” and then we talked about sex and forgot about dying—or living for that matter. Jesus, we were what, thirteen? Fourteen?

Anyway, that’s why I write. And I bet that’s why you play guitar, especially the blues. Because we’re not yet dead.

How’s Alice? How’s work? I’ll get up there, buddy. I will.

Until then I teach and I write; or, I should say, I teach SO I can write. And I write to remind myself that the bullshit I wade through on a daily basis is irrelevant.  The constant crap dealt with by being alive these days is tempered by the night sky and a quiet jet filled with people traveling thirty thousand feet above my head, all of them very much alive until they aren’t.

Except the old prick at the hardware store who insists on telling me a log home won’t keep me warm unless I put mud between the logs, and even after I’m paid in full he talks anyway and tells me I should have bought a double-wide. This was yesterday, and I just laughed and thought to myself, yeah, just keep talking mofo, someday you’ll be dead too.

I guess I’m here to write about what happens before that happens.

So your turn: If you could only fill the fridge with one food item, what would it be?

Miss you Eddie. I swear I’ll get up there. It might not be very soon, but I’ll get up there.

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Edward A. Radtke 1961-2020

Special Edition

I want to take one moment to ask for help.

The Nature Writing Project, as I’ve mentioned before, has morphed into a larger and more widespread endeavor, with grants applied for, an IT guy retained to design and run the website, and already promises for video and audio clips have come in from Israel, Russia, Norway, Brazil, New Zealand, and more. Domestically, we are adding hundreds of two-to-three minute audio and video clips about nature from best-selling and award winning authors.

This will be the resource for faculty, organizations and anyone anywhere to find some of this ages greatest writers connecting with nature. Poets, non-fiction writers, and novelists all are involved to illuminate the connection between nature and humanity.

Can you help? The money donated will help curtail the costs of the technology and early promotion. Once it is up and running, the overhead will be very minute, but for now we can really use assistance.

Here is a link to more information and a way to make an anonymous donation (or public if you prefer, taking the role of “sponsor”).

Thank you very much:

https://aviewfromthiswilderness.com/donations/

300

South of Pamplona, Spain (photo by Michael Kunzinger)

I started this blog five years ago just a few months after my father’s death. The first entry was January 18th, 2016, and my objective was simply to escape the changes going on—the loss of my Dad, politics, the swamp that was my job—through journal-like entries about my favorite locale, nature. I thought I’d share with anyone who might want to read these short pieces about the bay and the river and the woods here at Aerie just what it’s like to take a moment to myself on an afternoon walk, or a morning sunrise, so that I might better handle the outrageous drudgery the rest of the time; and along the way I’d probably digress into the brevity of life and the organic need each of us has to love. Sometimes it worked, more often not. It didn’t really matter; this wasn’t the writing I’d be sending out to be taken seriously. It was more or less a diary.

But every once in a while I’d be just finished with an entry and decide it was worthy of a larger outlet and I’d send it off. Like the time I sat in Panera’s in Virginia Beach the afternoon I returned from my uncle’s internment at Arlington National Cemetery. I drank iced tea and wrote a blog and posted it. I reread it right away and thought it seemed pretty good. I immediately planned to send it to the Virginian Pilot, but I couldn’t find the editor’s email, so I looked up the Washington Post just for fun and sent it. I went to the bathroom (free refills of iced tea, don’t you know), and by the time I was back at my table the Post had replied and accepted it, with plans to publish in Memorial Day Weekend on the front page of the Metro Section. My acceptance needed to accompany a checked box acknowledging it had never been published anywhere, including a blog. I checked the box and said, “of course not,” and immediately went to this blog and erased the entry. I then went to Facebook and posted a note which said, “If you thought you just read a blog here, you are mistaken; however, buy the Washington Post Memorial Day weekend.” The piece got a lot of attention.

More often I’d be halfway through and wonder what kind of pretentious, bloated ego I had to think anyone would care what happened up here. Look around: we all have faces and stories and histories and desires. Everyone can have a blog and each one would be interesting, and boring, and worthy of a larger outlet and rank enough be tossed immediately. Point: I realized straight off if this was going to work, I had to write solely for myself, like it really is a journal for my own perusal. That took the pressure off and allowed me to write without expectation, without judgement. I quickly didn’t care if a single sole followed the bloody thing.

And, predictably, the “followers” don’t number very high, but the tracker shows the current weekly unique readership is surprisingly just over 1000 people. Every single week. And after year three I rewrote several dozen entries and strung them together in what would become A Third Place: Notes in Nature, published by Madville Press in Texas last year.

So after five full years of this, and on this entry, my 300th, I thought I was going to write about something that forced me to be completely wide open, expose my soul, as it were. I was going to write about all the things writers try and write about but fall short because writers have all already written about them, like the need to love, truly love, or about the need to live, truly live the way you dreamed of living when you were young and still unafraid of failure. So many subject matters a hopeless romantic like myself could write about, such as what it’s like to be a hopeless (hopeful?) romantic. So I tried just an hour ago. Didn’t work out. At first, I wrote that I thought the hardest thing about being a hopeless romantic is that we keep dreaming long after everyone else has come back down to reality. But I reread what I had written and realized that the most beautiful thing about being a hopeless romantic is that we keep dreaming long after everyone else has come back down to reality.

There are no words for some things; some thoughts can’t be chiseled out with phrases and punctuation.

So instead, for entry 300, I decided to publish someone else’s words. It is from Joseph Zinker at the Gestalt Institute and I’ve published it on this blog before. It is still and most likely always will be my favorite passage of words on a page:

If a man in the street were to pursue his self, what kind of guiding thoughts would he come up with about changing his existence? He would perhaps discover that his brain is not yet dead, that his body is not dried up, and that no matter where he is right now, he is still the creator of his own destiny. He can change this destiny by taking his one decision to change seriously, by fighting his petty resistance against change and fear, by learning more about his mind, by trying out behavior which fills his real need, by carrying out concrete acts rather than conceptualizing about them, by practicing to see and hear and touch and feel as he has never before used these senses, by creating something with his own hands without demanding perfection, by thinking out ways in which he behaves in a self-defeating manner, by listening to the words that he utters to his wife, his kids, and his friends, by listening to himself, by listening to the words and looking into the eyes of those who speak to him, by learning to respect the process of his own creative encounters and by having faith that they will get him somewhere soon. We must remind ourselves, however, that no change takes place without working hard and without getting your hands dirty. There are no formulae and no books to memorize on becoming. I only know this: I exist, I am, I am here, I am becoming, I am my life and no one else makes it for me. I must face my own shortcomings, mistakes, transgressions. No one can suffer my non-being as I do, but tomorrow is another day, and I must decide to leave my bed and live again. And if I fail, I don’t have the comfort of blaming you or life or God.

Please go to the “follow” button on the bottom right hand corner of this site and click it. Then enter your email. Then go to your email and confirm it. You will ONLY get my blogs, nothing else, no junk (except when my blog entries are junky).

Thanks for following me these five years. I’ll be back the beginning of January to begin Volume Six of A View from this Wilderness.

Carpe diem and all that, you know.

Bob

Dad’s Books

My mother was Santa when it came to shopping, wrapping, hiding, and organizing the gifts. She went to great lengths to make sure she spent exactly the same amount on each of us. And while I really don’t think we were spoiled, mostly because our parents made sure we appreciated everything, I also don’t remember ever thinking there was something I was expecting but didn’t get; that is, I was never disappointed. Joanie did okay by us.

On Christmas morning as we unwrapped our presents, we’d make sure to say, “Wow, thanks Mom!” even on gifts we saw coming. By the end of the morning, though, we’d make sure to also throw in “and Dad” to the thanks, but he didn’t mind when we didn’t, ever.

And by late morning we drifted into that quiet period after opening gifts when we were engaged in our new items, and Mom was getting dinner ready for the company which inevitably filled the house. Dad would read the paper, and Christmas, which really started when we returned home from Midnight Mass, would do its magic.

But later in the day after everything settled down, Dad would emerge from some quiet place and have a stack of gifts for us, chosen, purchased, and wrapped by him alone.

Books.

It was amazing how he seemed to know exactly which ones to choose, and I don’t remember him ever asking what we were interested in; he just observed and took it from there. I have a collection of books I received on Christmas nights through the years which includes All creatures Great and Small by James Herriott, A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins, Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie, Robin Lee Graham’s Dove, and more. He’d hand us each a book he had signed inside with a “Merry Christmas, Love, Dad” and the year. I don’t remember when the tradition started but it had to have been early since I received was The Boy Who Sailed Around the World Alone, which is the kids’ version of Dove. I wasn’t yet a teen.

As the years went by we came to anticipate the books earlier in the day, though he usually held out. There were some exceptions; like one year when he gave us each money. I bought Illusions by Richard Bach and asked Dad to sign “Merry Christmas, Love, Dad” in the book anyway. Another year he replaced the books with Broadway tickets to see Katherine Hepburn in “West Side Waltz.”

It became my favorite part of the day. It wasn’t just the books, though. While I cherish the memories of Christmas evenings reading on the couch or stretched out on the floor, it was also a specific moment I got to share with my father and keep up on a shelf. 

I have kept the tradition going since my son was born. Winnie the Pooh, Curious GeorgeHamlet, anything by Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz, or Thor Heyerdahl, and more fill his shelves. We really do formulate our lives based upon what we’re exposed to growing up. Michael has the kindness of Pooh, the curiosity of George, Schultz’s sense of humor, and Heyerdahl’s sense of adventure. Go figure. I try and wait until the end of the day, but it doesn’t always work out that way. One year my father bought him a small collection of classics, another year a Peanuts Christmas Treasury. He keeps that one right next to his Works of Shakespeare.

I understand now that Dad didn’t just give us books; he gave us his sense of understanding, of knowing, of remembering and anticipating. When I look at the books Dad gave me, they absolutely anticipate my life—music, adventure, the sea. I’m not sure the books influenced me as much as Dad understood something about me which the books brought to light. I was never the avid reader Dad was or my son has always been. And I think he knew that too, choosing books which had less to do with the art and more to do with the dreams that a good book can unleash.

As the years moved on and we all moved out, we started giving him books; he loved to read. We had to coordinate sometimes so we didn’t get him the same one, and I don’t think we ever did. He received volumes about Brooklyn, about baseball and golf, about history—one of his passions. So when I started working on a book about Michael and me training across Siberia, I knew it was going to be more about fathers and sons, ancestry and posterity, than about locale. That is why the book, The Iron Scar, is dedicated to both him and my son. I want it to be a book he would have bought for me, signed, wrapped, and given to me late in the day, just when I thought I was getting tired, when his gift would wake me up and send me on some adventure well into the night, send me, as the Madman Dr. William Minor once pointed out, “to the end of the world on the wings of words.”

We don’t leave home when we are eighteen or twenty-two. We depart nearly immediately upon learning words, stringing them together, making associations with objects and then ideas and then possibility and hope. We cross borders when we’re toddlers and time travel through adolescence. From Gilgamesh on we slip this mortal coil, escape depression with Styron, evade anxiety with Balzac, and relish in the quixotic realm of Cervantes. Every Christmas afternoon my father gave us books filled with foreshadowing. For me, on so many levels from travel to profession to livelihood, whether he knew it or not, he anticipated my life.

Merry Christmas Dad. Thank you for the words.

We Are Stardust

Let’s start with this: Every single day, 100 tons of meteorite dust coats the entire planet. You, me, the cars, buildings, everywhere, everything. It is so miniscule, of course, that we don’t even know it is happening, preferring instead to wait for the Leonid shower, or the Perseid, the Geminid, or even the Urid, to run outside and watch the shooting stars every twenty or thirty seconds on a clear moonless night. Who isn’t transfixed by that? No one says, “Hey, I’m covered in microscopic meteor dust; make a wish!”

But who isn’t freaked out by the thought of meteor dust in their hair? On their ice cream cone? I’m not making this up either; I’m not good at fiction.

But wait, there’s more:

The temperature at the core of the earth is the same, about 10K Fahrenheit, as the surface of the sun. I love symmetry but part of me wonders if The Great Thermometer simply stops tracking at 10K.

Earth is the only planet not named for a God, and no one knows who named it, though the etymological roots are Germanic and Old English. Still, I’m thinking some Brit named, oh I don’t know, Charles Earth, tagged this rock.

Scientists–the ones who know what they’re talking about because of generations of research and have less ability to create a fiction than I do–say the planet is about 4.5 billion years old, but humans of any sort have only been here for about 450,000 years (if you are even sorta kinda considering posting a response about how the earth was created in April about 6000 years ago, go away now). Now, if you do the math, and divide the history of the universe into a day, homo walketh uprighteth has been doing so about ten seconds. Of that ten seconds, each of us has been here about…gone.

Gone. Another human is gone. Another three thousand. A 911 every single day this week. People don’t listen. We’ve so adjusted life to be “convenient” (think Smart Phone, think Wifi, think online everything, think curbside, think Drive-thru, think Lunchables) that too many believe if some aspect of life is inconvenient, they’ll just redefine reality to accommodate what they want.

The percolator becomes Mr. Coffee becomes a Keurig. How many people know their friends’ phone numbers? Their own? Ever been in a store in the middle of checking out when the “connection” fails on their register, and the clerk who can’t write script or add without a phone stands there completely perplexed? That. We are completely, arguably, most definitively (enough?) reliant upon the 2500 operational satellites orbiting the earth (about 6000 actually are orbiting, but more than half simply don’t work–how inconvenient).

So here’s the thing: According to scientists who constantly work on and adjust the Asteroid-Satellite Collision Probability, when a meteor or other such space object hits a satellite, the rock “vaporizes into hot, electrically charged gas that can short out circuits and damage electronics, causing the satellite to spin out of control.” Don’t worry about being hit–it’ll burn up on reentry into the planet’s atmosphere. No, that’s not the problem.

See the problem? Yes, no more satellite. And if a large such space rock plays pinball with Space X’s system of communication, we here are earth are, as they might say on “Eureka,” simply fracked.

So it comes back to meteors. Stardust. The naked-to-the-eye coating which exploded countless zeros away from here several billion years ago, arriving, now, in 2020, on our chocolate swirl cone.

The greatest scientists in the world have trouble wrapping their mind around this simple idea: we, Earth, Charles E’s very own planet, are an anomaly. Even if you are like me and believe somewhere in the deep recesses of unthinkable distance are planets with lifeforms playing Scrabble and drinking Pinot Noir, astrophysicists like Stephen Hawking, Neil Tyson, Carl Sagan, and Brian May can’t tell you where, and they’ve looked with equipment so advanced some of it has left the solar system, some landed on moving asteroids, and some is scooping up dirt like it’s dog poop on the moon and bringing it back. And they don’t know.

But they can tell us around 100 tons of meteorite dust coats the earth, and us, daily.

I sat at the river this morning. Unplugged and, to be honest, uninterested in much. I felt like going for a long walk in the mountains, or sitting on the sand at the gulf and quietly have a drink and watch for manatee. Still, I was just as content to look out at the Norris Bridge two miles up river, and the cars and trucks crossing the mile and a half span headed North, up toward DC, up toward New York, up, just further and further up. I couldn’t hear them, but I could catch the glint of sun on their cars. Closer, on the river, some bufflehead ducks surfaced then dove again. A workboat headed out from Locklies, out to check some traps I’m guessing.

And that clock that says we’ve only been here for a few seconds? Make it a day-long clock that runs roughly 6 am to 9 pm, and each ten minutes is a year, giving you a generous ninety years–six years an hour. What time is it for you? Go ahead–get your phone so you can do the math.

For me it is four in the afternoon. The sun is no longer at its full strength, dinner will be ready soon, and I just took another short break. I can’t focus on the minutia in life; never could. Someone asks me about subject verb agreement and I’m wondering why we can only see about 2000-3000 stars, not “millions” as we feel when standing at the bay on a clear, moonless night. And my frustration at knowing I have so much I want to see, so many glasses of wine to drink with friends in European pubs and small quaint villages, brings me to the brink of psychosis when someone actually screws up simple comma rules. Part of me wants to say, “Come on! This isn’t rocket science! It’s a fracking comma, for God’s sake!” and another part of me wants to whisper, “You’re doing fine. It’s just commas–I knew what you meant. Now go, bathe in the miracle of meteorite dust! Buy a cone and wait for it!!”

Seriously, we’ve drifted far too far in 450,000 years; so far astray from the essential; so far afield from what matters.

We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Image may contain: sky, plant, ocean, outdoor, nature and water

The Advent of Winter

Again, the wilderness:

The winds finally subsided this afternoon after two days of strong southerly and then northeasterly breezes bringing the temps down and the leaves down and my mood down as the final leaves fell and I switched from flip flops to Vans to head outside. Winter is here.

Still, my spirits received a lift as the sky went blue, dark blue, almost edge-of-space blue, and the bare branches at the tops of oaks and maples reached out like tan and white boney fingers against that sky. It is stunning, and I love that the colors of autumn are followed by equally beautiful branches of early winter. There’s something about the raw barrenness of the top limbs which, to me, feels strong, confident, even when—especially when—they reach back into a strong gale of a passing storm.

I like the fallen leaves and leave them on the lawn and paths as long as possible. Partly because they sound like some Copeland measure when I walk through them and partly because the resulting mulch is really good for the ground and partly because I’m busy, but eventually I clear the lawn and the paths, as I finished doing just before the storm this week. It is always one of the ways I can tell winter has arrived: As autumn progresses from late September through October and even November, I might, sometimes, rake and clear some areas, but inevitably the gentlest of winds returns the leaves and more, and despite the multitudes on the bushes and the porch and the paths and the driveway, the tops of the trees still look like mid-July and my work feels somehow in vain. But now as November closes and the advent of December finds me pulling out sweaters and socks, the bare branches mean even after a storm like we had yesterday, the cleared areas are still clear, the driveway still visible, and we can move back to the firepit on the patio and know no bugs will bother us again for quite some time.  

Coastal Virginia has one cold-weather issue I’ve never been able to adjust to. It is wet; chilly to-the-bone wet, humid-cold wet like I’ve been doused in ice water before putting on my clothes. Forty degrees here can feel like ten in western New York where when I’m there in winter, not just as a college student forty years ago but as recently as last year, I can go outside in just a sweater and feel fine because of the dry air. The same happened when I lived in central Massachusetts. But here along the bay, when the weather calls for wind chills, we take it very seriously, because even without the wind the air can hold that frozen feeling out there like breathe, like fog, and just like that forty feels like four and it takes a while to warm up. Other than that I’m fine with winter here on the river, and I know that Steinbeck was right when he wondered what good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter.

But the true sign the weather has changed and is not returning to any false summers or even hints of autumn is the call of geese coming up over the trees in the west, and the flock appearing a few dozen at a time out over the fields, and then more, and more, until hundreds and hundreds fill the sky so I can hear the wings pushing them along and their call can be deafening. They settle in the barren cornfield just to the east, and it is almost always right before twilight so that if I plan my walk right, I can be midway between the house and the river and watch them fill all the areas. It has an eternal quality, like rapids, or the distant sound of thunder, like some primordial ritual playing out the same as it played out for thousands of years. My turn to observe what at one time happened without voyeurs, without the stubble of plowed corn.

This is the time of year to keep the feeders filled, the baths filled until the freeze, and to sit inside and watch flocks of titmice, wrens, and cardinals find the porch rail and the backs of the wicker chairs. Some even balance on the windowpane, the outside reflected on the glass so that they might even believe they’re on some odd branch. And then one afternoon the first of what will be a half dozen or so times, a thousand—more—starlings will turn the sky black as they move in unfathomable synchronized fashion to the trees, filling them so that from below, the branches look filled with black leaves, like summer but a monochrome version of summer, and you can hear them from inside so that you have to leap up and head outside, only to disturb them and then the vibrations fill the air again as they move off for some forest upriver. It is a sight and sound to behold, to be sure.

Certainly, I miss warm weather, the early autumn walks through the paths here at Aerie, still in my flipflops, still in shorts. I miss waking up and walking right outside without a concern about what to wear. But now, on the front edge of winter, I feel more a part of something larger than the season itself; it’s as if time on this land, on this Middle Peninsula, has layered itself instead of remaining linear, and I have a sense of winters past, long ago, when this land was part of some nearby plantation, and some of my neighbors ancestors worked the nearby acres against their will, and on a still, cold night, when the geese have settled down and the branches reach out bonelike in their graveyard of oaks and beechwood, I sit still on the patio and listen closely and I wonder about the sounds of centuries past, during the winter, when some people simply could not beat back the chill, the to-the-bone cold.

New York Extends Labor Protections to Farmworkers - Handel Food Law

Superfluity

This Is How To Sound Smarter By Improving Your Vocabulary

I was in the village this morning, and while normally I feel right at home, today I had an overwhelming sense of monachopsis. It might have started at 711 where three customers were arguing with the generally pleasant cashier about mask-wearing. It turned a bit violent and left me in a deep state of kudbiko. One woman kept screaming “I want to get it! I want covid!” with bulging eyes, and I turned to the masked man behind me and said, “Now there’s a woman of lachesim!” and laughed, but he just stared at me.

It was creepy, so I re-approached the subject: “Seriously, my friend, someone like her leaves me downright liberostic, doesn’t it do that to you?” but he would not converse. He just stared at me a long time, to some vague point of opia. Creepy indeed. I knew talking was pointless since I already had a feeling of sudden adronitis.

I stood watching the argument go down to a point of anecdoche, and the guy exactly six feet behind me struck me with a serious case of exulansis, so I just grew quiet and watched. It was then, just after nine with a cup of coffee in my hand I could not even sip through my mask that I found my self sonder. It was surreal; almost, I swear to you, a feeling of enouement.

That’s when the exposed-mouthers stopped yelling and the door stopped opening and the cashier stopped cashiering, and I was all at once perfectly still with rubatosis. I wondered what in the world I was doing in a 711 anyway! It made no sense; it was all nodus tollens! Seriously! I’m not exaggerating! Part of it, I’m sure, was altschmerz, of course, and a larger part of it was occhiolism, as anyone would probably empathize with. Right then I wished for some form of duality, I longed to escape this onism, mostly because I knew once I bagged this line of people who can’t move because they all already bit their donut or opened their can of coke or sipped their coffee or doused their big bite with hot sauce, I knew once I was free and finally turned into my driveway I’d absolutely be rockkehrunruhe. Clearly. Besides, I couldn’t leave yet only to find myself in a state of complete ellipsism, so I returned to staring at the hopefully Covid-free companion behind me reaching for another éclair. I looked at him a long time and my mind rolled right into a jouska. Whose wouldn’t? In it, we act as authorities and tell everyone the stats of the pandemic, and they all stand quiet in a state of kenopsia, almost as if we were bathed by overwhelming chrysalism.

Eventually, they stop arguing but it was too late, I was struck by claustrophobia, seriously close to the point of mauerbauertraurigkeit. I’m being completely honest.

So I left and went down the street, still masked of course, to the bookshop, walked in and stood in complete vellichor. Mmmmmm. I gazed at the books, the signs and ladder leaning against the top shelf, the light brown/tannish atmosphere, and just had to grab a picture! So I took out my phone and captured just the right angle of books and an old man in a chair reading an old, dusty volume of Chaucer, his cane leaning against the wall, steam rising from a cup of tea, and I just knew I had to send that to the local paper—what a shot! I thought, and showed it to the owner, who was much more diplomatic than the cashier at the entirely inconvenient convenience store, and he said, turning away slightly, “Oh, yes, everyone loves to take that shot of him while he is here,” and I found myself completely vemodalen.

I decided to go home and sit on my porch and continue studying my notes for my class on inexplicable emotions.

So formulaic. Geez.  

23 emotions people feel but can't explain: coolguides

Don’t Forget

It’s Giving Tuesday and we all have our charities to which we prefer to donate. I’m partial to the Parkinson’s Foundation, the National Cancer Institute, a few local concerns like the library and the Deltaville Maritime Museum, and the St Francis Breadline in New York City, the oldest continuously operated breadline in the country which feeds over four hundred people a day, every day, since 1930.

And the Dementia Society of America (which is in Doylestown, Pennsylvania). There is something about someone who used to be so sharp, but isn’t anymore; someone who had nearly perfect recall but no longer does; someone who confuses night and day, parents and offspring, movies and reality, that has a subtle existence just in the margins of our lives, quiet souls, who prefer to remain on the peripheral so as not to be a bother, but as such, often go unnoticed.

Not being able to remember and forgetting are not the same thing. The first carries the conviction something never happened at all while the latter is a cognitive trick of memory—I remember it occurring I just can’t recall the details. We all forget things, all the time, and the older we are the more likely things dissolve into some hazy once-was, like a movie we once saw but long ago forgot the plot, or a story someone told us instead of the plotline we ourselves lived out. Hopefully, our lives are filled with memories, and we are glad to recall, since there is no point in being sad at remembering happy events. But Milan Kundera is right when he says the biggest struggle is between memory and forgetting.

If I could take only one memory with me when I move into an age of forgetting, it would be walks to the river, my son on my shoulders, the sun on my back, those moments. Or the times we went fishing when he was four, never catching a thing and never caring. Or maybe the sound of house wrens just before dawn, or the whippoorwills just after dusk. I’d like to take that feeling of an open fire on my face and the cool night on my back. Or the sound of my father’s voice telling me to sleep well. Or my mother’s laugh, the way she takes a long breath. I’d like to forget all the times I got angry, all the times I was critical, and replace them with the memories of all the times I listened to the sound of rain on the canvas awning at our home when I was a child.

I know I’ll want to remember one more time the foghorns on the Great South Bay drifting through the air, my brother and sister still asleep, my mother making coffee, my father in his bed. I take it the grand design allows we forget the minutia as we age, but I’ll salvage what I can. Sometimes now when I am out for a walk, I stand at the water and wonder where everyone is. And I look up the coast and imagine my childhood friends, now adults, sitting with their families, reading the paper, watching a movie, most likely long ago forgetting what we did when we were young. But I’m glad they’re there, just a few decades north of here, somehow still part of some shared memory.

I like remembering the way my son laughed uncontrollably when he was two and I chased him across a field. Or the echo of the speakers at my high school football game, or the sound of cars off in the distance when my friends and I would hang out in someone’s back yard or neighborhood street on a Friday night, laughing, telling stories about nothing at all. The train whistle on some lonely stretch of forever in eastern Siberia, or the bells of St Esteban’s Church just north of Pamplona, when we wandered the rafters and rang the oldest bells in Navarra.

I will never remember it all, but I can remember—forgive this—clear as a bell some people in particular, their every laugh, their every movement, and also the places, the backstreets and lesser locales, all of this despite the endless ringing of noise and cities and traffic and talking and on and on.

That is why I remember to get up early in the morning. I like to listen to that pre-dawn stillness which in no time at all a thousand voices will disturb. I like the way the sun holds off a while, almost as if it asks permission to spill across the sky. And then slowly the silence creeps off and hides behind some trees somewhere just before the phone rings, before the traffic picks up, before it is time to track time again and multitask.

I spend some of the morning looking forward to the day and some of the day remembering, but mostly I prefer to simply be present as the sun comes up and the morning flock feeds behind the oyster boats on the bay.

And I like the steady rain in the late afternoon. My son and I take pictures of the local waterways just about then, or we are home throwing the football; on those days neither of us can catch the slippery skin, but we don’t care. We are so much in the moment, eyeing down the ball, blinking at the wetness on our faces, knowing we’ll be inside and dry soon enough, soon enough indeed. I am sure I will remember those days. I am sure I will.

I celebrate memory. This is not to say I don’t spend the majority of my time planning and moving forward to what’s next. I very much do; I have to. It is just that in the early morning, before the sun has had her say, before I am about to walk into the realm of a thousand voices and the movement of life, I like to remember that it’s been a good ride so far. We all like to remember that. No one thinks ahead and contemplates a complete loss of thinking back.

And anyway, there’s too much to remember if a life is well lived. The length of a lifetime from the beginning looks nothing at all like the brevity of that life from the end, like standing on a diving board terrified to leap, knowing you have to anyway for all the others lined up behind you waiting to have their chance. It’s your turn so you jump despite the fear of how far it is to the water, but when you “rise again and laughingly dash with your hair,” you look up at where you started and think, that wasn’t so far at all.

It isn’t far at all.

Dementia Society of America | Official Site | United States