Hurricane Earl Steers Clear of Maine
(Saturday September 4th 2010, Bridgton Maine)
Far to the east tropical storm Earl churns the sea, its ferocity calmed by cooler waters. What could have been did not come to pass. What could have been is in the past. I sit on this rickety wooden chair with its right rear leg teetering in a hole left by an innocent creature of God’s design. I sit among family and new found friends reminded of the expression that strangers are simply friends we have not met yet and reminded that life is remarkable.
What I see is my youngest nephew marrying atop a creation called Ministers Hill. What I experience is a reckoning with beauty and irony. A storm stirs the sea but over our heads are fast rushing dreamy clouds that fill the storm’s void as they fill my mind with wonder. I say to those that vaunt a cloudless sky, where’s the imagination in one of those. Look to all the billowy shapes that fill your sky, take time to consider each of them, to reach for them, you may just touch a few. I see a castle, or maybe it is a farm house. I see a long lanky man, he could be a farmer but he definitely has a scruffy face. I see a young woman, beautiful in her white wisps of wedding adornment. And quietly circling the pair is a precious ball of love. They have already touched me.
Every life has clouds, some are dark and bring thunder and lightning, some merely a long lasting drizzle, maybe someone’s sky is cloudless--but what fun is that. It is the clouds that cross our skies, it is the people that grace our lives that remind me to appreciate all the billowy clouds.
Snow Plows In Paradise
I remember the stillness of those long ago winters; how quiet they were as the snow piled up outside my parents home in rural Maine. Stillness, like the grave, would envelop me as I slept. Oh those unforgettable nights, when refracted light from the nearby town acted like a shroud and caste an eerie orange hue against the belly of the clouds. Somewhere in the darkness, a noisy beast lay waiting, ready to start its snowy night’s prowl. In a distant lair its throat would bellow out life and it would move out into the darkness. No one would be spared its torment. No one would sleep through these nights. It tore across the snow covered streets and breathed fire and roared at the people as they recoiled in their beds.
My bed, distant from town, was spared the early anger of the beast. As night progressed, it ventured from the town, looking for dessert. My eyes would pop open, as the beast rumbled and roared beyond my bedroom window. Thinking like an ostrich, I buried my head underneath piles of blankets deluding myself that I was somehow safe. Even Nick, my stuffed zebra, or Charlie my stuffed, brown dog, couldn’t chase the beast away. My peace was broken.
I’d hear my father grumble. He muttered to my mother, his sleep disturbed. My sister would often take this opportunity to go to the bathroom. She paddled by with her stupid slippers that looked like Dumbo soaked in calamine lotion. I lay and planned my revenge against the beast.
I’m reminded of a quote from the Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan. In it Recardo Montalban says, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Although I think it predates by millennia. Well I chose my revenge many years later on a cold and exceptionally snowy November. It was Thanksgiving my family was all about. I had been underfoot all afternoon as my aunts and mother prepared dinner. Most of the men, were clad in orange and had brought home a beast of a more passive nature. The kids, namely myself, my niece, and nephew, were close in age, and were banished to the outer world to fend for ourselves in snow drifts that towered over our heads. We began, without purpose at first, to build the most humugous snow fort. As I created the recessed shelves for my arsenal, I realized my plan. I knew how I’d exact my toll of revenge on that fire breathing beast. I’d finally defeat that noisy cacophony of engine roaring, plow rumbling, smoke billowing creature that reeked such destruction on the miles and miles of pure and untrodden snow.
I urged the others to join me. To lay in wait behind our barricade, sure that we’d be safe. It wasn’t long and from far up the hill a rumble began. We all knew the terror of those nights when this beast would tear us from our dreams of quieter things. I’d touched a cord with the others and my men would do anything for me. I encouraged them, offered each praise before the battle. Assuring them that to die with honor was not to die in vain. The beast wheeled around the bend it’s light shown down our throats. It’s blade sent up fireworks of sparks and it carelessly and heartlessly flung aside the snow. We lay mute behind our walls—protectors of the snow each frozen, as the roar grew. We only had seconds to think about our love ones. I looked in Kim, the look in her eyes was of fiendish support of my plan. My much younger nephew, Dave, seemed ready to flee I pounced, as it roared past. The prey now the predator. I flung the first salvo. My troops responded. We assailed the plow. A new sound, far scarier than the others was the sound of air brakes. The red tail lights came on. A scary man was spit from the inside of the beast. He shouted and cursed at us. We ran very fast! The beast won another battle.
Someday all of us give up the things of youth. For some this metamorphosis is with pride and independence. With others it is with disdain and fear, so happy were we with our youth. Well, I am an adult now, though I still sometimes try to shrug off the term. But one thing I thought I’d given up was the notion of revenge against that creature of the snowy night-- okay it’s a stupid snowplow!
I decided I’d win the war in the best way of an adult. I’d buy my safety. I’m now living in a house far from the road that the noisy plow patrols. Perhaps somewhere in my mind, lurking just below the staid and “normal” me lies that plotting, vengeful mind of that spoiled boy who might have subconsciously inspired me to use this final tactic in the battle for a good night’s sleep.
Frankly, I thought I was victor. But last January, in one of those wicked storms that New Englanders, fondly call Nor’Easter’s, the tide was turned again in it’s favor. A week before, I had temporarily setup my brand new mailbox for my brand new home. I had placed it into a five gallon pail of sand because the ground was too frozen to sink the post in. I put the pail a safe distance from the road. Later that week the postman left me a note. I thought he might have said what an ingenious temporary mailbox stand. Or perhaps, this is the most accessible mailbox I’ve ever delivered to. Instead he wrote, I’m having to get out of my car to deliver your mail. Would you please move the mailbox closer to the road--Peter. I remember how I shuttered as I slide the mailbox closer to the road. I couldn’t explain my fear; I passed it off as the cold. I know now it was my inner child, warning me. You know the rest.
As I drove home from work that day, I looked up the road and began to smile. It wasn’t the smile of a kid. A kid’s smile can mean only one thing—I’m happy. It was that two faced smile adults have to master before they become adults. It is the smile that says, look out I can’t be trusted. Ahead of me, lying in the snow, was my mail. I muttered under my breath, and I thought to myself, I bet that they’re all bills. My words fell as icicles upon no one’s ears. I stooped over what was my mailbox. It was heavy duty plastic but now had jagged teeth marks torn into it. Its door was gone; it must have been consumed by the beast. The pail itself lay yards away in the ditch, turned on its side, its guts strewn across the snow. The battle is joined….
Oh somewhere on a snowy night,
The beast still prowls still.
And I under my blanket tight,
Eyes glaring beyond the sill.
It thunders down the quiet street,
Breathing fire, eating snow as I shriek.
While chasing dreams from children--beat.
And driven by an nasty old freak.
Time travel is more than a trip of fancy. Because it’s a trip I’ve taken many times myself. I’ve traveled back through the dizzying kaleidoscope of my life. Past the years of hard work. To my college days and campus life and a special place.
I would not go to this special place, on those crisp days of fall when touch football games became tackle in the way that men will always play as boys. Oh never would you find me there, on the long days of spring, when the sun chased the snow away. And the girls would fly, now unfettered from their winter’s coat, in their provocative spring plumage.
Oh but on those long winter nights, when my car’s battery would only gurgle like the unfortunate whizzing of an asthmatic aardvark. On those cold nights, when I couldn’t bare to lose another game of beer pong. On those endless, nights when I tired of the ruckus of the Frat. I might, quietly, steal away to the library.
The greatest challenge of going to the library is finding your own spot. This spot is entirely individual. I formed quite an apt judgment on people by where they chose to study.
The reference room was for those looking for a quickie. The quick fix of knowledge for the last minute report. Periodicals, well that’s were the studious social butterflies would go. And of course studious and social is an oxymoron. The serious students fought gravity and ascended to the heights. Either the third or fourth floor halls. These were cavernous spaces systematically filled with tables which accumulated the students guano. I would sometimes study here, but only as a last resort.
Even now I reverently remember the phrase “The Stacks”.
Here I found small one person tables, nested deep in the womb of the library, amid the stacks of aging books, whose titles were usually on the esoteric and sometimes on the incomprehensible. Here is where I’d try be. I’d prepare for a trip to “The Stacks”, like a mountaineer prepares for an assault on a great peak. I’d load my backpack with hardware my books would be the maps to guide me, my pen and pencil, the pitons and carabineers. And of course I’d bring nourishment. Vital nourishment, usually I could dig up some donuts and a soda. I needed that soda to stay awake.
Staying awake was the greatest challenge of the conquest. First, it was so quiet. So quiet that the humming of the fluorescent lights sounded like a mosquito as it flies over the bed when you’re trying to fall asleep. So quiet, that the old radiators would crackle like the fading embers of a wood fire. So quiet that the annoying tapping of the person in the desk next to door would merge with the dream state that I’d irrevocably find falling into. I’d think, a nap, just a few moments, or maybe a minute, I would rest my head on my folded arms.
A deafening sound, like a cough and I’d wake, often with a stiff neck. I’d turn my head and rub my neck feeling the creaking and crackling of my vertebrae. The air was so dry my sinus’ would feel like they’d become a piece of paper which was inadvertently put through the drier. And before long, I’d add my cough to the gentle harmony coughs. Yawning, I would rise and select a seemingly harmless book. “Flatworld”. I’d think, maybe it’s like Westworld No, I’m on 2B, Science and Mathematics. Imagine how difficult it is for a tired person to stay awake reading about the concept of how everything can be represented as composite of single points.
Put that evil book down. Out of my pack comes the heavy artillery; a Jolt soda. The sizzling fizzing battery acid assailed my teeth as it roughly coarsed its way down my throat. Caffeine--supercharged! Back to, chemistry more chemistry, more genetics, more microbiology. I’d give my major up for a novel, or the approval to listen to music.
I did just that. On one of those winter nights. I changed my major realizing that I wasn’t the stack sort of person. I wasn’t even a cavern sort of person. On my next trip to the library I took a quickie in reference room.
Last night’s flickering images of the crowd in Watertown showed collective hands raised in applause and voices raised even higher in cheer. This demonstration came four days late, ending the marathon in darkness illuminated by infrared instead of the brilliant Patriots Day sun. In the days that followed the starter’s gun, I realized I didn’t know who won, but did anyone really win?
We are a country, a world, maturing, we are like a child our innocence stripped away by the events that shape our lives. The Boston Marathon Bombing is like 9/11, Oklahoma City, and the all too frequent capricious loss of life at our schools, theaters and shopping centers. These surreal events are forever etched in our collective memory by washed-out TV images of strobing police lights and the talk of flash bang grenades.
Our lives are like a marathon and our race is not won. We have many miles to run, many hills to climb, many heartbreaks to endure. We need to pick each other up, wipe the dirt from our hands, spit the blood from our mouths, and take that first deep breath of resolve and forge ahead to each other’s applause.