Tech Support

My home Internet connection wasn’t working this morning.  I tried the old turn-it-off-then-turn-it-back-on trick, but still no Internet. I called tech support.

After half an hour of testing and resetting, the serious and methodical “Simon” and I found the problem. At the end, he asked if he could send me an email which I would use to rate his performance. I spelled out my address, but when he read it back, he had substituted “b” for “p”. I tried to correct him, saying “P, not B” but he didn’t understand me. So I clarified:

“P as in Paul.”

“B as in Ball?” he replied.

No, I said, P, as in… Punjab.”

He began to giggle, and then the two of us just howled with laughter. Have a great day, “Simon”!

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Having a Heart

photo by WizenedEye.com

How do you catch a woodchuck? I catch mice and voles with peanut butter, sunflower seeds can lure chipmunks, the two gray squirrels who terrorized the Accounting Dept. at work were suckers for Doritos, but what would interest a hedgehog?

It turned out I was able to rush him and scare him onto the front porch. Once he was cornered there, I made a lot of noise, banging my hoe on the sidewalk and shouting to keep him scared and in hiding behind a lawn chair while I dashed to the barn for the bigger Havahart trap. He was just considering making a run for it when I returned. More banging and arm waving bought time to get the trap open, set and along the porch wall, then a bit of herding with a broom, and VOILA! – I had captured Punxsutawney Phil! He now has a new home several miles from my garden.

One spring a few years ago I rounded up a large snapping turtle who had chosen my garden as her egg depository. The capture involved a metal garbage can and a shovel – dangerously close to the electric fence, I might add – and I’m here to tell you that Mrs. Terrapin was one fierce, hostile critter. In comparison, this woodchuck was sweet indeed.

But the Pesty Animal Capturer Life-time Achievement Award goes to my friend Dale who, in his 20+ years of service to the local school district, captured and relocated more than sixty skunks. Did he ever have “a problem?” Only once, when, trap full and loaded on the back of his pick-up, a friend came along and asked, “Watcha got under the tarp?” – punctuating the question with a loud thump of his fist on the truck bed…

Note: A “Havahart” is a humane, “catch alive” trap. Once captured, the animal can be taken to a suitable habitat and released.

There are Places I Remember

Written October 22, 2007

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jill forgot her birth control
And now they have a daughter

I came from the Adirondacks. My parents had decided against having children because – in 1942 – they were convinced that there was not a bright enough future for children on this planet. That plan was undone when the two of them took a vacation in the late summer of 1944 at a rustic resort called “The Mohawk” on Fourth Lake, and my mother forgot to pack her birth control. Maybe my humble beginnings in that place of wildness and natural beauty explain in part why I ended up living where I do.

The Adirondack “Park,” as it is rightly or wrongly named, remained a special place for this family my parents created (which later included the addition of three foster daughters). Our summer vacations were spent there in tents, around campfires and in canoes or on trails; our winters always included ski trips to Old Forge or Whiteface Mountain.

To me, the Adirondacks represented heaven, and so when all that eventually remained of my parents was a pair of ash-filled plastic bags, our favorite camping place was the natural choice for freeing those remains. In August of 1999, close family and two dear life-long friends gathered at Brown’s Tract Ponds.

The chosen morning dawned wet. My father always claimed there were only two kinds of Adirondack weather, “dazzling uncertainty, and drizzling certainty,” and his description held true as the gray downpour abruptly gave way to beautiful sunshine in mid-afternoon. The canoe served as a water taxi for our small band of eight, our elderly friends making the trip with both arthritic difficulty and characteristic grace. Once assembled, in a very unplanned sort of ceremony, we scattered those gray remains from the rocks on the small island’s south shore where we had picnicked and swam so many times over the years. It all seemed very right.

Our mission accomplished, the first of the return trips was begun. Bekir and Sallie were helped into the canoe and Husband and I started paddling toward the mainland. Spontaneously, Bekir began yodeling my father’s favorite, the pure beauty of his alpine tribute soaring across the still lake and echoing back to us. It was the perfect salute, and I am certain that every person within earshot stood still to listen.

Eight years have passed, and I haven’t been back there. I always thought I’d return, but lack of time and too many responsibilities – or maybe just a failure to properly prioritize my life – had combined to stall my return until two weeks ago when a week-long photography workshop at Big Moose Lake just a few miles from Brown’s Tract put the opportunity squarely in my sights. On October 6th, the 17th anniversary of the date of my father’s death, I returned to the shore of Brown’s Tract.

It was fall and the campers were gone. I expected to be completely alone, but to my surprise, there was a lone photographer beside the lake’s outlet where I planned to launch. I’m pretty uninhibited and friendly with strangers, and those you meet in the solitude of the woods are usually kindred spirits, so we struck up a conversation. The emotions of that day probably greased my tongue even more than usual as I explained my reasons for being there. “I’m going to mess up your lake,” I told him. It was still and all-reflecting, and I knew my paddling would disturb any reflection shots he was attempting to take. His reply was an enthusiastic, “Oh, no, your blue kayak will be great on the water!” We exchanged blog addresses, wished each other well, I put the kayak into the lake and began the final leg of my trip to pay respects to Bill Toporcer and Evelyn Andrus, my parents.


Photograph by Russ Devan 

My parents gave me the gift of life and the self-assurance that has helped me to make the best of my time here, and it seems that even years after their deaths they continue to give to me, for on that Saturday two weeks ago they introduced me to a new friend and a very talented photographer.

Thank you, Russ, for this photograph that I will always cherish. And thank you, dear readers, for taking the time to travel back with me to this special place.

Age

Note:  This was written in 2007

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Time has its subtle ways of letting you know you aren’t as young as you used to be. The jeans get harder to button, the joints begin to complain when overworked, and there’s the thinning of hair north and south. So you work out a little more, take aspirin, content yourself with the notion that your hair always was a bit thick and unruly. Old? Me? Nah.

Less subtle than time are children. Today I spent three hours at the playground with my five-year-old grandson. When there were no kids his age, I played with him, climbing up through the wooden maze, sliding down the slides, being a witch or “Queen of the Playground” as he dictated. I felt pretty smug that at 62 I could keep up with him. As I stood at the end of a wooden tunnel near the top of the grand structure (catching my breath), a new entrant on the scene, a six-year-old grinning the fanged smile of a kid missing his two front teeth, burst from the tunnel on all-fours and sounded a fierce roar. I jumped in faked terror, and the kid gleefully rose to his feet and shouted for all the playground to hear, “MOM! I just scared the crap out of this old lady!”
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Go away kid, ya bother me…

Snowbound

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Our son, whom we named Joseph Whittier, was born in mid-May of 1977.  It was a little less than a year after we had the bright idea, a no-brainer, actually, to buy a used trailer (what is known in more civilized parts of the country as a mobile home) and move from our in-town apartment to the land we had bought.  We wondered why that plan hadn’t come to us sooner than it did, for building a house in one place while living in another some twelve miles away was a pretty ridiculous and unrealistic scheme.
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Within a week we had found a trailer.  It was quite an interesting experience.  The thing was 12 x 60′ and had two bedrooms and two baths.  Part of an estate sale, it sold completely furnished. The thing cost around $2,000 – less, at the time, than a late-model used car.
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We’d been living in it for a little more than a month when I began experiencing some nausea. Our water was being pumped from a spring about 500′ away, in a pipe laid on top of the ground.  This was a temporary arrangement, as a well would soon be drilled at the actual house site.  We attributed my illness to the water and began boiling it for drinking.  It was now at least mid-September, and in addition to nausea, I began feeling physically exhausted.
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Finally, it seemed to me that I had only felt this way twice before:  when pregnant for our daughter, and when pregnant for a baby we lost.  But that couldn’t be.  I had been diagnosed sterile.  I had seen the x-ray of my blocked fallopian tubes.  Not possible.  And yet the signs were there, such that I finally made an appointment with a local doctor.  As the doctor would later say, “Well, if it’s the water, there’s a lot of fertile water around here.”
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During the long winter nights of that first year on Orebed Road, as I grew in girth, Bob and I frequently read poems from a collection of John Greenleaf Whittier’s work.  We’d take turns reading aloud just before turning out the lights for the night.  I think it was Whittier’s Snowbound that had spoken to us because of the cold darkness and snow that surrounded us on those nights.
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Our due-date was the end of May, and while we had settled on a girl’s name, the right choice for a boy had eluded us.  Two weeks before I was expected to deliver, I felt particularly tired and lay down on our bed with our copy of A Gazillion Names for Your Baby (or whatever it was titled). An idea came to me: Why not Whittier?  But what if the kid didn’t like that?  Well, maybe Joseph Whittier… Joseph is my husband’s middle name, and if the kid didn’t like Whittier, he could choose to be Joe.  I wrote the name Joseph Whittier  on the inside back cover of the book, but I didn’t think to mention my idea to the father-to-be.
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The next morning, my water broke and we were hospital-bound.  On the 25 minute drive to town, he spoke.  “What do you think about naming him Joseph Whittier if it’s a boy?”  I replied that he must have seen that I wrote that in the baby names book.  “No, I just thought of it.”  And that was that.  The baby was a boy, and Joseph Whittier has called himself Whit ever since.

 

Time Lost

Friends in early childhood were situational, and they weren’t really friends; you met them in the park or in other places your parents took you. Eventually you were old enough to venture out on your own, and then you could “make friends” with other kids in your neighborhood (this was before the world was such a scary place that real play was replaced by parentally arranged “play dates”). Again, initially you had location in common – which, as I think about it, has always been necessary to starting a friendship.

Eventually you were discerning and actually chose your friends. In your teens they were kids you “fit with,” people like yourself; later perhaps you became friends with someone because you admired them and in some way perhaps you and the friend enhanced each other. Lovers and friends were more distinguishable then than in this generation, although throughout history and even in my youth (when the earth was still cooling) it was wise for lovers to also be friends.

Friendships most often seem to be killed by distance and time, or rather, the lack of time. Time passed is time spent; and spent, according to Webster’s, is time “having been used and unable to be used again.”  Once spent, can it ever be retrieved? Or is it gone forever like that quarter lost in 5th grade when I bet Didier that it wouldn’t rain by the time school let out?

In the past twenty years or so, I’ve been making friends from a distance. The Internet has removed that once-essential first step of friendship, location. The irony of this is that while I have made a number of new virtual friends (some of whom I eventually got to know personally), the Internet has also reconnected me with a number of far-flung old friends from various periods in my life, friends who had been “lost.” Recently I received these wonderful lines from one of them:

I’ve never felt pressured to write
By anything you’ve said or implied.
But yes, there is an urgency about it,
Brought on, no doubt, by my own sense
That time has been lost
And that writing is the only way
To try to make up for it.
It’s simple – the more I send,
The more I get back.
And therein lies the time recaptured.

Well said, old friend. How delicious is the recapturing!

Scream

There are sounds that a person recognizes the first time they’re heard. The metal-on-metal crunching noise of one car smashing into another turns your head, but your eyes are not at all surprised to see what caused the noise. Although the actual damage may be shocking, you already knew intuitively what the sound was.

I once had a sound-recognition experience that I will always remember. It wasn’t the impact of metals, glass and plastics coming together, it was the screaming of a rabbit, and although I had never heard it before, I recognized it as such.

I grabbed my camera and raced toward the sound – not stopping to wonder why the rabbit might be screaming – and there, under my back porch, Nature’s plan was being carried out. The rabbit struggled but could not kick free of the mink’s jaws. Death was swift.

The mink – beautiful though somewhat bloodstained – eyed me for a moment, moved closer as if to get a better look, and then went about the task of dragging the rabbit’s body to a protected place where he could dine on it as his needs arose. I watched from about six feet away.

Standing there, I suddenly understood the waning of the local mouse population. The mink had probably been hunting the area for some time, unseen and unheard as he consumed the deermice and voles, nature’s quiet Quarter-Pounders. But for the rabbit’s screams, I would never have seen him, and although sorry for the snowshoe hare, I welcomed this four-legged rodent trap.

A week later, the daughter of a neighbor dropped in to say hello. She was home on a break from her missionary work. I casually mentioned having seen a mink under my back porch, and with amusement, she told me about coming home and finding a mink in their yard, writhing in agony. Her father had poisoned it. Eventually bothered by its suffering, she got a friend to shoot it.

This young woman and her dad believe in Heaven and Hell, and being born-again Christians, they feel assured of a place in the former. I am not so sure. In fact, I hope that there might be a peaceful place, an eternity, where God’s innocent creatures could go about their business without ever having to cross paths with those who so blatantly disregard their beauty and their importance.  I care a lot less for those who harm them for no good reason.